Heroes of the East

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Heroes of the East

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    The Raid: Redemption (not yet on DVD)


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    Post  ewaffle Thu May 03, 2012 9:05 pm

    If “The Raid: Redemption” was a movie made in Hong Kong during the 1980s, either the prequel or the sequel or perhaps both would have already been shot, edited and ready for distribution. The title is the first give-away; it could possibly be preceded by “Jaka and Rama: Before the Raid” with “The Raid: Revenge” as the final movie of the trilogy. There are more indications within the narrative itself—references to important events that happened in the years before the raid and an obvious refusal to wind things up in the last scene. So we can hope for more.

    Death comes in all the typical ways for the characters and extras: they are shot, hit with machetes, stabbed with knives and thrown from balconies. A few get beaten to death and there are at least two who are dispatched with an axe. Most this takes place in close-up with lots of blood. And a lot of them have their heads crushed against walls, tables or floors; head crushing may be the most common form of death among the combatants.

    The one extended scene with dialog and recognizable characters is dull and poorly written and seems to be dropped into the middle of the movie for no real reason. We don’t know anything more after it happens than we did before nor do the characters change as a result of it. But without this scene the movie would have been about 95 minutes of brutal action and five minutes of credits.

    There were the usual martial arts conventions and tropes. A character that has been beaten into a bloody pulp and left for dead gets up and starts fighting again; combatants gain strength by fighting—as the bodies pile up our heroes get stronger although they absorbed a lot of damage while beating up fifty or sixty machete wielding maniacs.

    A movie creates its own universe with special laws of physics and codes of behavior. “The Raid: Redemption” violated its own rules really egregiously at least once. As I watched the paramilitary SWAT team fight its way up the stairs and get slaughtered while doing it I thought it was strange that director/writer/editor/action director Gareth Evans didn’t give them some of the best and most basic weapons for door to door fighting: shotguns and hand grenades but assumed that he just wanted to lengthen the odds even more against the invaders. But then one of them makes an ingenious very short range artillery piece from a big propane tank stuffed into a refrigerator. The open side of the refrigerator is put flush against a door the remaining SWAT survivors have barricaded against a murderous mob in the hallway. When the propane is detonated the appliance that it is in shapes the fiery explosion into and through the doorway, killing a lot of assailants. The detonator for the improvised explosive was a hand grenade—which he shouldn’t have had according to the rules of combat laid down for this particular movie. Not a big deal but distracting.

    I am eager to get the DVD so I can watch some of the stunts in slow motion or even frame by frame. There are some amazing falls, crunching landings and impossible cinematic athletic feats. Indonesian stuntmen are a very hardy group.

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    Post  ewaffle Fri May 04, 2012 1:14 pm

    I thought both "Hoop Dreams" and "Crumb" were excellent; "Hoop Dreams" even more so. People I know who are not fans of any sport thought if was a great movie.

    The work depicted by "The Interrupters" is better than the movie itself. I know that area of the south side pretty well, even did some political organizing in Altgeld Gardens, the housing project where a lot of the action took place. This is a good indication of how much of an all but official underclass is stuck there. http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=143727 "The Interrupters," done by the same director and Chicago based company as "Hoop Dreams" is an unbalanced look at those who work to end street violence, told almost completely from their perspective. This makes sense since Ameena Matthews, Eddie Bocanegra and Cobe Williams are charismatic people and documentary filmmakers can chose any aspect of an issue to illuminate. But they were really stretching in, for example, the story about Cobe Williams getting the two brothers in competing gangs to agree not to shoot each other, at least while they were living in their mother's house.

    The segment with Williams and Flamo, the half insane ex-con who is ready to shoot up the neighborhood, was masterful and amazing. When Flamo first shows up at the door to his house we think that this is a case in which the interrupters must fail. Flamo has no reason to do anything but get high, feel slighted and hurt people. If you have ever encountered a Flamo you know how volatile and dangerous a person like that can be. The almost universal ways of dealing with him are to either stay away from him or beat him to a pulp (or kill him).

    The scene in which Eddie Bocanegra brought the teenager who had robbed a beauty parlor at gunpoint back to the scene of his crime to apologize to those he terrorized was excellent. The kid was just out of prison--he did a stretch for the armed robbery--and dealing with his victims was the last thing he wanted to do but he also knew he should do it. There is a faint dawning of rationality with him by the end of the movie--he has a makework job with a local community center and is beginning to think that he can stay out of prison, something that is very, very difficult for young men once they are in the system. Bocanegra's agony over the man he killed is real and moving, especially his wanting to tell the dead man's family how sorry he is and his realization that they aren't now and will probably never be ready to listen to him.

