2008 The Sensei

This was the official website for the 2008 movie, The Senei, written and directed by D. Lee Inosanto.
Content is from the site's 2008 content as well as far other outside sources.

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The Sensei trailer

 

Synopsis

THE SENSEI takes place in a small, conservative town during the rise of HIV and the AIDS panic it stirred in communities in the 1980's and early 90's. Set in 1985, in an area not too far from Laramie, Wyoming, young McClain is a gay teen that is constantly harassed and ostracized in his provincial town.

Returning after a five-year absence is Karen O'Neil (D. Lee Inosanto, "The Prodigy"), a woman haunted by the death of fiancé, pro boxer Mark Corey (Louis Mandylor, "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"). On the surface, we believe Karen is there only to reconnect with her family, owners of a successful martial arts business, and active members of their church ministry.

When McClain is hospitalized after a near fatal beating by three local teens, who are then released on bail, Annie (McClain’s outraged mother) asks Karen to secretly teach her son to defend himself.

Unbeknownst to her family, and fearful of small town retaliation, Karen agrees to secretly teach McClain, training him at night to protect them both. Through the martial ways, McClain learns to rise above ignorance and prejudice, and his newfound confidence causes him to intercede when a classmate is being bullied.

After the public confrontation, Karen’s role as his teacher is revealed. This rocks the small, rural community to the core, particularly when the controversy unmasks Karen’s past with Mark Corey.

Reminiscently told in conversation between the young man, McClain (Mike O’ Laskey, “Three Ninjas at Mega Mountain”) and a Minister (Emmy Award Winner, Keith David “Crash”), THE SENSEI is an examination of the prejudices that allow hatred to continue, and the people that find their own humanity in their darkest hour.

 

Press

IMDIVERSITY.COM (article on D. Lee Inosanto)

March 12, 2006 - It’s the Year of the Dog now, and all I can say is: Hollywood and Asian-American women are off to a great start!

Sandra Oh leads the pack (let’s not forget A-BOaT her being Canadian). How HOT is it that Sandra Oh won her Golden Globe and SAG Award, and Chloe Dao walked away with Project Runway’s top prize?

This next woman is a whirlwind of a person, and thus, we should all be aware: Diana Lee Inosanto is a mother, a wife, a writer, a director, an actress, and the livingembodiment of the power of martial arts. The daughter of living martial arts legend, Dan Inosanto,

Diana Lee Inosanto sets up a fight scene on the ground between Mark McGraw and Mike Olaskey for The Sensei and the goddaughter of the one-and-only Bruce Lee, Diana is well versed in many martial arts forms.

She is also passionately committed to her feature film, THE SENSEI, which is currently seeking finishing funds. Diana wrote, directed, and stars in the film, alongside a multiracial cast. And the subject? Tolerance.

The film deals with small-town prejudice – both racial and sexual – and how two people are able to find their paths through it using the martial ways. This film initially made the papers when it was first interrupted by the small Colorado town where it was set – overzealous townspeople yanked permission to film in the school after lifting pages of the script and deciding the subject matter was not to their liking. This, despite the fact that the principal of the school was enthusiastic about an opportunity to open up a dialogue the film would have created.

In an era where we are beset by lies from all sides, where we are constantly seeing on the news the depraved depths to which people will go to harm one another, it is refreshing and encouraging that an Asian-American woman is not only ready to take on a feature film, but small-town prejudice. I wish her very well, and I hope her dream comes through. The footage I have seen is very promising.

So there you have it – six Asian-American women taking the Year of the Dog by the collar and running with it. None of it was easy – each one has persevered through the agony of the blank page through to a realized production. Brava!

