The Sensei (2008)

The Sensei 2008tt0454941.jpg poster

  • IMDb page: The Sensei (2008)
  • Rate: 6.5/10 total 207 votes 
  • Genre: Drama
  • Runtime: 103 min | USA:95 min
  • Filming Location: Colorado, USA
  • Budget: $2,200,000(estimated)
  • Director: Diana Lee Inosanto
  • Stars: Diana Lee Inosanto, Keith David and Louis Mandylor
  • Original Music By: Deane Ogden   
  • Soundtrack: Whisper Without Warning
  • Plot Keyword: Gay Teenager | Martial Arts | AIDS | Sensei | Death

Writing Credits By:

    (in alphabetical order)

  • Diana Lee Inosanto  writer

Known Trivia

    Goofs: Anachronisms: BNSF locomotives are seen in a sequence set in 1985. This railroad was formed by a merger that took place in 1996.

    Plot: In 1985 Colorado, a long-absent female black belt in martial arts returns home where she ends up secretly training a bullied gay teen. Full summary »  »

    Story: In 1985 (the early years of the AIDS epidemic), Karen O'Neil, after a five-year absence and haunted by the recent death of her boxer fiancé, returns to her Colorado hometown to reunite with her family who are leaders within their church and operators of a successful martial arts business. After an ostracized gay teenager named McClain Evans is severely beaten, his mother asks Karen to take him as her secret pupil and teach him the martial way. When the secret gets out that she's his teacher, events unfold that effect her and her family.Written by Anonymous  


    Synopsis: A Woman Warrior returns home. A Boy struggles to become a Man. Two destinies entertwine. The Master will give the final lesson. And the entire town will be changed by…The Sensei.

    "You have a right to defend yourself against hatred"

    The story centers around McClain, a homosexual teenager who recently lost his lover to a lynch mob in a small, rural town in Colorado. Afraid for his life, he frequently tries to enlist in martial arts classes at a local dojo, only to have his applications mysteriously (read: deliberately) vanish. To further matters, the local minister turns the sermon at an Easter mass from the passion and resurrection of Christ to matters of Sodom and Gomorrah at the very sight of McClain and his mother entering the church to join in the ceremony. In the dojo’s defense, they turn young McClain away not directly because of his sexual orientation, but because they fear losing their students over the matter. In fact, the family that runs the dojo has had some acceptance issues of their own to deal with, not just because of being Asian, but actually because of being multi-ethnic, with Irish, Asian, and even Filipino members and relatives. They’re also of mixed faiths, with the grandparents devout Buddhists and one of their sons a Christian actively involved with the local church. The family has a very proud tradition of teaching the martial arts throughout the generations, a tradition that sadly is not open to the women of the family, as we learn when we are introduced to Karen O’Neil (played by the film’s director D. Lee Inosanto), a black sheep of the family who returns to town to settle a small matter which is revealed later on in the film. McClain is cornered in the locker room after gym class and savagely beaten by the school bully, recently suspended from the football team (a move that lost him his scholarship, and the respect of his ex-convict brother). Desperate, McClain’s mother approaches Karen and asks him to teach her son some fighting moves, in the hope he might have a fighting chance at defending himself. Karen is reluctant at first, but agrees to private lessons (emphasis on private, as Karen was denied her black belt thanks to the family’s proud traditions), wherein she forms a strong and lasting bond with McClain. The lessons are put to the test when a fight breaks out in the school cafeteria, instigated by the bully (out on bail and awaiting a court hearing). McClain is able to subdue the attack, only to earn the scorn of the bully’s older brother, who blames McClain for his brother’s now-repeated incarceration. Things go south for Karen when her family finds out she’s been teaching McClain, with her older brother the most (and, it turns out, only) disapproving, and she considers leaving town. McClain is devastated by her decision, and his attempts to outrun the pain sets him in the sights of the bully’s intoxicated brother and his motley crew of hicks and hillbillies. Karen manages to come to the rescue in time, and the two just barely manage to hold their own against the brutes. As a result, everyone is hospitalized, but a small misunderstanding about bleeding wounds drives a wedge between McClain and Karen, leading him to think she’s just as homophobic as everyone else. Karen’s family arrives (even her disapproving older brother, now mellowed a bit) and Karen reveals the reason she came back has to do with her husband’s death. She tells McClain that her husband, a boxer she’d previously said died of cancer, in reality had AIDS and passed it on to her (hence her concern over getting too close to McClain after she’s severely wounded in the fight). What follows is how all these revelations are reconciled by the families, friends, and community at large.

