Dances with Knives

Posted: April 8, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , ,

The buzz has been building since that insane trailer hit the Internet, and The Raid: Redemption (why, oh why was that completely unnecessary subtitle added?) has finally landed on our local screens. So my wife and I sallied out to catch it this weekend, because nothing says “Easter” like excessive violence (just ask Mel Gibson).

Our premise, then, is a raid by the Indonesian equivalent of SWAT into a gang-controlled highrise so seedy and grim that even the zombies have clearly given it a pass, wanting nothing to do with a neighbourhood that bad, thank you very much. Within minutes, everything goes pear-shaped, and an orgy of killings by gun, blade, fist and foot ensues.

I am very much looking forward to the DVD release, in the hopes that one of the extras will be outtakes and behind-the-scenes looks at the stunts, because how anybody survived the making of this film is beyond me. I had been delighted, earlier this year, by the old-school brutality of the fight scenes in Steven Soderbergh’s Haywire, but ye godz, the work here defies description and beggars belief. The fight sequences, gentle reader, are to be witnessed, not described, so I won’t go into them much here. I shall simply state that, if there is any justice the world, the fighting style of silat will have the same rejuvenating impact on the action genre as did District 13’s revelation of parkour in 2004. And the UN General Assembly should forthwith issue a declaration that, from this day onward, all martial arts scenes in film must include the use of knives.

This is an action movie that remembers that the most exciting special effect is not necessarily the biggest explosion (and believe me, I have ab-so-lute-ly nothing against Very Large Explosions), but rather the human body accomplishing the seemingly impossible (and doing so in the service of the most take-no-prisoners, wince-inducing ass-kickery imaginable). There was a very small audience at the screening we attended, and in a large theatre, that usually makes for a pretty quiet viewership. But every last one of us was hooting, shouting, and laughing with giddy exhilaration. If you’re lucky enough to catch this with a packed hall, you’ll probably be a week coming down from the adrenaline high.

But outstanding fight choreography aside, there something else the film does very, very right, and this is at the level of the script. The economy of the storytelling is superb. Mercifully absent are: long build-ups, digressions into “witty” banter, attempts to flesh out the characters with family picnics, Beatles record collections or collapsing swimming pools, and so on. The raid is underway within the first five minutes. Any character development takes place during brief interludes or is integral to the action scenes themselves. The Raid know we have come for the meat – raw, brutal excitement – and so the meat is what we get, with every gram of fat removed.

I’m not saying that the lesson I’m drawing from this is that all writing should be similarly devoid of anything but set-pieces. Film is a visual medium, this is an action film, and so the movie very appropriately emphasizes the kinetic. But this is (for me, I hope) a salutary reminder to ask myself, when plotting, writing, or revising, does this need to be here? I know I won’t always ask that question, or answer it correctly (or honestly, if it comes to that). But if someone else does ask (and then deploys some completely appropriate editorial silat), I’ll have only myself to blame.

  1. Zoltan G says:

    Thanks for the review. As for reminders about the virtues of economy in writing, we can’t have too many of those. I was reminded of this again while reading Simenon for the first time. And I’m going to see this movie as soon as I can.

    I have to ask though, why you find it still necessary to capitalize the Internet–an innovation that has been with us for some time. I can understand why we would, of course, still do this for the Telephone, but the series of interconnected tubes is a humbler thing.


  2. A residual tick. My word processor used to demand the capitalization. The wax tablets that came with the most recent update have done away with this requirement, I note.

  3. ‘Internet’ is still frequently considered a proper noun, and so is capitalised. I just looked at the index of the 3d edition of the /MLA Style Manual/, and they capitalise it (while telling you: ‘see Web publications’).

    Increasingly, though, it’s considered a generic noun, and so could be considered cognate with brand names that have been used as generic nouns (e.g., frigidaire, hoover, kleenex, xerox, &c). . . .