TIFF 2019: Our Review of ‘Knuckle City’

TIFF 2019: Our Review of ‘Knuckle City’

A man who neglects his family is not a real man. This is the sage piece of advice that Dudu (Bongile Mantsai) and younger brother Duke (Thembekile Komani) receive from their father in Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s powerful Knuckle City. The irony is that their father, a legendary boxing champ in the South African township of Mdantsane, did not practice what he preached. In fact, the brothers have grown up to embody their father’s worst traits.

Dudu became a boxer and womanizer who, despite past successes, is now at the age where cannot even secure a spot on a low-level fight card. Determined to prove he still has gas left in the tank, Dudu reaches out to Duke, who is firmly entrenched in the criminal underworld, for help. Though his boss holds a firm grip on the boxing industry, Duke’s temper and reckless antics threatens to both derail Dudu’s career and put the entire family in danger.

Bathed in a sea of poverty and corruption, Knuckle City challenges traditional notions of masculinity to expose how toxic and destructive it is. Spreading like a virus, the sins that the brothers’ inherited from their father are part of a greater systemic problem impacting the township of Mdantsane. Unflinchingly gritty, Knuckle City brings a fresh South African take on traditional genre tropes. Engulfed in beautiful cinematography that is both sweeping and intimate, Qubeka’s shows that actions to uplift family, and not endanger them, is what real manhood is all about.

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Courtney is a Rotten Tomatoes approved critic and the founder of Cinema Axis. He can frequently be heard discussing film as co-host of Frameline on Radio Regent. Courtney has contributed to several publications including Leornard Maltin, That Shelf, Black Girl Nerds, and Comix Asylum Magazine. He also celebrates diversity in cinema as co-hosts of the Changing Reels podcast and is a member of the Online Film Critics Society.
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