Ever rent a movie expecting one thing, and get something totally different? A movie that you perhaps had low expectations for that surpassed your initial thoughts and blew you out of the water? The Sensei is one such movie.
From Netflix: After punks at school hand him a savage beating, gay teen McClain Evans (Michael O’Laskey II) secretly begins martial arts training with Karen O’Neil (director Diana Lee Inosanto), a woman who has her own axe to grind with the narrow-minded rural community. But as Evans learns to stand up to prejudice and hate, the boy and his sensei unleash a firestorm of controversy in their small Colorado town.
When I rented this DVD, my thought was precisely this: Oh, a gay karate kid movie, awesome! I loved Karate Kid in all of its incarnations, and I love movies with gay characters, so I thought it would be perfect. I figured it would be low budget but that didn’t bother me. When the film started, I thought it was going to be cheesy. But once an older McClain starts to tell the story and goes back eight years to how his life changed and essentially began, I was swept away.
Set primarily during 1985, the story is about gay teen McClain who is savagely between by town homophobes in the school locker room. He has been trying to get lessons from the local martial arts studio but is turned away. Enter the studio owner’s female family member who has been gone many years. After a plea from McClain’s mother, she agrees to teach him, to give him a fighting chance.
It’s not perfect. McClain is still tormented by bullies both young and old, and the sensei, Karen, has her own demons to confront. In one particularly hard scene, both Karen and McClain are bleeding from an attack and she shys away from him, not wanting to be touched. This is where the twist comes in.
At this point in history, the AIDs crisis is huge. It was considered a gay disease and many people thought they could catch it just from touching someone gay. Obviously today we know this is different, just as we know it can affect anyone and everyone.
This movie takes preconceived notions and stereotypes and throws most of them out the door. The end is so heartbreaking and beautiful it left me crying and speechless for several minutes. I was absolutely blown away.
I am so glad I thought so little of this film at first, because it showed me just how beautiful and surprising some things can be. It has gone from a one time chance rental to a movie I will be buying for my shelves. Trust me. Take the chance and rent this. You won’t regret it.