by Matthew Pejkovic

The actor turns director and action star with the martial arts themed thriller Life After Fighting.

Filmed and set in Western Sydney, Life After Fighting stars Bren Foster as Alex, a retired MMA champion and martial arts instructor who confronts a group of international child traffickers after two of his students are abducted.

Co-starring Cassie Howarth and Luke Ford, Life After Fighting also marks the directorial debut of Foster, who after years as a journey man actor – trading fists with the likes of Steven Segal in Force of Execution and stealing scenes in the action Australian feature Cedar Boys and TV series The Last Ship – decided to take matters into his own hands and make a homegrown martial arts epic that more than rivals international productions in filmmaking quality, knockout fight sequences, and surprising dramatic power.

“A lot of the scripts that I first got were heavy action based but when you actually read them, there wasn’t much to the character, the story wasn’t great, the dialogue exchanges had no humanity,” said Foster. “There was just something missing, and then when on the other hand you’d get something which was a real strong drama, it was void of the action. I think I always had my heart set on bringing those two things together.

“So, both myself and my partner Navid [Bahadori], we wanted to do high drama, high action and we wanted to bring them together. I don’t think they have to be separate from each other. One of the biggest problems I find is when someone tries to write a soldier or a combat athlete, they write them almost as robots, as if they’re not human, and what we have to understand is that just because they’re a soldier or a police officer or a martial artist or a former combat athlete or something, they’re still human. So, I guess that was the trigger to get on my computer and type away.”

Vital to the success of Life After Fighting is the dramatic stakes that underscore the equally dramatic fight sequences, with Alex a character battling against inner turmoil as well as an external threat that pushes him beyond his limits.

“Drama is conflict and whether it’s through vocabulary, through speaking with each other or whether it’s through physicality, the drama and the conflict is still there. Even in the action, the drama is still within the physicality of it,” said Foster. “That conflict and that inner conflict is something that I was really, really trying to go for. And it’s paramount in action movies. You can’t just have the fights for no reason. You can’t just have the action for no reason. You have to have those stakes. You have to have those consequences. And that’s what we’re really trying to go for.”

A major sub-plot in Life After Fighting focuses on a group of child traffickers who target the students at Alex’s martial arts school. The subject of child trafficking has become increasingly relevant of late, especially in the US, and it was during Bren’s time there where he first became aware of the pressing issue.

“It’s very important to me, child trafficking, although in the Western countries, Australia, England, the United States and European countries, children are well looked after. But that’s not to say it doesn’t happen in those places,” said Foster.

“One of the catalysts for me getting or being pushed towards this subject was that we lived in the United States for quite some time. And there was a day that came out, it was Human Trafficking Awareness Day. And a lot of people who had been on film and TV, they were all asked to do a post in support of Human Trafficking Awareness Day. But at the time, there were a lot of issues that needed addressing in the United States, but for the children, no one came out. So, myself and a handful of other people, we posted, we wore blue, and we made a little bit of noise on social media.

“But, I was really disappointed that a lot of people I knew, a lot of people that I worked with, people that I had spoken to say, ‘hey, on this day, let’s do this’, but they never came through. And that was one of my motivations behind doing Life After Fighting too.”

Life After Fighting is, of course, an action movie, and the fight sequences that Foster and his core group of instructors from his Elite Martial Arts gym – Jaylan Foster, Jimmy Kambaras, and Nicholas Harding – have choreographed is a sight to behold: bone crunching, whiplash inducing, ferocious spectacles of speed and power that will make the most fanatical action fan weep for joy.

Of particular attention is the speed in which Foster and his crew deploy their brand of martial arts fury, resulting in some accusing Foster of speeding up the fight scenes. It is a laughable accusation, considering multi-disciplined martial artist Foster first made a name for himself when he appeared on the National Geographic Channel documentary series Fight Science and stunned viewers with his speed, power, and precision.

“We wanted to have some really hardcore, intense stuff and make that the primary stuff,” said Foster. “But, we also wanted to add a little bit of flamboyant stuff like some of the jumping, spinning jackknives and whatnot, because for entertainment value, they’re very cool.

“But, all of my stunt team, they’re high-level martial artists. And compared to jobs that I’d done before, we were able to practice really, really hard and go 100 miles an hour in our rehearsal. So, by the time we got it to camera, we were going so fast. We were going full speed, and we were all very fast martial artists. So, nothing is actually sped up on that. It’s real time.

“If anyone wants to, count the frames and you’ll see that there’s nothing sped up. Look at the background. But we were able to perform at such a high level because of the training that we put into it. We worked for months on this. And some of it, believe it or not, we would be throwing exchanges and then an extra punch would be thrown. And because we were so used to each other’s rhythm, we would just keep going.”

In the end, Life After Fighting succeeds thanks to Foster’s ability to present action as language; a physical way to telling a story blow-by-blow, kick-by-kick, with absorbing power and high entertainment value, following the footsteps of cinematic martial arts legends such as Jackie Chan, Scott Adkins and others that Foster will surely join if Life After Fighting is any indication.