The world of underground fighting returns in this pretty exciting action drama starring members of the amazing Stunt People squad.

Carlos Castillo is a down on his luck martial arts instructor. He has lost his family due to the stress of running a school and on top of that, he is close to being sued after being unable to afford the payments of the renovations done to his school, which was passed down from his father. He lives with his grandmother, who has been ill, who advises him to see his estranged half-brother Ricky.

Ricky is a bartender at a local bar and was not only Carlos’ brother, but his student as well. The bar belongs to local gangster Morales, who is setting up an underground fight tournament. Ricky has always had a messed up life and is given a proposition. If Carlos fights in the tournament, Ricky’s debt to Morales will be cleared up. At first, Carlos is reluctant, but eventually, he decides to help out because after all, family is family.

The competition at the tournament is red hot. While there are no rules in the tournament, Morales doesn’t want wrestlers. He wants real fighters who have the fancy footwork and the grappling skills. Morales has a fighter in his stable, Chuy Ramirez. Both Carlos and Ricky enter the tournament in hopes to get all their debts settled. However, the brothers soon learn there is more than what is expected, especially when working with a gangster such as Morales.

Written and directed by Jose Montesinos, the film is quite different from most tournament films. Usually in these types of films, it is more action and less drama. However, Montesinos nicely complements the action and the drama. The dramatic portion really brings out the tension, notably in lead character Carlos. Carlos is truly a man who is on his last wheel with everything he has lost. Only through the tournament can he find redemption not only in himself, but it can possibly provide an ample sense of redemption to save his brother, his family, and his school.

While Carlos seems to be the focal point of the film, we learn a lot about his estranged brother Ricky, played by Hapkido expert and Stunt People member Dennis Ruel. Ricky is the younger half-brother who always gets himself in trouble. This kind of character is beginning to become commonplace in the sub-tournament genre of “retired fighter comes back to the ring for redemption”, one seen in the recent fight flick Forced to Fight. However, Ricky is also a top fighter thanks to his training from big brother and holds himself well not only in the tournament but at his job when he fights a bar bully. However, Ricky is definitely a mess-up in terms of getting into trouble all the time and finally seeks redemption in himself through Carlos.

Dennis Ruel not only served as co-star, but he did some additional editing and served as the film’s fight choreographer. Ruel definitely did his homework with working with the Stunt People and not only that, he clearly found an influence in combining slow-motion camera work and the amazing agility of both footwork and mixed martial arts. That influence? Undisputed III: Redemption. The cast of fighters look great and it is even great to see kung fu expert Morgan Benoit showcase his martial arts skills as heavy favorite Chuy. Some of the fighters in the film are played by Stunt People members, such as Alvin Hsing, Ray and Troy Carbonel, and Ed Kahana Jr.

American Brawler is a pretty good indie martial arts film. The drama and action complements very well thanks to the performances of both Marco Antonio Alvarez and Dennis Ruel plus Ruel’s action choreography is exciting to watch. Definitely worth a rental or a possible purchase.


The Asylum presents a Taut production. Director: Jose Montesinos. Producer: David Michael Latt. Writer: Jose Montesinos. Cinematography: Aaron Owen. Editing: Jose Montesinos.

Cast: Marco Antonio Alvarez, Dennis Ruel, O.G. Dave Rivera, E. Ambriz DeColosio, Morgan Benoit, Stacey Rose, Justin Perez, Jon Carlo, Jenna Davi, Natalie Aldajani, Melissa Locsin, Maya Tapia, Giovannie Espiritu, Alvin Hsing, Ray Carbonel, Troy Carbonel, Ed Kahana Jr.