By Mallory Andrews

South African director Jahmil X.T. Qubeka’s muscular sports/crime drama centres on aging, womanizing boxer Dudu Nyakama (Bongile Mantsai) and his criminal brother Duke (Thembekile Komani). Dudu, desperate for one last shot at fame and glory in the ring before retirement, enlists Duke’s help in finally becoming a contender—even if it means being at the mercy of the neighbourhood’s brutal criminal overlords. The criminal and family-loyalty elements of the script are not particularly interesting or unique, but Knuckle City undeniably shines when it sticks to the sweet science. While Qubeka, who last visited TIFF in 2018 with Sew the Winter to My Skin, doesn’t exactly reinvent the pugilism genre here, his slick, stylish filmmaking brings an impressive kineticism to the fight sequences, the first-person camerawork in the ring evoking Ryan Coogler’s dynamic fight choreography in Creed. Leading man Mantsai (also returning from Sew the Winter to My Skin) is an especially riveting screen presence, solid as a one-two punch.

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