Movies · Reviews

‘Life After Fighting’ Delivers a Masterclass in DTV Action Cinema

Featuring a forty-minute dojo brawl for the ages.
Life After Fighting
By  · Published on June 14th, 2024

There’s something of a stigma when it comes to direct-to-video (DTV) genre movies, and even as a fan it’s easy to see why — too many of them just aren’t very good. Their exceedingly low budgets are typically blamed, but it’s a hollow excuse as talented and determined filmmakers have proven again and again that gold can be spun out of straw. The latest example of this is an unassuming little DTV action movie from Australia called Life After Fighting. It’s a very inexpensive film without a single big name, and while it deserves a theatrical showing it’s been relegated to premiering on VOD. But also? It’s a real contender for the year’s best action movie.

Alex Faulkner (Bren Foster) was once a world champion, but a devastating loss and numerous surgeries saw him take a step back to a simpler life as a martial arts instructor. Things don’t stay simple for long, though, as various elements collide forcing him to once more go toe to toe with opponents. Some are seemingly harmless, like the upstart young fighter (Eddie Arrazola) who keeps challenging him to a fight on social media. But others are far more dangerous including the jealous ex-husband (Luke Ford) of the woman who’s caught Alex’s eye, and the men responsible for abducting two of Alex’s young students for a child sex trafficking ring. Turns out life after fighting involves a hell of a lot more fighting.

There will be no doubts that Life After Fighting is an indie production — it’s no accident that the bulk of the film’s running time takes place in and around the dojo where Alex teaches — and that’s nowhere more clear than in the opening credits. Foster not only stars in the lead role here, but he’s also the film’s director, writer, producer, and fight choreographer. Hell, he even wrote the lyrics to some of the original songs in the film. That kind of ownership isn’t unheard of, but most of the action stars who’ve dabbled behind the camera (Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal) did so after they’d been established as lead performers. Foster didn’t feel like waiting, and action film fans should be very, very grateful.

Foster wisely keeps things relatively simple here — bad guys are hurting kids, our hero utterly obliterates the pricks — with a throughline familiar to anyone who’s seen action movies before. More on the action below, but first I want to speak to the soft tissue here, the down time between fights, as Foster takes something of an atypical approach. A two-hour running time is arguably too long for a DTV action film by roughly thirty minutes, and I expect some (most?) viewers will find it excessive. There are elements that a more seasoned filmmaker would probably cut, like the younger pro fighter calling him out and montages of Alex teaching martial arts classes, and Foster lets several scenes play for a beat or three longer than you’re expecting. All of that works, though, to flesh out not just the main character, but an appreciation for the honor and discipline that are so integral to the fighting arts. That respect is felt as much from Foster as it is from his character, and that’s no small thing.

But enough about that bullshit — let’s talk action!

Foster eases viewers into things starting with Life After Fighting‘s opening credits as we watch Alex teaching classes, demonstrating moves, and sparring with students. It’s a casual opening that teases his speed and a variety of fight styles, and it’s not long before some smaller skirmishes start to turn up the heat. All of it thrills to varying degrees as Foster is a highly skilled martial artist and executes moves with truly incredible speed. These smaller bouts are just appetizers, though, as the near entirety of the third act sees Alex facing off against numerous bad guys during a dojo siege for the ages. Necks are snapped, throats are ripped, limbs are broken, and bodies are pummeled as he unleashes a blistering flurry of punches, kicks, and more. It’s the kind of immensely satisfying and entertaining action movie that will have you cheering as very bad dudes are ended with a violently righteous fury.

As is often the case, stunt professionals and fight choreographers often shoot the best action as they instinctually know what the fighters can do and how to capture it so that the action and performers are truly showcased. Foster is choreographer, director, and performer here, and he shows an immediate eye for delivering fantastically visceral and clearly visible fight sequences guaranteed to thrill viewers tired of excessive editing or digital trickery. Taekwondo, jujitsu, grappling, and weapons all get their time to shine as Alex moves about the dojo doling out bloody justice. Just as impressive as the visuals is the work done by the film’s sound designer, Sam Hayward, as every hit lands with an audible impact that adds its own weight to it all. We see and hear the hits, and that in turn leaves us almost feeling them. Play this one loud, people.

There are nitpicks to be found, dealing almost exclusively with certain elements of Foster’s script. The women don’t come off all that well as they’re some combination of victim, love interest, or emotional mess — a shame seeing as they’re students too, so let ’em beat some asshole down, Foster! There’s also a wildly inappropriate character choice that puts six kids in immense danger in the hope of saving one, but ultimately, it’s all forgivable in a feature debut that’s otherwise an absolute banger of an action movie. Plus, a bad guy cuts off a little kid’s finger here, so those quibbles get an easy pass from me.

Life After Fighting is the real deal, and so is Foster. He’s had a healthy career on television, but the film will leave you wondering why he hasn’t been given a shot like this before. His fight skills are stellar — the closest comparison of style, speed, body type, and chest hair is Scott Adkins, and you better believe I’m already excited to see them go head to head sometime soon (seriously, someone make that happen) — but his acting chops are equally legit giving the film a lead character whose internal struggle, grief, joy, and rage all work to bond him to viewers and earn an emotional ending. Here’s hoping Life After Fighting is just the beginning of Foster’s action reign.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.