    Ameena Matthews is a star. Hyper-articulate, totally photogenic, she dominates every scene she is in--and she is in a lot of them. Much is made in the movie and in commentary on the movie about her former place in the gangster royalty of the south side which is the way it should be. She is the daughter of Jeff Fort is a real legend on parts of the south side. He was a presence on the streets for 20 years and remains one even though he will never get out of prison (nor should he).

    My difficult with the approach that Steve James takes is his unconditional acceptance of all the claims the violence interrupters make. Tio Hardiman, the director of CeaseFire Illinois takes credit for a drop (which turns out to be temporary) in gun crimes in an area. The violence interrupters may have been part of the cause for the slackening of gunfire but there are myriad reasons for such a thing happening.

    I like the interrupters more than "The Interrupters".
    Brian T
    Brian T

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    Post  Brian T Wed May 09, 2012 10:12 am

    Nice thoughts on THE RAID. I saw this at the TIFF last September (my first film of the fest, and none of the 19 I saw after it came close to topping it in terms of simply delivery on a premise). I posted a review at IMDB the next day (beaten to the punch by someone else, unfortunately), and enjoyed a decent "usefullness" rating before the page became flooded with reviews after the North American release. Here's my thoughts, from over there, preceded by a jab at people who write hyperbolic reviews immediately after film festival screenings packed with like-minded film buffs enjoying the communal "experience" as much if not more than the films themselves:

    NOTE: Early, gushing reviews from TIFF Midnight Madness presentations
    should not generally be trusted, as many fest-goers are unable to
    separate the film from the experience, and formal critical consensus
    often sends most Midnight films into obscurity. Thankfully, THE RAID
    earns its stripes and deserves its praise, and stands firmly above the
    typically overeager reactions heaped on many other films screened in
    the Midnight program this year and in years past.

    - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    In the future, when someone tells you a movie is wall-to-wall martial
    arts and gunplay, you should have no choice but to ask them how it
    rates against this picture, which has so much gunfire and brutal
    martial arts action -- all of it meticulously choreographed in ways
    more refreshing than I'd ever have thought possible in this world of
    peak-performance Donnie Yens and Tony Jaas -- that I very nearly lost
    the hearing in my right ear, in no small part thanks to the tendency of
    TIFF sluggos to mistake volume for quality when adjusting their sound
    levels in an aged, less-than--acoustically-ideal theatre.

    Star Iko Uwais is the real deal: wiry, lightning-fast and evidently the
    leader of a team of experts that truly takes martial arts choreography
    into new territory with this film (and, to a lesser extent, MERENTAU
    before it). If there's a downside to his inevitable celebrity because
    of this film, it's that Indonesian cinema in general will fare no
    better than Thai cinema has in the wake of Tony Jaa. Like Jaa, anything
    Uwais makes from this film on -- especially if he keeps teaming with
    writer-director Gareth Evans, as he should for at least a couple more
    pictures -- will gain instant and welcome interest from the west, while
    the rest of Indonesian cinema (such as it is!) will remain the domain
    of low-brow entertainment that caters largely to the locals, with the
    exception of the occasional horror movie that can be scooped up for
    exploitation by "Asian Extreme" DVD labels and streams in the U.S. and

    What really separates this picture from the hordes of martial arts
    films from the region is its heavy use of Silat, the native martial art
    of Indonesia. I've seen a billion martial arts pictures over the years,
    and a million "styles" to go with them, but I'll admit my knowledge of
    Silat was absolute zero, and this movie turned out to be a wonderful
    wakeup call.

    The key thing about Silat is that it involves knives, lots of 'em, and
    the film's heroes and villains deploy them with extreme prejudice for
    almost the entire duration. One stab won't do, but ten capped off by a
    throat slashing is a good way to gauge whether you've won the battle.

    By way of example, picture the exemplary alley-fight-with-sharp-weapons
    between Donnie Yen and Jackie Wu Jing in SPL (a personal favourite
    sequence). Now, double the speed (!), and make the ultimate goal to
    stab, slice or otherwise eviscerate your opponent into oblivion, and
    you've got most of the hand-to-hand combat in THE RAID. Hero cop Uwais
    has this neat little trick where he stabs a long blade deep into your
    upper thigh, then yanks it clean down to your kneecap. Ouch! This thing
    is bloody with a capital B, but it's so exceptionally well
    choreographed, photographed and edited that you never lose sight of the
    geography surrounding the combatants or feel like you've missed a
    single blow or puncture as each new pair (or group!) of fighters grinds
    each other down.

    Evans' editing in particular is a standout, and rather refreshingly, it
    isn't used to hide little bits of phony business or make the fight
    participants look more skilled than they really are, such as it often
    is in so many action pictures these days (both in western, and, sadly,
    many Asian cinemas; Legend of the Fist, I'm looking at you). Evans'
    performers know their stuff, and his editing does more showing than

    As to the picture as a whole, if you thought the final 40 minutes of
    John Woo's HARD BOILED were collectively one of the greatest pieces of
    action cinema from anywhere ever, imagine that cinematic Nirvana
    expanded to feature length, and with virtually no fat. The movie starts
    with a team of elite cops attempting to covertly secure a maze-like
    high-rise slum apartment building run by a merciless drug lord (when we
    first meet him, he's executing five bound and gagged men in his office,
    but he runs out of bullets for the fifth guy, which causes him to
    casually grab a hammer out of his desk drawer . . . ). Within minutes,
    though, his goons -- who populate every floor of the building like
    cockroaches, fight like rabid dogs and spontaneously appear around
    every corner and out of every doorway -- turn the tables and wipe out
    most of the fleet in a monster battle of guns, fists, feet and the
    ubiquitous knives, trapping just a precious few of our heroes on the
    sixth and seventh floors with little hope of escape.

    Aside from a couple of quiet moments where allegiances on both sides of
    the field shift, not unexpectedly, that's pretty much it in terms of
    plot, and it obvious the filmmakers would have it no other way. This is
    a showcase, for Silat, for Indonesia and for Iko Uwais, who is very
    much the "next Tony Jaa" (as I'm sure he'll be labeled far and wide),
    for better and, somewhat regrettably, for worse in terms of his
    country's film industry, for he may very well come to single-handedly
    represent it around the globe. Not that I'm complaining after having
    been winded by such an audacious effort as THE RAID.

    Barry Prima who?

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    Post  ewaffle Wed May 09, 2012 6:21 pm

    Gareth Evans is a big guy--I imagine that is a Welsh inflection when he speaks.

    They have the right idea over there--even for relatively formal (or at least official) occasions the men dress in really sharp multicolored and cool (as in temperature) looking long shirts.

    Brian T
    Brian T

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    Post  Brian T Wed May 09, 2012 7:16 pm

    Thanks for posting that. You're right about the Welsh accent. According to the Google translate, the description under the video says, roughly:
    Vice President Boediono national award of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) to 14 characters and companies are considered to contribute to progress the development of IPR systems in Indonesia. The Raid received an award for the category Copyright Creative Economy.
    Might not be the equivalent of an Oscar, but considering THE RAID is miles beyond nearly any film produced in Malaysia ever, it's sure to be one of many.

    I do think Evans is bound for greater things. When the global distribution rights for THE RAID were snapped up at TIFF within hours after that first screening, I feared Evans would leap at Hollywood's inevitable offer to crank out a committee-approved remake or, worse, some big budget popcorn action fare and then get busted down to television if it didn't ignite the boxoffice. I'm glad he's chosen to remain in Indonesia for at least a couple more RAID pictures. Hopefully he branches out to another genre or two as well, just to prove he can be an actor's director as much as he can an action hero's director. Then might be the right time to consider crossing the pond.

    Apparently THE RAID and MERENTAU (but especially THE RAID) mark the first time that Indonesia's proprietary brand of martial arts, Silat, has truly been showcased in the country's cinema. The industry cranked out hundreds of martial arts films back in the 70's and 80's, vast quantities of them starring Barry Prima (see last line of my review), but according to one of the producers who attended the TIFF screening, what was largely displayed onscreen all those years was Kung Fu and other imported martial arts. Presumably that made them more exportable to other Asian markets and into the west, where many viewers probably assumed they were lower-end Hong Kong pictures. I believe Indonesian footage turned up in mash-ups from the infamous Godfrey Ho, or some other producer of his kind.

    My only regret about the TIFF screening was not asking (or hearing anyone else ask) for a demonstration. Thankfully, someone took care of that at one of the followup shows the next day, and Iko Uwais modestly obliged:


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