    {tab=FullCast & Crew}

    Produced By:

    • Craig Ayers known as line producer
    • Sal Baldomar known as co-producer
    • Ron Balicki known as executive producer
    • Ron Balicki known as producer
    • Alan Gitlin known as associate producer
    • Mark Steven Grove known as co-producer
    • Madelon Guinazzo known as executive producer
    • Ron Guinazzo known as executive producer
    • Tarik Heitmann known as executive producer
    • Tarik Heitmann known as producer
    • Diana Lee Inosanto known as producer
    • Sue Inosanto known as executive producer
    • Chil Kong known as associate producer
    • Mike Mukatis known as executive producer
    • Erin Quill known as associate producer
    • Kurt Schneider known as executive producer
    • Brad Thornton known as co-producer

    FullCast & Crew:

    • Diana Lee Inosanto known as Karen O'Neil
    • Keith David known as Minister
    • Louis Mandylor known as Mark Corey
    • Tzi Ma known as Buddhist Monk
    • Sab Shimono known as Taki Nakano
    • Emily Kuroda known as Flora Nakano
    • Michael O'Laskey II known as McClain Evans
    • Mark McGraw known as Rick Beard
    • Michael Yama known as Yori Nakano
    • Tim Lounibos known as Simon O'Neil
    • Bryan Frank known as Peter O' Neil
    • Michael Hake known as Gary O'Neil
    • Diana Reveal known as Karen Nakano
    • Gina Scalzi known as Annie Evans
    • Jonathan Camp known as Craig Beard
    • Germaine De Leon known as Darrel Garcia
    • Madelon Guinazzo known as Ms. Nortan / Jane
    • Erik Betts known as Kevin
    • John Campbell known as John
    • Justin Frazier known as Gym Coach
    • Ken Kerman known as Coach Vickens
    • Phillip Held known as Zeke
    • Michael Auteri known as Pastor George
    • Sheila Looney known as Nina
    • Jefferson Arca known as Pook
    • Lisa Dalton known as Jean Beard
    • Spice Williams-Crosby known as Judith (as Spice Williams-Crosby)
    • Ron Balicki known as Vince
    • Brad Thornton known as Larry Black Belt
    • Mathew Albanese known as Boxer #2
    • Jake Alexander known as Martial Artist
    • Dennis Batka known as Black Belt #1
    • Stephen Blea known as Referee 2
    • Oscar Bravo known as Alejandro Vega
    • Esperanza Catubig known as Melody O'Neil
    • Fred Degerberg known as Boxing Coach
    • C.C. Edwards known as Referee 1
    • Ayo Fadeyi known as Police Man 1
    • Rosine 'Ace' Hatem known as Deputy Taylor
    • Alex Jovica known as Boxer 3
    • Bronson Klein known as Martial Artist
    • Kerry Knuppe known as Brenda
    • Willie Laureano known as Boxer #1
    • Jeff Liu known as Matthew
    • Cesar Lomeli known as Sheriff Salazar
    • Maiz Lucero known as Jessie
    • Phil Luna known as Funeral Director
    • Ellis McGee known as Brian Black Belt
    • Mike Mukatis known as Jim O'Neil
    • Vincent Olan known as Cut Man Jack
    • Ryan J. Parker known as Attacker 3
    • Ben Perkins known as Buck
    • Arlene Rapal known as Anita
    • Steve Reiter known as Corner Man
    • Manuel Roybal known as Coach Zapade
    • Scott Cooper Ryan known as Clyde
    • Sara N. Salazar known as Death (as Sara Salazar)
    • Alan Shackelford known as Dr. Bremmer
    • Heather Soon known as Adult Amy
    • Larry St. Clair known as Brian – Black Belt
    • Matt Stetson known as Principal Smith
    • Melissa Taylor known as Lorna
    • Hanna Watanabe known as Young Amy
    • Shane Weingardt known as Attacker 1
    • J. Michael Weiss known as Charlie (as Jason Weiss)
    • Matthew Wood known as Martial Artist

    ..{tab=Supporting Department}Makeup Department:

    • Elizabeth Kan known as makeup supervisor
    • Liz Kan known as hair stylist


    Production Companies:

    • Heitmann Entertainment
    • Zen Mountain


    • Third Millenium Entertainment (2010) (Australia) (DVD) (DVD Premiere)
    • Echo Bridge Home Entertainment (2010) (Canada) (all media)
    • Echo Bridge Home Entertainment (2010) (USA) (DVD)
    • Entertainment 7 (2009) (non-USA) (all media)
    • Entertainment 7 (2010) (non-USA) (all media)

    ..{tab=Other Stuff}

    Special Effects:

    • Pixel Playground

    Visual Effects by:

    • David C. Bryant known as lead cgi artist: Pixel Playground
    • Jon Firestone known as green screen consultant
    • Don Lee known as visual effects supervisor: Pixel Playground Inc.
    • Kim Lee known as visual effects producer: Pixel Playground
    • Cory Lee known as paint/rotoscope artist: Pixel Playground, inc. (uncredited)

    Release Date:

    • USA 4 May 2008 (Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival)
    • USA 28 June 2008 (Frameline Film Festival)
    • USA 12 October 2008 (Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival)
    • USA 9 March 2010 (DVD premiere)
    • Australia 5 June 2011 (DVD premiere)


    Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database

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