Thursday, March 17, 2011

Diana Lee Inosanto, creator and star of THE SENSEI wins AOF Maverick Award

There are a great number of reasons why Diana Lee Inosanto was named the Action On Film International FilmFestival’s 2011 Maverick Award Winner. None of these reasons have anything to do with who she knows or who
she’s related to. Every one of the reasons for her winning this year have to do with something she has accomplished,
for the work she has done and for the strides she continues to make. Here is a little information on the 2011 AOF
Maverick Award Winner.

Inosanto is the writer-director-producer and co-star of the critically successful, and popular festival film, "THESENSEI." In addition, D. Lee would work with Asian American theater companies, East West Players & LodestoneTheater Ensemble continuing to evolve as an actress and martial arts choreographer.

Reaching adulthood, Ms. Inosanto struggled as a young, single mom with an Autistic son. Eventually she met
her husband Ron Balicki, a former Deputy Sheriff turned Martial Arts Entrepreneur / Stunt Coordinator and nowProducer.

Ms. Inosanto made the most of her extensive training and successful career as a stuntwoman to learn directly onset about the “directing process” by watching and absorbing the techniques, strategies, and philosophies exhibited byA-list directors, like Ang Lee, John Woo, Barry Sonnenfeld, Chris Columbus and Clint Eastwood.

By the end of 2010, as an emerging director and writer on THE SENSEI, Inosanto would win
awards and accolades at film festivals like LA Femme International, Hoboken International,
Philadelphia Asian American Film Fest, San Francisco's Frameline, Germany's
Verzaubert Film Festival and New York's Newfest to name a few.

In order to make “The Sensei” a reality, Ms. Inosanto had to overcome manyobstacles, but as always, she perseverd and the result was a fantastic filmand a growing fan base for her work in fornt of and behind the camera.

So powerful was her message that the Asian American Justice Center will present
Ms. Inosanto with the American Courage Award this October 6th, in Washington,

D.C for her bravery and dedication to the cause of civil rights and use of incredible
creative aptitude to deliver the message of advancing social justice.
Moving forward, Ms. Inosanto co-produced with her husband, Ron Balicki, the
action thriller "SINNERS & SAINTS" starring Johnny Strong (Black Hawk Down),
Oscar Nominee Tom Berenger (Inception), Sean Patrick Flanery (Boondock Saints),
Method Man (The Wire) and Kim Coates (Black Hawk Down).

Ms. Inosanto has been accepted into the ALLIANCE OF WOMEN DIRECTORS,
sharing membership with other notable women directors like Catherine
Hardwicke (Twilight) and Kimberely Peirce's (Boys Don't Cry).

Diana Lee Inosanto is currently working on several projects
in various stages of development and will receive herAOF Maverick Award on July 30, 2011 at the 7th AnnualAOF Black Tie Dinner and Award Show.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Diana Lee Inosanto, creator and star of THE SENSEI wins courage award

I am happy and proud to announce, Diana Lee Inosanto, the creator and star of "THE SENSEI" (released last year through Echo Bridge), has been formally invited to accept the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC)American Courage Award at our American Courage Award, this October in Washington D.C.

Diana was selected for this award
"because of the bravery you have
displayed by shedding light on issues of racism, bullying and homophobia
in your film, “The Sensei.”

Founded in 1991, AAJC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to
advance civil and human rights on behalf of Asian Americans and to build
and promote a fair and equitable society for all. AAJC is a nationally
recognized expert on issues of particular importance to the Asian American
community including affirmative action, anti-Asian violence prevention and
race relations, census, immigration and immigrant rights, language access,
media diversity and voting rights. As a member of the Asian American
Center for Advancing Justice, AAJC works alongside its affiliates—the
Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles, the Asian Law Caucus
in San Francisco, and the Asian American Institute in Chicago—to enact a
sweeping range of programs on critical national issues that enrich,
enhance and serve our communities across the country.

