Constanze: “Is it not good?”
Salieri: “It is miraculous.”
3) Jaka vs Mad Dog
- Sergeant Jaka, the smart & capable leader of this SWAT team. While the corrupt Lieutenant Wahyu is ultimately in charge of this mission, Jaka is the team’s field commander. Played by Joe Taslim, a former Judo champion-turned-actor who you might recognize from being in Fast & Furious 6 earlier this year.
- Mad Dog, one of the crime lord’s two right-hand men. Smart, sadistic, relentless and enthralled with the glory of physical combat, Mad Dog is one dangerous puppy. Played by Yayan Ruhian, a renowned silat instructor (he used to train the Indonesian equivalent of the Secret Service) turned actor. While Iko Uwais is undoubtedly the star of The Raid and does the lion’s share of physical work, Ruhian is the movie’s secret weapon.
The Setup: While Rama has been fighting his way through legions of cannon fodder and mini-bosses, his companions Jaka, Wahyu and another cop named Dagu have been evading and hiding as well. Finally holing up in an abandoned apartment, this second group of survivors try to figure their way out of this mess. Jaka is able to deduce that Wahyu is hiding something and confronts him. After some drama (including the revelation that this mission is not officially sanctioned and no one else knows they’re here), the group decides to sneak out, but they pick the absolute worst time because as soon as Jaka opens the door he gets a kick in the face from Mad Dog, who’s been dispatched with a couple followers to track down the survivors.
There’s a scuffle between the two sides that ends Jaka ordering his men to escape, with Mad Dog’s posse in pursuit. Meanwhile, the two leaders get caught in a weapons stand-off that is decidedly uneven.
Once they’re alone, Mad Dog gestures for Jaka to put down the knife, which he does with some caution. Then they both rise and, at the villain’s further direction, enter the room. Mad Dog closes the door behind them and relaxes. As Jaka stands a few feet away, wary, Mad Dog unloads and discards his gun, then removes his sweater. All the while he talks about how killing someone with a gun is too easy (“like ordering takeout”) and he prefers the thrill of the fight, of getting his hands dirty.
The audience has already been informed, via Jaka’s intel, that Mad Dog is definitely crazy, but we didn’t know how crazy. The way Ruhian delivers his lines so calmly, even breezily, indicates the presence of a truly dangerous psycho. There’s something about his simple confidence in himself that’s kind of terrifying.
The villain stretches out, struts toward his target, and immediately unloads.
The Fight: Just non-stop, pure, brutal violence. They’re punching, kicking, blocking, dodging, tossing, reversing. They’re down, they’re back up, they’re all over the room, they’re slamming each other into things. It’s fast and it’s insane. No amount of description could do it justice. It’s a hurricane.
Hard, percussive muic kicks in just as soon as the fight starts, and only briefly lets up at one point when Jaka is able to get atop his adversary and furiously tries to choke him to death. Then it kicks right back in as soon as Mad Dog pops loose.
The two combatants are dazzling, managing that amazing feat of playing out meticulous choreography while somehow making it all look natural; it’s simultaneously a work of technical perfection but it’s also just two warriors trying desperately to kill each other.
And for all Jaka’s superlative skill, it becomes increasingly clear that he’s out of his league here. Mad Dog is too fast, too resilient, too much. Jaka can’t stop him, heck watching this you’d almost believe a superhero couldn’t stop him. Though the villain absorbs many powerful blows and is left a sweaty, tired mess by the end, Mad Dog’s victory is guaranteed when he delivers a particularly strong knee to his foe’s face.
Jaka is still moving afterward, but is notably slower and dazed. Here the whole pace of the fight slows down, because the villain knows the end is near. He even revels in it, as we can see in a close-up shot when he tilts his face to the ceiling in a moment of perversely serene ecstasy.
From here on Evans plays a few tricks that solidify the sense of dread and inevitability. The drums die down and are replaced on the score by an odd mechanical whine that steadily rises, so loud that it drowns out the sounds from the few remaining blows (instead they’re accompanied by drum booms on the soundtrack). Because what happens from here is no longer excitement & entertainment but drama: a good man is about to be murdered.
Mad Dog softens Jaka up with another running blow. Then he grabs his neck, and, still savoring the moment, caresses his enemy’s head, almost affectionately. Jaka squirms to get loose but a vicious punch to the face stuns him further.
And with one brutal twist, boom! Neck snapped. Just like how Superman does it.
The word for this is perfection. It is utterly without flaw from a technical or dramatic standpoint. It avoids the sins that deflate so many otherwise great fight scenes (and, to be honest, even a few great ones). The two combatants don’t just “take turns winning”; they have a genuine, non-stop and complex push & pull where neither side gains advantage for more than a few seconds. Rarely is a fight this convincingly close, either– they’re both amazingly talented fighters but while one is clearly better, the other truly makes him work for it; it’s plausible that Jaka could have won. And the victor does not win on a technicality or a matter of luck. Mad Dog wins simply because he’s better… or perhaps just more crazy, savage and fearless.
While Taslim is outstanding, the real star of this fight is, of course, Yahyan Ruhian. He has a surprising range for a non-actor– he only ended up in front of the camera after joining Gareth Evans’ previous film, Merantau, as a choreographer, and ended up filling in an acting slot when the director had trouble filling a small but important antagonist role. In Merantau he was certainly a bad guy but more of a tragic one, his soulful eyes betraying a lot of regret. But here he’s a flat-out psychopath, the kind of guy you’d cross the street to avoid if you saw him walking down the sidewalk. On paper, the kind of bad guy who puts down his gun because he so openly relishes bare-hands killing is such a cliché, but Ruhian elevates it through the sheer intensity of his performance.
And one other thing? This whole battle, including the slower portion at the end as Mad Dog prepares to give the coup de grace, is well under two minutes. Yet it’s packed with so much incident it feels like much more. Is this how Olympic athletes feel during the 100-meter dash?
We are honored to witness this.
Coming Attractions: Taking the rest of this week off for Christmas. But when we come back, our heroes say no to drugs.