The martial art of Capoeira comes home in this Brazilian action drama that combines a historical retrospective and a taste of the supernatural.
The year is 1924. Capoeira has been outlawed and despite the abolition of slavery forty years ago, blacks are still treated like slaves. Master Alipio (Macale) has been a leader to the black community in the fight for equal rights. His star students in the art of Capoeira are Besouro (Ailton Carmo), Dinora (Jessica Barbosa), and Quero-Quero (Anderson Santos de Jesus). On January 21, 1924, Master Alipio is gunned down by a member of an army led by Colonel Venancio (Flavio Rocha).
Before he dies, Master Alipio asks Besouro to carry on his mission. However, Besouro continues to mourn and blame himself for his master’s death while he has lost respect from his friends and the community. When fellow capoerista Chico (Leno Sacramento) is viciously assaulted by the Colonel and his number one man, Noca (Irandhir Santos), he ends up disrespecting the spirit of Exu (Sergio Laurentino). When the spirit of Exu confronts both Chico and Besouro, Besouro is given a wake up call.
However, when Besouro confronts the Colonel’s goons, he makes an escape and jumps off a cliff. Having barely survived, Besouro becomes empowered by the spirits of the Orixas, the forces of nature. With his late master serving as a guide, Besouro becomes one with the forces of Ossain (Sergio Perere), Oxum (Adriana Alves), and Lansa (Jessica Barbosa). With his Capoeira skills and his spiritual powers, Besouro begins his mission to follow his fate as a hero to the oppressed people of Brazil.
Since the 1990′s, the Brazilian martial art of Capoeira has made its way to Hollywood in the forms of films such as KICKBOXER 3: THE ART OF WAR (1992), ONLY THE STRONG (1993), KICKBOXER 4: THE AGGRESSOR (1993), and THE QUEST (1996). Even Dustin Hoffman’s Bernard Focker claims to be a student of the art in the comedy MEET THE FOCKERS (2005). However, this is the first time the country where Capoeira was born, Brazil, tackles the art in film form and tells of a legend in its midst.
This is quite an interesting film and it is apparent that the film was made not only for its native Brazilian audiences, but also for an international audience to embrace the art and one of its myths. Co-writer and director Joao Daniel Tikhomiroff seems to have done his homework and with the help of fellow screenwriters Patricia Andrade and Braulio Tavares, gives a little history on Capoeira (in the opening and ending monologues) as well as gives an example of a religious belief in Brazil involving “Orixas”, the forces of nature. This is ensured to make the non-Brazilian viewer get an understanding nature of their culture and belief. The script itself fairs well, but could have done without a love story that proves to be too little too late, yet its becomes the catalyst for a shocking twist in the story.
The film is driven by an exciting lead performance by capoerista Ailton Carmo, who plays the titular Besouro (the word for “beetle” in Portuguese). Carmo plays the role as a student whose arrogance and pride costs him his master and ultimately goes on a spiritual quest to find himself as a potential hero to oppression. To achieve this, he uses his a combination of Capoeira skills and his newly empowered skills with the forces of nature. The supporting cast do fairly well in their roles, notably Jessica Barbosa in the dual roles of Dinora and the Orixa of “bravery” Lansa and Flavio Rocha as dastardly mastermind Colonel Venancio.
The action director of the film is Hong Kong stuntman Deedee Ku Huen-Chiu. Ku, a member of Yuen Woo-Ping’s stunt team, does fairly well with the fight choreography. There is some wirework in the film, but abundantly overdosed. As a matter of fact, when Besouro does in fact “fly” and jumps over rocks (a move seen in films like CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000) and KRRISH (2006)), it serves a purpose. The fact that Besouro has become one with the forces of nature allows him to gain this ability. However, when it comes to using Capoeira, the fights look quite well done and for the most part, done without wirework and relies more of the pure skills of the cast. This done due to the combination of Ku’s stunt team and Masters Nildo and Cascuda, who served as the film’s Capoeira consultants.
The film recently earned a DVD release in the United States under the nonsensical title THE ASSAILANT. However, BESOURO is quite an interesting film overall. Any doubts about the overabundance of wirework may see a sign of relief as it wasn’t overused and relied more on the pure skills of the art of Capoeira. The film is worth a rental.