Diana will join the ranks of past
recipients of the American Courage Award such as: Lt. Dan Choi, Iraq
veteran and LGBT activist who risked his career to stand up to the
military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; Mallika Dutt, Executive
Director and Founder of Breakthrough, who works to address critical issues
such as violence against women, sexuality and HIV/AIDS, racial justice and
immigrant rights through today’s media and popular culture; Susan Ahn
Cuddy, the first Asian American woman to achieve the rank of officer in
the U.S. Navy; Major General Antonio Taguba, who showed courage in his
reporting on Abu Ghraib and worked to obtain recognition of Filipino World
War II veterans who served in the U.S. Army; Anna Deveare Smith, an
African American actress/playwright and Stanford University professor who
helps illuminate race and religion; and Lou Diamond Phillips, actor and
Filipino Veterans rights activist.

Congratulations to my friend and former director!!! Proud to be able to call her both!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Sensei in London

THE SENSEI - screening in LONDON

THE SENSEI screenings in LONDON May 29-30th, part of SENI

One Western Gateway
Royal Victoria Dock

Wednesday, March 31, 2010


REVIEW: ‘The Sensei’

By Albert Valentin | Published March 21, 2010

Very rarely does a martial arts film tend to be emotional in the vein of bringing out a positive message. While films like THE KARATE KID (1984) and BEST OF THE BEST (1989) bring out a message about self defense and teamwork, this 2008 martial arts drama gives a positive message about civil rights and the courage to fight for who you are during the 1980’s.

The “sensei” of the title is a woman named Karen O’Neill, played by writer/director Diana Lee Inosanto. A Japanese-Filipino-American, she returns to her hometown of Summersfield after a falling out with her family over her rank as a black belt martial artist. She has made amends with most of her family, with the exception of her brother Simon (Tim Lounibos), who still feels she has somehow disgraced the family with her rebellious attitude.

Meanwhile, McClane Evans (Mike O’Laskey), a teenager has been pratically ousted by everyone around with the exception of few because he is a gay teenager who lost his best friend. Feeling conflict not only with local bullies but himself as well, an incident after gym class leaves McClane in the hospital. McClane’s mother Annie (Gina Scalzi) asks for Karen’s help in teaching McClane self-defense. At first, Karen is reluctant, but she eventually takes him in as a student.

McClane and Karen not only become master-student, but friends who possess something in common: the loss of a loved one. When McClane finally stands up to the lead bully who was responsible for his hospitalization, word breaks of Karen’s teaching McClane. It is not long before Karen’s family begins to feel the pressure and get ousted by the townsfolk. However, a shocking revelation may prove to be a factor that not only brings Karen and McClane closer but Karen and her family as well.

The film was set during a time where the AIDS epidemic was on a high rise and people came under the generalization that only homosexual people were akin to the disease. For writer/director/star Diana Lee Inosanto, it was a chance to bring a positive message to break the stereotypical banner while showing that she has the ability to film a martial arts drama. According to Inosanto, the film was influenced by the murder of teen Matthew Sheperd in 1998 as well as the coming out of her cousin and it took seven years to get the project off the ground. The final result is truly worth the wait.

The daughter of Filipino martial arts legend and Bruce Lee student Dan Inosanto, Diana definitely has some martials arts skills and possesses some really good dramatic skills as well. While she has the makings of a talented independent director, she could still brush up a little on her screenwriting in terms of its dialogue. There are times when it seems there is some unnecessary foul language. Maybe it is because she is trying to display the behavior of teens in that era or perhaps, it posed as a set up for the action scenes.

The student, McClane Evans, is played by Mike O’Laskey, perhaps best known for his role as Colt in 3 NINJAS: HIGH NOON AT MEGA MOUNTAIN (1998). A martial artist himself with black belts in Karate and Tae Kwon Do, O’Laskey was able to adapt well when it comes to on-screen fighting, especially in the few big fight scenes he has in the film. O’Laskey also does a good job in the dramatic department as a teen whose sexual orientation makes him an outcast, but also a victim of bullies.

What stands out is the relationship between Karen and McClane. Reminiscent of THE KARATE KID’s Daniel and Miyagi, Karen and McClane soon feel a deeper bond when a major incident reveals a shocking twist to the film. McClane at one point tells Karen that he wished he had met her sooner before the tragedy that fell upon him. Like many friendships, Karen and McClane hit a few bumps but they stick it out until the very end.

