At the heart of The Art of Self-Defense is an old-hat plot, but the film is done in a mostly original and offbeat way, with just enough of my type of dark humor and quirky, unexpected moments to yield a solid entertainment.
A big plus for this movie is that at times it’s very insightful. It’s central character is well thought out. And it’s told in a smart way — an example of which follows past the spoiler alert. The action that I am disclosing is not a critical plot point, so it’s not really much of a spoiler — but it does happen later in the film, which by itself necessitates a spoiler alert:
In the concluding period of the film, Sensei is shown cleaning the dojo — scrubbing the toilet, wiping down the mat, etc – menial work that should be below him, easily delegated to an underling. This is an intelligent thing to include on its own — many lesser filmmakers would have left it out. But what’s even smarter is that it’s shown toward the end of the picture. Many, again, lesser filmmakers who might include this short sequence would be apt to place it earlier, say in the middle. When you see that sequence, placed as it is in Self-Defense, you understand that this is a storyteller who knows what he’s doing.
[END OF SPOILER]
At other times it’s not so smart, making obvious errors. But that opening scene, in which he’s being mocked in French, establishes this movie above the fray. 7/10