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ASSOCIATED PRESS RELEASE

Colo. District Nixes School Bullying Film
Sun Jun 5, 3:23 AM ET
LAKEWOOD, Colo. - Officials in the school district that includes Columbine High School have nixed the idea of filming a movie at another school in the county because it deals in part with bullying. Jefferson County school officials said they were concerned that filming "The Sensei" at Alameda High School would reopen the wounds of Columbine, where 12 students and one teacher were fatally shot by two students in 1999. The teen gunmen, who also shot and killed themselves, had complained that they were bullied. "Our understanding is the scenes that were going to be filmed in the school were violent scenes," Superintendent Cindy Stevenson said Friday. "We are still a healing community." The movie by writer-director Diana Lee Inosanto is about a gay teenager who learns martial arts after being bullied by high school athletes in the early 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic.

Stevenson said the board's denial last month had nothing to do with the film's treatment of controversial subjects such as homosexuality and AIDS. "Nationwide, what I see consistently is, whenever there is any issue with school violence, it gets connected to the Columbine community. In thinking of the good of the entire community who are very tired of being connected to school violence, it would just be better if it were filmed in a different location," she said. Inosanto wrote in a letter to the school board that its concerns were unwarranted. "My film bears no resemblance whatsoever to what happened in that tragedy. There are no guns, no cults, and no extreme violence. 'The Sensei' is a movie about respect, tolerance and personal growth," she wrote. Inosanto said she wanted to use Alameda for her film because the building fits the 1980s timeline and the school has a diverse student population. Alameda Principal Dale McCoy had wanted the movie filmed at the school, saying it would give students opportunities to be extras and learn about film production. "This proposal presents a safe, wholesome learning experience for AHS and the community it serves," he wrote in a letter to the board.

 

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May 20, 2005

Jefferson County Board Of Education

Attention:

Dear Jefferson County School Board

I am writing to express my deep disappointment at the school board’s decision to deny filming of “The Sensei” at the Alameda High School. Students, faculty, staff and the Principal himself were all very excited to have the project. Local businesses would profit and the local community would be wholly involved. So, the disappointment at your decision runs deep.

As far as I can tell, the reason for denying production lies with a concern about the portrayal of athletes and the issue of “bullying”. As a professional athlete, and one who has been on the front cover of many martial arts magazines (my husband Ron is a retired professional athlete and fighter as well), I am very sensitive to how “jocks” are portrayed. In this movie an athlete actually steps up to the plate, and supports the main character by reporting the assault while becoming a friend. Hard work went into creating a balanced representation. And while we understand that bullying is a problem in today’s schools, we felt that our production confronts the issue in a sensitive and intelligent manner, creating an affirmative message and setting up positive role models. If anyone on the school board would take the time to read the script, this would be quite clear.

I do understand that, after Columbine, there is some significant sensitivity. But my film bears no resemblance whatsoever to what happened in that tragedy. There are no guns, no cults, and no extreme violence. The Sensei is a movie about respect, tolerance and personal growth. A humanitarian film about AIDS could not and should not be confused with that sort of tragedy.

Speaking personally, I am extremely sensitive about this subject as it happened in my family's hometown of Stockton, California, at Cleveland Elementary. My family is made up primarily of teachers and educational administrators throughout Stockton's school district. We've been there for 4 generations.   In fact, I was in town when this happened and I first hand saw families torn apart by the tragedy. As teachers, many members of my family dealt directly with the aftermath. Thus, it is very discouraging to me personally to hear my movie attached to this kind of tragedy.

My film deals with the different forms of prejudices related to the AIDS epidemic and the social climate of that time. The school board jumped to conclusions after seeing one storyboard in one scene from the movie (the locker room scene) in a 104-page script, blowing out of proportion how athletes are being portrayed in a way that has only a specious connection to Columbine. It is truly sad that the school board would deny a wonderful community like Lakewood, and a high school like Alameda, such a fantastic opportunity without doing their homework first.
Diana Lee InosantoWriter/Directorof "The Sensei"
Tarik Heitmann / Ron Balicki

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Movie Reviews

 

THE SENSEI WITH DIANA LEE INOSANTO

Review from: martialartsactionmovies.com

The Sensei is a serious film packed with heart and a message about prejudice. This is perhaps one of the most emotional movies I’ve reviewed as it touches on some serious issues without holding back.