Veterans Sab Shimono (TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III) and Emily Kuroda (YELLOW) play Karen’s grandparents, who feel they are at the center of the conflict that emerges between Karen, McClane, and the townsfolk. Despite having top billing for the most part, Keith David (THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT) and Louis Mandylor (MARTIAL LAW) have mainly cameo appearances as a minister and Karen’s ex-fiance, a boxing champion who goes through a very tragic experience. Even martial artist extraordinare Erik Betts brings in a non-action role as a very influential character in Karen’s life as is RUSH HOUR’s Tzi Ma as a Buddhist priest who teaches Karen a life lesson in a memorable flashback.

Inosanto’s husband, martial artist Ron Balicki, did well as the film’s stunt coordinator and fight choreographer. O’Laskey and Inosanto shine when combining Jeet Kune Do, Filipino Kali, and Jujitsu. O’Laskey even gets to add a little taste of Muay Thai and in a demonstration scene, a little bit of perhaps either XMA (Extreme Martial Arts) or Capoeira. There is plenty of blood but not in the vein of NINJA ASSASSIN (2009) but enough to show injuries and even a subliminal sense of sodomy during McClane’s assault. Nevertheless, like BEST OF THE BEST, there are few action scenes but they were well done and shot with minimal quick cuts and close ups.

THE SENSEI is truly an emotional martial arts drama, one that truly needs to be seen because of its positive message of civil rights as well as seeing a future star and filmmaker in the form of Diana Lee Inosanto. Should she decide to do another film, one only hopes she can belt out something as great as this film which can bring someone to tears once they get into the film.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Publicity for THE SENSEI

publicity links as THE SENSEI continues with momentum...maybe you have websites, FB SITES to add this to, to get the word out... - "The Sensei" is on this list!

Blip TV (main show site):

CNN iReport:


PirateBay (without the trailer):






Myspace Video:

Casey Kaczmarek
Nine-Thirty Consulting
Media & Public Relations
West Hollywood

Sunday, March 14, 2010

"The Sensei" interview with Diana Lee Inosanto on CNN iReport

Blip TV (main show site):

CNN iReport:


PirateBay (without the trailer):






Myspace Video:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Reviews coming in for THE SENSEI

The Sensei Presents a Spiritual Journey Worth Exploring
The Sensei Presents a Spiritual Journey Worth Exploring
By Raymond Horwitz

Diana Lee Inosanto and Michael O’Laskey star in The Sensei.
(Art courtesy of Echo Bridge Entertainment)
While many martial arts films focus on moving the audience through a series of flashy fight sequences set on dark city streets, questionably lit competition halls or picturesque pagoda-peppered locales, The Sensei is not a typical martial arts movie. Written and directed by Diana Lee Inosanto—daughter of martial arts legend Dan Inosanto and goddaughter of Bruce Lee—the movie features a conservative Wyoming town as its backdrop and tells a compelling story about people, prejudice, family, faith and fear.

Set primarily in 1985, the film’s two central characters are Karen O’Neil, who is deftly portrayed by Inosanto, and McClain Evans, a gay teenager played by Power Rangers alumnus Michael O'Laskey. In a somewhat predictable plot setup, Evans is bullied by high-school jocks. What isn’t so predictable, however, is the film’s portrayal of the brutality eventually inflicted on Evans, which is communicated on-screen in Hitchcock-like fashion. The film foreshadows the impending trauma without actually showing it, allowing what’s not seen to be more horrific than what is.

Regardless of whether one can see what happens, what happens to Evans qualifies as a worst-case scenario. This prompts Evans’ mother to seek help from O’Neil, a gifted martial artist whose family runs the town’s martial arts school. She agrees to provide Evans with private lessons in an old barn, where she teaches a variety of martial arts to the socially and physically awkward teenager. There’s a montage with a wing chun-style wooden dummy as well as throwing, kicking and striking drills. Evans’ physical skills and self-esteem improve dramatically as time passes.

So far, this sounds like familiar territory: an underdog-finds-help-and-fights-back story similar to a re-imagined version of The Karate Kid with inverted gender roles.

Despite this demographic rearrangement of the cookie-cutter premise, however, The Sensei’s similarity to such now-trite formulas ends here.

