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Praying Mantis Kung-Fu with Master Bob Klein (1989)

Bow to your sensei!

Released in the same year as The Karate Kid, Part III, this spiritually riveting 90-minute tone poem masquerading as public-access-quality instructional video poses the question: ¿Quién es el mayor sentido? (En inglés: "Who is the greatest sensei?") Is it the tranquil, quasi-mute Kesuke Miyagi and his patented "Turtle Wax" method of self-defense? Or is it Cobra Kai Sensei John Kreese and his crack-smoking, Mike Reno bandana-wearing, jump-that-motherfucker-Daniel-San-in-the-parking-lot-with-a-roundhouse-kick-before-the-tournament-even-starts method?

The answer: Neither. The greatest sensei is Bob Klein. A Cornell University-educated zoologist and tai chi chuan grandmaster with a thick Long Island accent and thicker moustache, Klein was drawn to the martial arts by his attraction to Central American zoo animals and their movements. Fittingly, Praying Mantis opens with Klein jumping around on some large rocks in a deserted zoo exhibit in black kung fu slippers, white socks and what looks to be a bellhop outfit. Next we are introduced to Klein's student, John Cain, who is seen throwing down some off-balance tai chi near a Montana stream (with Tom Skerritt and Brad Pitt presumably lurking just off-camera). Only through Klein's patience and perseverance as instructor does the self-conscious, oft-smirking Cain subtly transform from clumsy riverside galoot to tai chi chuan master candidate -- although we never find out how much ass he can kick, because the film ends just where it started, with Klein jumping around in the zoo and Cain jumping around in Montana.

This non-climax climax is brilliant in its obtuseness. The message viewers are left with is that kung fu talent is not measured by the size of one's cojones, but rather by the essence of one's chi -- and Klein reveals himself to be el mayor sentido. Each week the author treks to the Schlafly branch of the St. Louis Public Library, where a staff member blindfolds him and escorts him to the movie shelves. After selecting a film at random, Seely checks it out and reviews it.

 
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