Award-winning filmmaker, Jahmil X.T Qubeka has outdone himself in his latest creation, “Knuckle City”.
Starring Bongile Mansai, Thembekile Komani, Siv Ngesi and Patrick Ndlovu among others, the film gives us a slice of street life in the Mdantsane township, known as the boxing mecca of South Africa.
It follows the journey of Dudu Nyakama (Mantsai), a down and out ageing boxer as he struggles to attain the one fight that he believes will uplift his fractured family. Contending that the underbelly of the boxing world is rife with criminality, Dudu unwittingly enlists the help of his reckless but resourceful, gangster brother.
Haunted by the ghost of their father, Dudu soon finds that the fight at home is far more challenging than any opponent he can possibly face in the ring.
"Knuckle City" visited many film festivals including the Toronto International film Festival and opened the Durban International Film Festival 2019.
There it received a standing ovation and Mansai the best actor awards. Now, it will screen in cinemas nationwide from February 28.
The raw, unfiltered, thrilling and hilariously unconventional film is the first boxing film to come out of South Africa.
“Filming this took me on an amazing journey. I chose to do films that speak to my heart, and this was definitely one of them. I always say that I do films for impact and not impression, and "Knuckle City" reflects this,” said Mansai about his role.
He said the script was extremely heavy – but he welcomed the opportunity to tell an African story, just as he did with his previous film, Inxeba-The Wound – where he tackled tradition, sexuality, masculinity.
“It (the script) was not easy to swallow, but as an actor you need to be able to stretch yourself. It was challenging and the idea was fresh, so I was excited to get involved,” Mansai said.
Preparing for his role, Mansai needed to learn how to box, but learning in Joburg was not going to cut it – he had to learn the “Mdantsane” way of boxing.
“Jahmil took me to Mdantsane before we started shooting, I met with the boxers and coaches, when one asked me to show him what I learned – he was not impressed. The next thing I knew, I was training with the real boxers in Mdantsane,” Mansai said.
Mansai was forced out of his comfort zone – thrown into the deep end. He ran track every morning and trained with a bunch of extremely unfriendly boxers.
“They say very little, they are very unfriendly. It was uncomfortable, but I liked it. I even took a few real punches. It was somewhere around that point that I sat down with Jahmil and edited the script. I felt that my character said too much, whereas real boxers from the area said very little. They were action people,” said Mansai.
Aside from the boxing – it’s a story about a man trying to provide for his family by making something out of nothing.
“He’s trying to find a way out for himself and his family – but he is going about fixing things in the wrong way,” said Mansai.
Seemingly a tale about redemption, "Knuckle City" is a story of a family’s coherence and the strive to maintain internal consistency in the face of the odds. Although things threaten to fall apart, "Knuckle City" is a story of triumph.
*‘Knuckle City’ opens in cinema in South Africa on February 28, 2020.
Watch the trailer: