James Cole Clay // Film Critic
The director of BODIED, Joesph Kahn, called his third feature “quintessentially 2017” at this year’s Houston Cinema Arts Festival. The film is Kahn’s follow-up to the quirky slasher-comedy DETENTION. The hyper-stylized world Kahn creates has an artistry that barrels its way into the social consciousness in a manner that few films would ever attempt. BODIED is a film for the meta-textual social media age. It comments on itself and actively participates in the suffocating pace of the 2010’s.
Set in the assaultive world of Oakland’s battle rap scene, BODIED follows an emaciated little white boy named Adam (Calum Worthy), who takes the art form to a science. He breaks down the misogynistic one-liners, the racist overtones of the culture and what it means to navigate this world as an outsider. This is the time when the straight white male is in the minority, and Kahn isn’t interested in sugarcoating anything for his viewers.
Consider this a bold piece of work. It’s directed by an Asian-American and stars mostly people of color. It’s a film looking to examine the reactions of its very existence. There isn’t any race or orientation that goes uncriticized throughout BODIED; it operates at an exhaustive pace that deserves to be seen and questioned by its audience. While many could just write this off as an 8 MILE rip-off — Trivia: Eminem serves as an executive producer — its a deconstruction of that very notion and the larger political and social climate of 2017. Kahn actively participates in this world while pointing out the flaws in liberal privilege.
However, there’s much to admire in BODIED, namely the jedi-padawan relationship that develops between Adam and Behn Grymm (Jackie Long). They dissect lyrics and deconstruct what that says about themselves as not only men, but human beings. The lines of morality aren’t binary and extend further than black or white. What is impressive about the film is how much information is fed to you through the editing and dialogue, which seemed to be improvised, but maybe Kahn was able to give the film a cadence that works just like a bar of music.
This is a film made by a collective of individuals with diverse backgrounds that span the globe. With movies like BODIED and GET OUT on the cinematic atmosphere, there’s a social consciousness that we haven’t seen in years — and while there’s a long way to go, this film at least propels a conversation to be started. Damn those who say there isn’t an audience for an abrasive film about rap battles, as there’s much to learn if you can just wake up. BODIED exists outside of the Hollywood bubble; its a gem of a film that gets lost in its own thoughts and theories on race, gender, politics. But in the end, the thesis remains clear, and its an unforgiving result.
The list of cartoonish characters detach BODIED from a semblance of reality we exist in, yet Kahn finds truth in the caricatures. The film eventually overstays its welcome during its final act, which is a roughly 30-minute long rap battle. When the story is sacrificed for spectacle, it’s hard to thrust yourself back into the action. Kahn’s last two films have sparkled with ideas that are a joy to watch, even if there aren’t any grand musings made. The truth according to BODIED is, battle rap is a game where everybody has an opportunity to check their own privilege.
BODIED is currently seeking distribution. We will keep you posted on any updates.