We’re introduced to a young man named McClain who fights off some attackers during a mugging. Stunned by his physical prowess, the victim asks him to tell home about his Sensei, so we’re then taken back to 1985, when he was a teenager in high school.

McClain is a young homosexual boy, and he has just publicly come out of the closet. In a time when AIDS is fresh, and there’s mass fear around the disease and homosexuality in general, McClain faces bullying both from the kids around him, but also oppression at his local Church as the local Pastor deliberately demonizes homosexual people, calling AIDS ‘God’s punishment’ for being Gay.

Being a young guy, McClain feels terrible, suicidal and basically less than human.

But one day at school a group of angry young athletic guys take out their frustrations on McClain, beating the absolute crap out of him leaving him almost dead, and in hospital in a serious condition. He presses charges but has months before the court hearing, and must eventually return to school alongside the same boys who hurt him.

That’s when a woman named Karen (Diana Lee Inosanto) with proficient martial arts talent returns to town to face her own demons. When McClains mother introduces the two (in hospital), Karen is almost begged to teach her son martial arts, after being turned away from the only other club in town. Karen agrees, and so McClain trains hard and learns a mixture of styles before returning to school and facing the prejudice again, this time with his training to protect him.

Diana Lee Inosanto didn’t just star in this film, but wrote, produced and directed it – and the results couldn’t have been better!

Her character has her own issues which are revealed slowly in the film, but the brutal confrontations and tear jerking events of the film show homophobia and oppressive prejudice as the vile and evil thing it is.

‘The Sensei’ shows us exactly how much we’re all the same regardless of sexual preference, race, gender and even health. Moreso, this movie shows how viciously cruel the world can be toward people with faced with such oppressors, and the almost impossibly difficulties they face to simply have a happy life.

The fact that the ‘The Sensei’ is a woman is touched on straight away with McClain being asked “Who is he?” about his intructor. He simply replies “a she actually” – right after he, a homosexual male, steps in and saves a man and his wife from being raped. Considering the fact that most homosexual males are seen as effeminate, I think the statement on prejudice is pretty damn clear and backed up by some excellent storytelling.

But this movie doesn’t stick to the one theme, but also touches on family and acceptance in general. We see how those rejected by everyone they’ve known find family in friendship, as well as overcoming self hatred. This is one movie I tihnk everyone needs to see as an education on how stupid these old fashion prejudices can be.

THE ACTION & MARTIAL ARTS?

It’s not bad, but this is not really an ‘action’ movie – but definitely a martial arts movie. The fights show off some good technique, but are a little more based in reality – right down to the gritty nature of real world self defense.

The ‘martial artiness’ of this film is quite clearly seen in the value of being able to train not only to protect yourself but to be at peace, confident and accepting of yourself. (Real) Martial Artists apply their training and teaching to real life and it becomes something in their life that brings value to themselves and those around them. This movie uses McClain as an excellent example but also demonstrates how some martial artists can be ‘stuck in their ways’ also, rejecting people for stupid reasons.

Overall there’s not a lot of fights, but some deep themes surround the martial arts but it is second to the homosexuality / AIDS phobia presented in the film. Martial Arts aside, it’s a fantastic movie – I cannot recommend it more!

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Directed By: Diana Lee Inosanto
In Theaters: Jun 28, 2008 Wide
On Disc/Streaming: Mar 23, 2010
Runtime: 103 minutes
Studio: Echo Bridge Entertainment

TOMATOMETER   AUDIENCE 64%

 

Synopsis:

Ostracized, abused, and humiliated by his close-minded classmates, a gay high school student from a conservative Colorado town learns how to defend himself by enlisting the aid of a sympathetic martial arts expert. McClain comes from a community that believes AIDS is a punishment from God, tailor made for people who live a sinful, gay lifestyle. After McClain is severely beaten by classmates for the simple crime of being gay, he vows to never be the victim again. Later forming a close bond with local martial arts expert Karen, McClain is schooled in the fine art of self-defense. When McClain begins using his new skills in an aggressive manner rather than for their original intention, questions of honor, the plight of the defenseless, and the corrosive effects of bigotry on people from all backgrounds prompt both student and sensei to look into their pasts for answers to their current problems.

RottenTomatoes Audience Reviews

***** Bengel W October 12, 2013

It is the music that actually makes this movie work bringing the true essence of the story forward. The actors put in a piece of work that is very watchable and emotional. The script lacks a touch of strength at times however; the actors carry it over these moments. Fight scenes are very realistic without all that dance and jumping stuff. Heartbreaking twists and turns. This story is multi-faceted allowing raw emotions to the fore. The film is a great achievement for the style and period showing a great team of actors and the other staff involved. Diana has shown her complexity in her directing style and one hopes that it will continue, an investor in movies would be well placed to give this director a large budget movie, with all the assistance she requests. Nibbles: Dorayaki.

 

****½ intuciic . April 24, 2013

really nice and deep movie! very touching!

 

****½ bPaul K January 29, 2013

Not nearly as good as lifted, but worth seeing.

 

***** Kent J April 3, 2012

A surprisingly good movie. Made by Dan Inosanto's daughter which is awesome. Filipino Cast. If you don't cry you don't have a heart. Five stars despite what Daniel says...especially cause of what Daniel says.

 

***** Michael K January 9, 2012

Thought this was pretty good! Wasn't one I would typically have selected on my own, but I'm glad I did check it out!

 

**** ½incz Inta K October 11, 2011

really nice and deep movie! very touching!

 

***** Trotsky Q October 5, 2011

Awesome! Great! Amazing!

 

***** Angela C October 1, 2011

This is an amazing film. It shows how hate can be everywhere, as well as prejudice. It also shows how people can open their eyes, and realize they were wrong.

 

****Jason L August 24, 2011

Despite the low budget, the film had a very emotional premise. Great work by Diana Lee Inosanto.

 

***** Danny M April 16, 2011

An excellent movie that spreads the word on anti-bullying!

 

*****Roxanne R March 9, 2011

As I have indicated several times before I usually do not award five stars unless the film overall is terrific and really touches me, moves me and this one is compelling all the way, it will resonate with millions of people especially those suffering from HIV. While films like THE KARATE KID (1984) and BEST OF THE BEST (1989) bring out a message about self defense and teamwork, this martial arts drama gives a positive message about civil rights and the courage to fight for who you are during the 1980â²s. The âsenseiâ? of the title is a woman named Karen Oâ(TM)Neill, played by writer/director Diana Lee Inosanto. A Japanese-Filipino-American, she returns to her hometown of Summersfield after a falling out with her family over her rank as a black belt. She has made amends with most of her family, with the exception of her brother Simon who still feels she has somehow disgraced the family with her rebellious attitude.

The other protagonist is a gay teenager named McClane Evans (Mike Oâ(TM)Laskey), who lost his best friend. Needless to say being gay in a small town will bring hate and discontent and a group of classmates decide to beat him up and sodomize him after gym class. The tragic indicent places McClane in a hospital and his mother, desperate to help her son, enlists the aid of Karen to teach him karate and self-defense. I must point out that this motion picture was set during a time where the AIDS epidemic was on a high rise and people came under the assumption that only homosexual people were akin to the disease. Clearly that is not the case now but this movie at the end made me cry and when a director can touch the audience in such a way, in my humble opinion they have achieved victory. I still remember McClane's words as he said: "I would like to think that my sensei is on some mountain top, watching, smiling, from the skies above." OH God I think I am going to shed some tears again because it was very moving and what happened to Karen can happen to any of us! Bravo to the cast and especially the director for making a wonderful, memorable film...HIGHLY RECOMMENDED folks!!

 

**** James D September 25, 2010

This is a REALLY good movie, and definitely something I think my friends should see sometime.

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