When buying the 2008 movie “The Sensei”, I expected a GLBT version of “The Karate Kid”. That’s not a bad thing, either. I knew that a gay youth learned martial arts to defend himself and that his teacher was a woman with a somewhat troubled family past. Learning that the storyline took place in the eighties only deepened my anticipation.
Then it opened with a kick butt fight taking place in 1993. At the same time, I could tell it wasn’t your ordinary kung foo flick by the way the scene unfolded. The hero in this opening ended up being the narrator and also the protagonist of the film. His tale turned out to be much more intense than I dreamed.
“The Sensei” takes the viewer on a trip showcasing how two destinies become intertwined and affect one another and those around them. The tagline, the courage to fight, the strength to win, doesn’t begin to cover the subject matter.
We’re faced with a lot of darkness from the era. With the AIDS epidemic sweeping the nation, discrimination and hatred ran rampant. I never dreamed how bad it got for someone like the young McClain Evans, especially in a small town. And not only against homosexuals, the prejudice covered in this film also includes gender bias and racism.
Through painful memories and bitter conflict, we see McClain and his Sensei Karen bond in friendship and grow with spiritual truth. Meanwhile, when Karen’s family finds out what she’s been doing in secret, reactions aren’t what one would expect.
There is a tremendous amount of realistic depth to the interactions between family members, friends, and foes. I couldn’t look away for wonder at the emotional roller coaster. In testament to the powerful content, some of the cast and crew even cried during the “making of” documentary!
Don’t expect a lot of laughs, steel yourself to bloody fighting, but don’t miss this great drama. You’ll walk away enlightened and uplifted.
As final praise, here’s what the program director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation called the movie: “A film that will change hearts and minds and save lives.”