Knuckle City review

by Jeoffrey Mukubi and Nkululeko Zilibokwe

Bongile Mantsia made for a good lead playing the role of a down-and-out boxer from Mdantsane in Jahmil Qubeka’s latest film, Knuckle City. Raw, unfiltered, thrilling and hilariously unconventional, it is the first boxing feature film in South Africa. The apparent emotional intelligence in the opening scenes quickly sets the film’s tone as the characters and their roles slowly start to make sense.

The constant use of profanity might at times be a turn off for some, but Qubeka’s nonlinear narrative is one that depicts the ugly truths of South African township life and it is also one that touches on the that men are expected to play in family life. it was amazing to see Thembikile Komani’s character play an important supporting role as Dudus careless, quick-witted, younger gangster brother.

In hindsight, Dudu ultimately believes that he should get a chance at boxing match that could potentially change his life and that of his family for the better. That journey, however, becomes increasingly difficult as he comes face to face with the ghosts of his past and the problems of the present. Technically, it felt like watching an hour-and-a-half-long boxing commercial, yet the diversity in the scoring enhanced the film’s dramatic narrative, making the film all the more compelling. Without spoiling anything, the film is one that is certainly for the books. It is sad, funny, entertaining and riveting all at once.

review by: Jeoffrey Mukubi

South Africa is a sports-loving country and boxing is one of the most-followed sports. And on a rare occasion it is the subject of a film. Knuckle City, by Jahmil Qubeka, explores the everyday struggles of ageing boxer Dudu Nyakama. With a history of producing boxing world champions (12 so far), Mdantsane is known as South Africa’s boxing hub. The fictional film focuses on the culture of boxing in the township, where there are only three ways to navigate life – in the ring, in a coffin, or in the back of a police van.

Comprising a star-studded line-up of local actors, the film revolves around Nyakama (played by Bongile Mantsai of Inxeba and Scandal fame), a struggling boxer who has to overcome the system, and hopes that boxing will take him and his family out of poverty. The cast also includes comedian Siv Ngesi, Faniswa Yisa, Owen Sejake , Patrick Ndlovu, and Zolisa Xaluva. The film deftly captures the essence of life in Mdantsane and the restless pursuit of being a champion within a society that often expects you to fail. The film’s Xhosa-language script includes the use of the excessive offensive language and violence which has come to define Qhubeka’s style. The director fearlessly achieves his goal of giving the audience a glimpse into a world that is rarely seen, and provides a deeper understanding of South Africa’s multicultural society, with a cameo from world champion Zolani Tete bringing an extra dose of authenticity to the movie.

There were times when the screenwriting was a little too obvious and the scenes a bit drawn out, but the gorgeously rendered action scenes, accompanied by good camera work and impressive dialogue, will surely keep viewers on the edge of their seats. However, the timelines were a bit unclear at times - in a number of scenes, it was hard to tell how much time had passed since we last saw the character on screen. Despite the minor shortcomings, Knuckle City is a fine addition to the South African film canon, showing how the less discussed aspects of our collective past continue to impact on the present.

review by: Nkululeko Zilibokwe