Ralek Gracie is one of the most controversial figures in Brazilian jiu-jitsu — he is also one of the most unique and easily one of the busiest.
His latest project is the Brazilian jiu-jitsu drama series, The Foundation.
The series tells the story of a teenager named Dean (played by BJJ practitioner Dean Wellen), who grows up with an abusive (though at times apologetic) father, Scott, played by Dean’s real-life father, Scott Wellen.
Scott’s abusive nature doesn’t take long to manifest itself in the series. The very first scene shows him storming into his son’s room, shaking the teen awake, literally dragging him out of bed in a headlock, throwing him outside, and then threatening to make him eat the dog mess the kid forgot to clean up.
As the scene unfolds, the viewer is hit by clips of a little kid (perhaps Dean) playing happily. The clips suggest that life may have been better for the teen when he was younger.
In the very next scene, we get a look at Scott’s (somewhat) apologetic side. After the viewer learns that Dean’s mother died, Scott admits to his son that, at times, he has been wrong for the way he has treated him. However, as is often the case with abusive parents, he tries to justify it by saying it’s to toughen him up.
Dean isn’t buying the excuses, though, and asks his father why the old man always has to be “such a d*ck” about it.
Surprisingly, Scott doesn’t lash out at his son, perhaps because deep down inside he does feel sorry for his terrible parenting. Still, Scott does all of this while holding a katana, never letting the viewer forget that he is a threat to his son (he even talks about how he could kill Dean with it). Also — again, as is the case with most abusive parents — the apologies are short lived. A few scenes later, Scott is beating his son up for eating the rest of the cereal.
Dean’s abuse isn’t limited to his house, either. In the next scene he is walking innocently down the beach. All of a sudden, in a scene that perfectly captures the existential absurdity of the teen’s life, Dean is chased down by three boys and beaten up for no reason. While he’s covering himself from the barrage of kicks and punches the bullies are raining down on him, a brief clip of Dean’s father appears, perhaps to show the audience that Scott and these bullies are both threats to Dean.
Luckily, the bullies are chased away by none other than BJJ legend, Chris Haueter, one of the first non-Brazilians to get a BJJ black belt.
Haueter checks on Dean to make sure he’s okay, but afterwards says something that comes off as rather callous: “This might suck, but honestly, this is probably the best thing that has ever happened,” he says before handing the bloodied Dean his card and inviting him to his Brazilian jiu-jitsu classes.
Dean takes him up on his offer, showing up at Haueter’s gym (his real gym, by the way) to learn the Gracie art.
The story takes off from there.
I am going to be honest: I was not impressed with The Foundation when I first saw it. The script is by no means original. In fact, The Karate Kid told a similar one well over thirty years ago: abused kid meets surrogate parental figure who teaches him martial arts in order to help him deal with the problems that are (figuratively and literally) beating him down.
But after talking with Ralek in a soon-to-be-published interview, my perspective on the movie changed.
First of all, Ralek admitted The Foundation was not a “Netflix blockbuster.” He spent virtually no money on the series, shooting it entirely on an old Canon 7D camera. Based on my limited understanding of photography, that’s not exactly a top-of-the-line device.
Viewers also have to remember that Ralek wasn’t exactly working with Oscar-winning actors. The stars of the movie were BJJ practitioners, not movie stars. In fact, some of the shots at Haueter’s gym were filmed during his actual class with actual students.
Furthermore, The Foundation has a little bit of an arthouse, independent film feel to it that prevents it from being “just another martial arts movie.” There are frequent — and sometimes mildly surrealistic — clips throughout the series. For example, the viewer is shown a close up of a lamp and then a torch being waved around while Dean is getting beaten up on the beach. What that’s supposed to mean, I don’t know. But it works.
Finally, unlike the first three Karate Kid movies, The Foundation challenges some gender stereotypes — perhaps intentionally, perhaps not. Chris Haueter’s wife, Melissa, also has a role in the series. During the second episode, she demolishes Dean in a friendly roll. Dean doesn’t take too kindly to it, and he throws off his gi before storming away. The viewer is left wondering if Dean was mad simply because he was defeated …or because he lost to a woman.
The Foundation is therefore not just a low budget, Brazilian jiu-jitsu version of The Karate Kid. No, it’s probably not going to win any awards, but taking into account the tools and the people Ralek had to work with, this film is actually pretty good.
Besides, it’s about time Brazilian jiu-jitsu got its own drama series!
And yes, Ralek is planning on using the money from the series to pay back his debts from Metamoris. He confirmed this with me in an interview. More on that tomorrow.
You can watch the first and second episode of The Foundation on Youtube for free. The remaining three episodes are pay-per-view, but only cost $1.99 to rent. You can watch them at Metamoris’ website here.
Check out the first episode below: