Kerry is a short documentary about a Toronto-based Muay Thai fighter who left a life of street fighting and criminality when a close friend was murdered. Screened at the Portland International Film Festival 2013, this is a very human, honest portrait of a man who was shocked into carving out a new, much more positive life, and is a very real, grounded version of the timeless theme of overcoming adversity.
Kerry begins by discussing his past as the guy to call ‘if you wanted someone beaten up’, and his immersion in Toronto’s criminal underworld. What is striking is how mellow and sincere Kerry appears – we get the impression that he is regretful and ashamed, and it seems hard to reconcile this calm and likeable man with the image he paints of his previous self. The way in which he talks seems to suggest that the subject is difficult for him, and distinctly separate from the man he is now: he speaks slowly, stuttering now and again, as if he is reluctant to give voice to painful memories.
In discussing the climax of his former life, the murder of a close friend with a large hunting knife, Kerry is stark and to the point. While the story is tragic, Kerry’s determination to change his life following this traumatic event is heart-warming, and his humility makes it easy for him to be an Everyman and for this to be an inspirational story about self-betterment.
Kerry goes on to discuss his new life, at which point a soundtrack kicks in, signalling the second ‘half’ of the film, and of Kerry’s life. Violence is transmuted through Muay Thai into an avoidance of pain and conflict, and the parallel importance of self-discipline and control, and this makes the film, as well as Kerry’s life and sense of purpose, feel fuller.
The cinematography is simple, and it is clear that the emphasis is on Kerry’s story rather than elaborate camera work. Indeed, the colours are muted and the most action is in slow-motion shots of Kerry training and fighting an opponent in the ring. This simplicity adds to the overall sense of honesty and modesty of the piece, and of Kerry himself, and again emphasizes the sense of control, both with regard to the nature of Muay Thai and, more broadly, the control Kerry now has over his life.