The film not only exposes gay bashing in the high-school locker room but also explores the dynamics of O’Neil’s conservative Asian family and their interaction with the town’s predominantly non-Asian population. Adding more complexity to the equation is the fact that O’Neil and her several brothers come from mixed ethnic and religious heritage. “I was raised by a Filipino Christian grandmother and a Japanese Buddhist grandfather,” O’Neil says. “It was a weird combination.”

Eventually, O’Neil’s family learns that she is training Evans in secret. This development does not sit well with them, and they move into damage-control mode. Evans is a gay teenager whose former partner was killed by town bullies—and in 1985 Wyoming, having their school associated with such a perceived undesirable is considered tantamount to professional suicide.

Allegorically, this concept of suicide extends beyond the professional world and into the medical realm, given the prevailing and often erroneous attitudes of the day about the transmission of AIDS. And while this theme is not fully explored in the film, it is definitely a subtext played with subtlety thanks to Inosanto’s keen writing and directorial choices.

Adding fuel to the conflict fire is the fact that O’Neil is teaching this ostracized gay student because she had been passed over in black-belt promotions due to the school’s conservative tradition of only promoting men. Her various acts of rebellion, told in brief yet effective flashback sequences, paint a picture of long-standing strife as O’Neil seeks peace with her place in the school hierarchy and her position as the proverbial black sheep of her family.

This complex backdrop, while perhaps plodding on paper, moves along at a surprisingly brisk pace thanks to its focus on tight editing and character-driven storytelling rather than on setting up the next fight. And while the film does feature several fight scenes, they serve to move the plot forward rather than the genre-typical reverse.

Ironically, it’s the martial arts sequences that raised my eyebrow at a couple of spots—perhaps because they were supposed to depict more true-to-life fighting rhythms than staged ones, or because the staging and editing weren’t on par with the film’s very strong dramatic narrative. However, because these sequences are peppered in sparingly for specific plot-pertinent purposes, they do not detract from the overall experience.

The Sensei is really about the characters’ internal fights, and the physical fights between them externally are vehicles for depiction and plot momentum. Family relations are strained, allegiances are tested, devastating secrets are revealed, and preconceptions about people labeled as “other” (often by men and women considered “other” themselves) are challenged—and this could all be laborious drivel without the catalyst of physical conflict, which Inosanto uses as color in her storytelling palette rather than a means to an end.

For a film written and directed by a martial artist, titled with a martial arts term and featuring martial arts as a narrative thread, The Sensei isn’t so much about a teacher-student relationship as it is about the often-ambiguous art of living life and continuing to walk forward in the face of fear, anger and heartbreak. The martial arts component is the backdrop, the vehicle for telling this story of the human condition in a particular time and place.

Across multiple viewings, I was moved emotionally at the same plot points each time, which serves as a testament to the performances by the actors, the thoughtful script by Inosanto, the film’s score by composer Dean Ogden, some beautiful cinematography by Mark Rutledge and editing choices by Reine Claire. The elements coalesce like a well-structured piece of music, knowing when to splash color, crescendo and retreat.

As a minister played by Keith David (recently seen in the film Crash) says during a pair of scenes that bookend the film, “Life is the sensei.” And this snapshot of life in a small Wyoming town is richly animated by invested performances from a passionate cast, including Louis Mandylor (Martial Law; My Big Fat Greek Wedding) as boxer Mark Corey; Tzi Ma as an ultra-serene Buddhist monk; Sab Shimono as O’Neil’s grandfather Taki Nakano, head of the town’s martial arts school; and his wife Flora Takano, played with honed comic timing and emotional sensitivity by Emily Kuroda.

The Sensei is a spiritual journey that presents a surprisingly complex yet successfully intertwined array of dilemmas, questions and crises as it bravely delves into some of the darkest reaches of the modern human condition: prejudice, fear, sexism, racism and homophobia, among others. And while a bit heavy-handed in its execution, the film’s overall delivery—and the moments when its elements truly harmonize in heartbreaking fashion—make the journey well worth taking.

(The Sensei is available on DVD, iTunes and various cable services. For more information, visit the Or for more martial arts entertainment, check out our Black Belt Shop.)