Pacific Rim (fight 2 of 5)

Another fight filled with tragedy.

And not just because Stryker never got any beads for this.

And not just because Striker never got any beads for this.

If Pacific Rim has any major weakness it’s that it sags in the middle. Not terminally– what does transpire is watchable enough if a bit cliche-ridden and predictable, plus there are a couple of human physical sequences we’ll get to later– but if you came for giant robots fighting giant monsters (and of course you did), there’s a huge stretch of time where that is inexplicably not happening.

Fortunately the movie makes up for it when the action finally does rev back up, giving the audience three big fight sequences that are practically back-to-back-to-back, and a climax not too long after. This is where the movie starts to make its money.

2) Typhoon, Cherno and Striker vs Otachi and Leatherback

The Fighters:

  • Crimson Typhoon, a robot made and by piloted by the Chinese (the jaeger program is an international effort). Unlike the other machines it has a third arm, made possible by its number of pilots. Rather than hands, each arm has a large spinning blade attached to the end of it, making this the jaeger’s primary offensive attack. Typhoon uses the blades in a technique called the “Thundercloud Formation,” the specifics of which are vague but is apparently designed to allow a continuous and seemingly unblockable offense. The robot’s head is also smaller than other models’ but more easily moved, increasing the pilots’ ability to see at the expense of heightened vulnerability, since the head is where the pilots are located. This will turn out to be a bad trade-off.
    • Piloted by: Cheung Wei Tang, Hu Wei Tang, and Jin Wei Tang, Chinese triplets and martial artists. Played by Charles Luu, Lance Luu, and Mark Luu, who are, you guessed it, real-life identical triplets. Good thing for them they’re Chinese and not North Korean. Supposedly Guillermo del Toro wanted quadruplets for the role but couldn’t find any so he had to settle for triplets… which is mystifying because the Wei Tangs are on-screen for so little time a fourth could have easily been simulated using movie tricks that have been around since at least The Parent Trap. Heck, they could have done it all with just one guy.
  • Cherno Alpha, the Russian jaeger and one of the oldest around. Big and simple in a very stereotypically Russian way: ugly, but it gets the job done. Unlike the other jaegers (especially Typhoon), its head is a thick, heavily protected tin can connected directly to the torso, with no “neck” or other vulnerable spots– you know, like the guy who used to beat you up in high school. Doesn’t seem to have any offensive powers besides its extra-large fists.
    • Piloted by: Aleksis and Sasha Kaidonovsky, a Russian husband & wife team. Like the Wei Tangs, they’re not much of a presence in the movie, but they still make a strong impression with their imposing size, stoic attitudes and outrageous bleach blonde hair. Played by Robert Maillet and Heather Doerksen, the latter of whom probably had to endure a lot of taunting in primary school.
  • Striker Eureka, an Australian jaeger with the highest kill count on record. A newer, sleek and speedy model. Like Gipsy, Striker largely gets things done physically (aided by some sharp-looking prongs at the top of its wrists), but it also houses six short-range missile launchers behind a retractable chest cavity. It’s unknown just how powerful the missiles are, but one barrage was enough to finish off a tough-looking kaiju earlier in the movie (in a battle so fleetingly glimpsed via news report earlier in the movie it’s not worth writing up), which makes you wonder why cities don’t just set up similar missile batteries near their coastlines.
    • Piloted by: Herc and Chuck Hansen, a father & son Aussie team. Herc, the dad, is a veteran jaeger & military pilot. The son, Chuck, is fairly young but a talented hotshot. He’s also another of the film’s irritations, because he’s a cartoonishly arrogant and needlessly vindictive prick. Apparently the screenwriters felt the film needed an element of drama it could only get from a designated jerk, so they made a bully straight out of a bad 80s high school movie to hiss nasty stuff at Raleigh every time they’re on-screen together. There’s a moment toward the end where Pentecost casually diagnoses Chuck as having “daddy issues,” which is bizarre because Herc is incredibly nice & respectful to everybody. Played by Max Martini (from The Unit!) and Robert Kazinsky, respectively
  • Otachi, a more lizard-like kaiju who prefers to crawl about on all fours. In addition to the deadly claws & jaws that all these beasties seem to come equipped with, Otachi (Japanese for “big sword,” apparently) also has an extra-long & thick prehensile tail, with another large gripper claw on the end of it. It can also spit large amounts of corrosive blue acid which it stores in a sac underneath the chin. And this won’t come into play until later, but Otachi also has a set of strong wings hidden in its forearms.
  • Leatherback, a fat kaiju with a gorilla-like body who walks dragging the knuckles attached to his enormous forearms. Big & strong, of course, and he has some sort of alien device on his back that can release an electromagnetic pulse (EMP).

Whew, that was a long one.

The Setup: After their first attempt at forming a neural bridge went all kinds of wrong, Raleigh and his would-be partner, Mako, are grounded, so when two more kaiju are detected (the first time more than one has attacked at once), it’s up to Cherno & Typhoon to defend the city (Striker is held back in reserve, because it’s needed for an important mission later). Though actually as we shortly find out, the kaiju’s primary mission here is to hunt down a human scientist working for the jaeger program, because he’d gone rogue and neural-drifted with a piece of kaiju corpse, getting the hive mind’s attention. (The scientist, Dr. Geiszler, is made to feel bad for “provoking” the enemy, but since they were intent on showing up in cities and wrecking things anyway, I don’t see what the big difference is.)

So Striker hugs the coast while the two other active jaegers venture out to find the approaching kaiju. It doesn’t take them long.

Peekaboo.

Peekaboo.

The Fight: Otachi, not one to beat around the bush, pops out of the water directly in front of Crimson Typhoon. After a brief holler, it spins around and floors the jaeger with its massive tail. Sweep the leg!

NO MERCY!

NO MERCY!

Typhoon pauses and actually shakes its head a little bit before getting up, the way a human would after taking a hard knock. Presumably this is because the pilots are a bit dazed from the fall and the jaeger is only following their movements, but it’s still a funny touch because it looks like the robot is dizzy, which is hilarious.

Typhoon arises and attacks Otachi using Thundercloud, all three blades spinning madly. The brothers get in a good five or six swipes, ripping several tears across the kaiju’s ugly gut, before Otachi seizes two of the jaeger’s hands in its own claws, crunching the blades good. Rather than just going to town with the remaining third limb (this would kind of seem to be what it’s there for, no?), Typhoon responds by using the jets on its back to leap into the air above Otachi’s head, but remains vertical and still with its hands caught in the monster’s claws. It looks like the world’s biggest, slowest suplex, except it’s self-inflicted.

While Typhoon is briefly suspended above Otachi’s head, the pilots swivel the entire lower half of its body (that’s nifty) so that it lands with increased leverage, which it then uses to fling Otachi several hundred feet through the air.

The kaiju stumbles in the shallow water, where it finds Cherno Alpha ready for business. The beefy jaeger wastes no time charging in and delivering an elbow drop (more rasslin’ moves!) to Otachi’s long neck. Cherno segues right into a headlock and follows up with a few blows to the monster’s face. It can’t finish the job, though, because the creature’s tail swipes in to knock it down.

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The Hansens see this and want to help, but are told to stand down by command. Meanwhile, Typhoon closes back in on Otachi, so the beast is surrounded and seemingly in trouble. But that damn tail is still too unpredictable for the pilots: it whips in and smacks Typhoon, and the claw at the end of it grabs onto Typhoon’s head/cockpit. This spurs the Hansens to finally disobey orders and start rushing over to help, but it’s too late to save Typhoon’s noggin: after a little bit of wrenching, the entire thing gets yanked clean off, and flung carelessly into the sea. Just like with Yancy we don’t see what happens to the triplets inside after that, but they almost certainly didn’t survive. As for Crimson Typhoon, well, now he’ll never be the head of a major corporation.

That's not the way to get ahead in life

Too soon?

Really, as I said earlier, that was a serious design flaw. Surely they could have found a way to increase the jaeger’s visibility (cameras embedded in the sides, or something) without leaving its pilots so exposed. This is twice now in the movie a jaeger has been quickly compromised by a direct attack on its cockpit. That’s not the way to get ahead in life.

Anyway, Cherno Alpha’s pilots see this and are pissed. The jaeger clangs its fists together in anticipation, and rushes at Otachi. Unfortunately, Otachi does its Linda Blair impression and hits Cherno square in the face with deadly acid. The jaeger is damaged but not down, even though the acid quickly leaves the pilots directly exposed. Otachi bites into Cherno’s arm and the jaeger starts to fight back, but his fate is sealed when Leatherback decides to make his entrance.

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Leatherback clings onto Cherno’s back and starts tearing it up from behind, even as Otachi keeps at it from the front. Soon enough the latter decides that Leatherback can finish things off on its own, and goes off to engage Striker Eureka. Indeed, Leatherback does make short work of things, seizing Cherno and shoving it into the ocean. There’s a strangely personal & chilling malice in the way the monster simply holds the robot down, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Water floods not just the pilots but also the reactor, shortly triggering a muted explosion that saves the pilots the indignity of a slow drowning death.

Meanwhile, an enraged Striker has been ruthlessly pounding on Otachi. The jaeger finishes up by hefting the kaiju above its head and giving it a mighty toss– maybe not the smartest move on the pilots’ part, since the landing in deep water doesn’t really hurt it, and Striker would have been better off pressing the advantage. Maybe they only did that so they’d have a safe distance from which to fire Striker’s missiles… but that doesn’t work either, because a freshly-unoccupied Leatherback sees the danger and activates its EMP.

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To slightly paraphrase War Machine: Why didn’t they lead with that? Really, it could saved the kaiju a lot of hassle. Getting all their targets in range couldn’t have been an issue, because the pulse extends at least all the way to the shore.

As Striker stands inert, the two monsters have a brief exchange. Otachi charges off to find Dr. Geiszler while Leatherback stays behind to menace its motionless enemy. There are a couple cuts away to headquarters and the doctor’s misadventures in the city, but soon enough we come back to the two pilots in their useless robot. They leave their harness just as Leatherback gives Striker’s head a playful smack, which leads to Herc falling and hurting his arm.

There’s some macho arguing, but ultimately the two decide to “do something really stupid”: rather than sit there and wait for the inevitable doom, the Hansens climb outside to almost literally spit in Death’s eye. Armed with flare guns, they wait for a curious Leatherback to examine them up close, and fire a couple shots right at some of his six eyeballs. The monster is none too happy and raises his fists to take them out, when suddenly a spotlight hits him from behind….

Well. All kidding aside, this is some pretty harsh stuff to watch. Probably not as much as it would be if we’d actually gotten to know some of these now-dead characters (and their awesome jaegers) on anything but the most surface of levels. To be sure, some of the mystique surrounding the Russian & Chinese pilots is owed to them being more on the periphery, but it’s possible to flesh out a supporting character while still maintaining his or her mystique. As it is, these folks are barely cameos before this.

The way the fight unfolds also underscores the problem of the movie’s necessarily rushed storytelling. This is the first really extended monster combat we’ve seen so far, yet it’s filled with at least three “this has never happened before!” moments: two kaiju attacking simultaneously, a kaiju using projectile spit, and a kaiju with a sophisticated technological attack. We have minimal grounding here, jumping into this war just as it’s starting to get truly interesting and desperate.

All that being said, the fight is astounding. With five combatants constantly shifting back & forth and some unexpected attacks (not just the obvious ones like the EMP and acid spit either; Otachi’s crazy tail is another game-changer) this is a WAY more dynamic fight than the opening number. We get to see a few more tricks from the jaegers as well, and of course there’s that crazy sense of scale that Pacific Rim’s fights operate on. This battle puts a very effective cap on the tail end of the second-act doldrums, and excellently sets things up for the big turnaround.

Grade: A-

Coming Attractions: Looks like Team Elbow Rocket’s blasting off again….

The Raid: Redemption (fight 4 of 5)

Drug bust.

Face bust.

3) Drug Lab Assault

The Fighters:

  • Rama, our hero, now patched up and rested a bit from his previous encounters. Played by Iko Uwais
  • Wahyu, the police lieutenant in charge of the mission. Older and in worse shape than any of the other team members (and sporting hilarious bleach blonde hair), but plenty mean enough. It’s come out by now that Wahyu is deeply corrupt and has outlived his usefulness, which is why he’s ordered this raid as a sort of last-ditch shot for leverage. His companions know he’s dirty, but they keep him around because it’s important to stick together. Played by Pierre Gruno.
  • Dagu, another SWAT member who we don’t know much about. Basically only around because he’s lucky enough to have survived. Played by Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia. No idea what the nickname is all about.
  • Drug lab thugs, about 15 or so. They’re spread out all over the place given the huge nature of the lab, and probably a few are also coming in from other rooms so once again it makes sense that they’re attacking our heroes at irregular intervals. Most seem to be there to make drugs but several are probably guards, so their individual skill levels vary.
    • Armed with: Some have knives.

The Setup: After getting some help from the crime lord’s other lieutenant, Andi (who turns out to be Rama’s brother. Ze tweest!), Rama lays low for a while and eventually re-unites with the other two wandering survivors. They decide that since the exits are being watched by snipers, the only hope they have is to complete the mission as planned, so they head onward and upward. This will take them through the rather large drug lab (unspecified what kind of drugs, could be multiple types) not too far from Tama’s perch on the 15th floor.

While Wahyu and Dagu act as bait, Rama takes out the lone roving guard on the stairwell, tossing the gun-wielding thug over the edge. Here’s where the sountrack (or at least the US version, enhanced by Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese) kicks into high gear with a rhythmic, jaunty, techno-esque tune. We see a long pan over the many workers in the lab going about their business, until they’re suddenly interrupted by Rama bursting through the door and tackling another guard. Time go all Nancy Reagan on this biatch.

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The Fight: On many levels this is the most ambitious fight of the movie yet. It’s three allies with different fighting styles loosely cooperating against a numerically superior but disorganized opposition, in a very large space with lots of obstacles. Of course as you might have guessed by this point, Evans and crew pull it off masterfully.

There’s a wild, popping energy to this scene that sets it apart. The last fight was a vicious duel to the death and the one before that was a desperate struggle for survival, but this one’s just a smorgasboard of hyper-kinetic, high-speed violence. In this way it’s closer to the first fight than anything, only a lot more so because there’s more combatants, more space to play in and more energy at work. The fighters here run and jump and pull all sorts of crazy stunts. Evans goes back & forth between all three protagonists as they put down henchmen left & right, with varying degrees of difficulty.

Dagu proves surprisingly capable for a guy who’s basically just lucky cannon fodder. He fights a lot like Rama but seems to be faster and more wiry, getting in several good beatdowns in this sequence.

But strangely in this fight it’s Wahyu who comes off as the most memorable. Despite being a paunchy middle-aged man amongst a crew of young, ripped martial artists, Wahyu is still quite the badass. That’s in spite of his dearth of martial arts prowess, rather than because of it: while Dagu and Rama pull off dazzling acrobatics and surgical beatdowns, the crusty lieutenant is just a big simple beast of a man. He throws wild haymakers and topples down huge objects around him as diversions. At one point he even channels his inner bad guy wrestler when he uses a chair to sweep the legs out from under a charging foe, then brings it crashing down on him brutally when he’s on the ground. He’s a bull in a china shop and it’s delightful to watch.

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Rama, of course, is the fight’s MVP and rightfully gets most of the focus. Even though he’s still kicking ass in fine form, he absorbs a healthy amount of punishment from the tougher thugs, but he keeps coming back. At one point he’s able to seize a foe’s knife and starts his old slash & stab routine, but he loses it soon enough when he opts to throw it across the room to skewer a baddie who’d been choking Wahyu from behind.

The final showpiece of the sequence involves Rama and the last bad guy leaping onto opposite ends of a very long, thin table. Like, “I said, could you PASS the SALT?!”-long. They charge each other at full speed, and Rama gracefully leaps over what would have been a deadly slide kick.

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“Why aren’t we fighting on the ground?” “Shut up, this is awesome!”

They have an extended battle and the last guy does pretty well for himself, until Rama is able to deliver a stunning kick-punch-sweep combo that drops the thug so that he lands with his back slamming against the table’s edge. Ouch.

The only thing “wrong” with this fight is that in comparison with the last two it’s relatively inconsequential: there are no recognizable faces amongst the sea of interchangeable bad guys here, and none of them rise above moderately threatening. Even the final table duel, while neat-looking, doesn’t end with quite the level of “oomph” the movie has subtly trained us to expect from this sort of thing.

On the other hand, that’s kind of the scene’s strength. This sequence comes during a particularly harsh stretch, storywise: Jaka has died, the remaining heroes know they’re cut off & alone, and Andi’s treachery has just been discovered by his criminal colleagues. The heroes, and the audience, need something light, fast-paced, and fun. They need a good clean win, and boy is this ever that. From the moment the high-paced music kicks in you begin to feel like it’s Comeback Time, and know that the movie’s starting to come into the home stretch.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: An unfair fight.

Definitely not fair, they should have at least three more guys.

Definitely not fair, they should have at least three more guys.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 2 of 5)

Eat your heart out, Jason Voorhees.

It looks like he’s reeling just from being yelled at, which actually makes this even better.

2) Machete Chaos

The Fighters:

  • Rama, once again. Played by Iko Uwais.
    • Armed with: Not a darn thing.
  • The Machete Gang, as the credits oh-so-accurately call them. They’re a band of five (soon to be four) particularly tough thugs who have been roving the building together for stragglers. If this movie were a video game (and it is SO a video game), these guys would be the miniboss squad. Their leader (“Machete Gang #1”) is particularly aggressive and deranged; he may well be hopped up on some amphetamine or another, given his demeanor and resilience. Played by Alfridus Godfred, Rully Santoso, Melkias Ronald Torobi, Johanes Tuname, and Sofyan Alop.
    • Armed with: Hint’s in the name.

The Setup: After successfully unloading Bowo in the home of the one decent man in the entire building (and just barely hiding in the walls from the Machete Gang while he was at it), Rama has resumed his mission alone. But it’s not long before he encounters the gang again in a hallway. One of them is significantly closer than the others, so when Rama flees, he’s the first to catch up. Our hero of course beats the crap out of him, though it takes significantly longer this time, and finishes him off by tossing him down the building’s main stairwell, where he lands on a concrete ledge a few floors down, back first. Ouch.

Rama runs up one more floor and gets chased for a while, but when he finds himself at a dead end, he knows he has no choice but to do this the hard way.

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The easy way does not exist in this film.

There’s a brief stare-down between the two factions, and then before you can say “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” everyone rushes in to get some killin’ done.

The Fight: Rama works harder here than ever before, being careful to stay inside the swing radius of his foes’ blades. It largely works, but he has a couple close calls that he barely dodges, including at one point when one of the gang (the one with impressive dreadlocks) almost stabs his face off after pinning him to the ground with a running leap onto his chest.

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And for being the only unarmed guy, Rama does kick a decent amount of ass here, scoring lots of blows that temporarily incapacitate an opponent or two at a time, only to leave him to go right back to the remaining ones. He also briefly lays hands on a machete himself and proves fairly adept with it, but loses it in an up-close suffle after only getting to deliver a painful-looking but superficial wound. There’s even a mildly funny bit where he tries to pick it up off the ground but his hand gets machete-slapped away by the gang’s leader.

At one point Rama gets caught between two thugs on either side of the narrow hallway (Evans switches to a cool overhead shot for this) but is able to turn the situation around by beating them both soundly. He kicks one bad guy hard enough to smash him through the door of an apartment, then grabs the other one by the neck and leaps them both backwards so that the thug’s neck lands on the protruding shards of the broken door, killing him instantly.

This happens. This is a thing that happens.

There’s enough of a lull in the action that Rama takes time to pause, seemingly shocked at his own brutality. Possibly more so because the thug he just killed looks all of 17 years old.

But the fight picks up again soon enough. Rama is quickly able to kill another of the gang by taking his machete, using it to slice him through the gut and side of his neck, and then bury it in his chest. After that, he’s unarmed again as he squares off in hand-to-hand with the dreadlocked guy, who proves surprisingly adept at martial arts. He hits Rama with some pretty fancy moves, knocking him over a couch and following up with several mean-looking blows.

But the hero rallies, and when Dreads tries to jump up so he can deliver a devastating knee to Rama’s face, Rama tackles him in mid-air and swings him into the corner wall like a sack of wet garbage. It seems to put him down for the count.

This frees Rama up to tussle alone with the leader, who proves alarmingly resilient and capable. There’s a real vicious push & pull between the two as each struggles to take the other out. The villain very nearly executes a mean suplex on Rama, who actually changes his own momentum in mid-air so he only flips forward to land on his feet (and then falls on his face). Then Rama almost gets his neck-snapped before he can break free, head-butt him and attempt a choke of his own. They trade some more blows, screaming at each other wildly the whole time. If the first fight was a complex ballet the whole way through, the second one quickly devolves into a desperate struggle for survival.

The thug is able to pick up his machete again and misses with a few wild swings. Rama gets in close, softens him up with a few blows, get around behind him and put him down with a hard punch to the back of the head. Visibly shaken, Rama checks the AO, wary of any lingering or new threats. When the gang leader stumbles shakily to his feet, our hero panics and tackles him with a wild surge of energy, sending them both plummeting out the window.

This is what you'd call a "hail Mary play," I believe.

This is what you’d call a “hail Mary play,” I believe.

They fall several stories, clip a ledge on the way down and stop on a metal balcony. Rama lands on top of his foe, so he’s relatively okay, but still pretty roughed up. Worse so when some of the bad guys stationed outside the building open fire on him. Most of the bullets bounce off the balcony’s bars, but at least one round makes its way into his flak jacket, and when he crawls inside he has to desperately remove the vest to get the heated bullet away, sacrificing yet another layer of protection. But at least he’s alive. Any fight you can walk away from….

Another piece of extended awesomeness here. As mentioned there’s a whole different vibe to this scene, as Rama is up against stronger odds right from the outset– not to mention that the first battle had to have taken a lot out of him. The bad guys here are not just more threatening but more distinctive visually, with their crazy-eyed leader having already established himself as being particularly ruthless and hateable.

One of the movie’s more subtle yet distinctive triumphs of choreography is also apparent here: reversals. In several clashes between hero & villain, one party will attempt a move that the other reverses, escapes or otherwise defeats. It’s not always something simple like a punch or kick, either, but a complicated throw or some such. And even though the move doesn’t work you can always tell what the first person is trying to do, which makes it even more impressive when you see the target cancel it out. Just one of the many little things that help make this movie so amazing.

And for all that The Raid is so wild & intense, there’s an interesting undercurrent of realism that grounds it, exemplified here. Rama’s physical condition degrades visibly as the fight goes on, and once it ends, between the exhaustion and the multi-story fall he’s quite out of it. His vision is blurred and he’s stumbling around like an Irishman at four a.m. the morning after St. Patrick’s Day. If not for the timely intervention of an unlikely ally he’d have been easy pickings.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: No time for sergeants.

This is even less friendly than it looks.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 1 of 5)

“Be a man and see it. See it and be a man.” Chapel 3929

“Is there a fund we can give to for the families of all these stunt men who clearly died while filming The Raid: Redemption?”Seanbaby

At the very least, you can see it so they didn't die in vain.

At the very least, you can see it so they didn’t die in vain

The Raid: Redemption (gratuitous & inaccurate subtitle added for US release, I will not be using it again in content of posts) aka Serbuan Maut in its native Indonesia, is an action-lover’s dream in all the right ways: it provides consistently entertaining and varied scenes of stylized but gritty violence, puncuated by dramatic sequences that are just enough to make you care while not dragging on so long as to waste your time (how many otherwise spectacular action films have been ruined by “dramatic” beats that were clumsy, pretentious, overlong or all of the above?). It’s confident without being cocky, writer/director Gareth Evans being a true genre auteur rather than a winking fanboy.

Longtime readers may remember that I cited this film as the main reason why it’s sometimes necessary to switch to the “retrospective” format and indeed I planned to do that here; however, upon re-watch I was surprised to learn that, despite remembering the movie being almost non-stop action after it finally revs up (minus a few necessary breathers), there are actually only five sequences amongst all that action that could be reasonably described as fight scenes. But every one a masterpiece.

In an age where cinema is in many ways growing stagnant, The Raid is something truly special, and that’s why I timed it to be the subject of this, the 100th post of the blog. Happy Birthday, Grading Fight Scenes.

1) Hallway Brawl

The Fighters:

  • Rama, the film’s noble hero. A young but extremely capable (and lucky) member of the local police force. Rama is, like the actor who plays him and also like many other characters in the movie, an expert at pencak silat. Being as that’s an umbrella term for all the varied martial arts in Indonesia, it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing that makes it unique, save for perhaps its flowing, constant motion. Played by Iko Uwais, who is destined for great things.
    • Armed with: a standard-issue police baton and combat knife. He had an assault rifle and hand gun, but has discarded both after running out of ammo. Also still wearing most of his riot gear: flak vest, elbow & knee pads, but no helmet.
  • Bad Guys, like 20 of them (it’s hard to keep count). Denizens of the apartment building where the titular raid occurs, they’re all foot soldiers loyal to the film’s villain. All ruthless thugs but most of them here don’t seem to have much more than rudimentary skill. Played by stunt men.
    • Armed with: Various small sticks, blades and even a machete.

The Setup: Although the plot does eventually produce a couple interesting twists, The Raid’s basic premise is refreshingly simple: 20 cops in full SWAT gear storm a building that’s run by a sadistic crime lord. From up in his perch where he has access to dozens of security cameras, the villain sics the building’s inhabitants (most of whom work for or are in some way beholden to him) on the police. Although the protagonists are largely competent and virtuous, they find themselves quickly overwhelmed, their numbers dwindled and the survivors separated.

After a fantastic action sequence that culminated in an exploding refrigerator (I love this movie), our main hero Rama is stuck with his wounded but living comrade Bowo (whose only character development prior to this was “annoying jerk”), searching for safe harbor while the other remaining crew hide elsewhere. Rama drags his non-friend through a hallway on the seventh floor, but the two are quickly discovered.

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The Fight: Fast, mean and complex.

Fortunately for Rama’s sake, the bad guys keep coming in one or two at a time. But for once this old action cliche is justified: the thugs here have mostly been conducting a spread-out, disorganized search, and all of them except for the first few are drawn by the noise, so they rush in at non-coordinated intervals.

Not that these small bursts of baddies give Rama much of a chance to rest, of course; he’s constantly moving and attacking nearly the whole time, a frenzy of focused violence. He wields his baton in one hand and knife in the other, using the two weapons sometimes separately but often in concert, such as when he pulls one guy in by hooking him with the baton’s handle and then stabbing him with the knife.

There’s all sorts of inventive nastiness on Rama’s part. Several times he uses the baton to “deconstruct” opponents, delivering a lightning-fast series of small blows to various points on the body, quickly & systematically overwhelming the victim. Others get slammed harshly into walls and doors. Rama stuns one thug with a club to the chest then reaches around to stab him in the back of the thigh. He stabs another in the upper thigh and then pulls the still-inserted blade nearly down to his knee. He stabs another right in the knee and then twists the knife. Throats get not just sliced but also clubbed. Over & over the knife is used for all manner of quick, punch-like stabbings, and the accompanying sound effect is suitably sickening.

Rama is one ruthless SOB, but not sadistic; he’s just doing what he has to. While many if not most of the wounds he delivers are fatal, often he’s satisfied just leaving a defeated foe injured enough to not get back up again. Indeed, during one of the fight’s few lulls, as Rama creeps his way warily to a T-section of the hallway, he leaves behind a handful of groaning cripples along with all the dead & dying. One of those injured seizes Bowo just as the latter crawls to keep up with Rama, and the visibly agitated cop repeatedly stabs the thug in the chest– it’s Bowo’s sole contribution to the action and one of the film’s few moments of humor.

When baddies rush in again and Rama has to take them on from both sides, things get a bit hairier. First he loses his baton in a close-up scruff, and not long after that he has to abandon his knife when he gets yanked away from behind just after he’s stabbed one poor sucker right in the shoulder. Fortunately he’s almost as deadly unarmed as he is armed, and, wouldn’t you know it, none of the remaining bad guys in this scene happen to run in with weapons either. Rama cleans up the remainders, and takes out the last one with an epically brutal finishing move that was rightfully included in most of the trailers:

“Knock knock.”

Yep, he grabs the man, slams his head into a hallway light fixture, and then slams his head FIVE MORE TIMES down the side of the wall before dropping him. It’s… it’s beautiful. Unfortunately, Rama does not take the time to recover either of his weapons before picking up Bowo again and moving on. That will prove to be a mistake.

This fight, however, is anything but. Though it’s definitely not the first bit of excitement in the movie it’s the first extended physical fight we’ve seen, and as such is as powerful a mission statement as an opening fight can be. Evans smartly turns the limited scope of the hallway into an effectively claustrophobic environment. The choreography switches seamlessly between multiple weapon types and pure hand-to-hand, and the constant stream of bad guys makes for an unpredictable threat. The filmmakers manage to find that sweet spot of being complicated without seeming complicated– there’s never really a moment where you stop and say “wait, why didn’t he just do that more simply?” or suspect the characters are showing off, it all feels very organic.

Much of the credit of course goes to all the meticulous stunt work behind the scenes, but a large amount is due to Uwais as well, who sells the entire thing as natural and unforced. Physically impressive and with a highly sympathetic face, the audience is always rooting and fearful for him, because he’s not some Superman. Although he comes out here miles better than he does in any upcoming battle, Rama does absorb a couple blows here, and has a few of his own attacks stymied one way or the other. He’s awesome, but not invincible.

And you know what the crazy part is? This is the least impressive fight in this movie.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: Machete kills.

Rama don’t text.

The Warriors (fight 2 of 2)

The Warriors are about to have their climactic battle. Can you dig it?

How could you say no after seeing this image?

How could you say no after seeing this image?

2) The Warriors vs The Punks

The Fighters:

  • The Warriors, or at least the six remaining. In addition to Swan, Snow and Cowboy from before (Ajax was arrested for attempting to rape an undercover female cop not long after the last fight), we have:
    • Cochise, another able fighter and a guy with some fashionable head choices. Played by David Harris.
    • Vermin, one of the less impressive Warriors. Played by Terry Michos.
    • Rembrandt, the smallest and seemingly the youngest of the Warriors. He’s also their resident graffiti artist (hence the name). Played by Marcelino Sánchez.
    • Mercy, a troublesome street girl who abandoned the mediocre “Orphans” gang to roll with the Warriors earlier (and has since developed a weird relationship with Swan), is also on hand, and contributes a small bit. Played by Deborah Van Valkenburgh.
  • The Punks– yes, that’s their name. Somehow managing to look more laughable than the Baseball Furies’ “clowns in sports outfit” thing, the Punks’ uniform is long-sleeved striped shirts underneath full overalls. They’re supposed to be tough inner-city New Yorkers but they look more like prep-school jocks dressing like farm hands for a tacky Halloween party. Oh, and a couple of them are wearing roller skates. They do have an assortment of bats, knives & chains, so there’s that.
"A motley band of ruffians, we!"

“A motley band of ruffians, we!”

The Setup: The disparate Warriors have finally re-united at Union Square Station, but soon discover they’re being tailed by several Punks (when they finally gather it ends up being nine). Ever the savvy tactician, Swan guides his crew into a men’s room and waits for them to follow.

The Punks enter to find two rows of closed stalls, and one scout begins to methodically search each door while the rest either block the exit or take up positions in front of other stalls. But one of the first doors checked reveals Rembrandt, who swiftly raises his can of spray paint and lets the Punk have it right in the face.

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It could only have improved his hair.

The other Warriors take that as their cue to bust out en masse, and the brawl begins immediately.

The Fight: Pure chaos.

Basically, everything happens at once. Much like the last fight, it’s hard to provide a blow-by-blow, but even more so– instead of three-on-five, now it’s six-against-nine, and in a more confined space to boot. But amidst the insanity, there’s a vague progression of the Warriors’ slow crawl to victory, even if things are dire enough it looks like they could lose. And as frantic as it is, you still get a definite sense for how each of the protagonists is doing, and nearly everyone gets at least one memorable moment.

(It’s not perfect, however– there’s one edit of Snow having, then losing, then suddenly having his bat again, that’s particularly noticeable. But absolute perfection is a big ask in a scene with this many moving pieces, especially on Hill’s low budget.)

Cowboy breaks his bat with a tough swing against one opponent, as does Snow towards the end. Despite his dirty pool with the graffiti, the tiny Rembrandt gets taken down early. Vermin gets in some good hits but gets thrown nastily into the mirrors above the sink.

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Or at least his stunt man does, but who’s counting?

Cochise pulls off a brutal-looking, wrestling-type move when he puts a Punk in a side headlock and runs that head straight into a wall. Later he chokes another Punk with his own chain and flips forward bodily. Snow seems to be a particular MVP, getting in lots of cool karate moves on multiple opponents (Brian Tyler was a practiced martial artist at the time of filming). Even Mercy helps out a little bit.

Almost as deadly but less well-known than the Vulcan Neck Pinch is the Skank Shoulder Bite.

Almost as deadly but less well-known than the Vulcan Neck Pinch is the Skank Shoulder Bite.

Swan dishes out a lot of punishment, but takes a lot as well, at one point getting ganged up on by two assailants. But it all works out for him in the end– indeed, whenever Swan or any other Warrior starts looking rough, a teammate is usually nearby to swoop in and help. It’s clear these guys have had a lot of practice kicking ass together.

The leader actually gets in the last blow of the fight, diverting a charging punk’s momentum into a throw that sends him crashing through a stall door. Warriors 2, New York 0.

Again, we see the amazing skill (both in the actual fight and quiet tactics that set it up) which make the Warriors so formidable (“Good. Real good” you might say), but this time in an even more intense and brutal setting. There’s a palpable excitement to this fight that’s hard to convey, but it really does work on all levels. Epic without being flashy.

Grade: A-

Recommended Links: A who’s who of the Warriors and the rest of the cast, complete with optional Where Are They Now.

Coming Attractions: Confusion conclusion.

“No, EDWARD is the best!” “You take that back!”

The Warriors (fight 1 of 2)

And now for a highly accurate depiction of urban gang life.

Well, more or less.

Walter Hill’s perennial cult favorite The Warriors lives in a surreal world all its own. Part outsized comic book adventure, part defiant social commentary, and part hard-edged 70s action cinema, there’s really nothing else like it.

The film (based loosely on the ancient Greek tale of the Anabasis) takes place in a 1979 New York City that’s insane even by pre-Giuliani standards, living as it does in fear of hundreds of thousands of warriing youth gangs decked out in colorful costumes. One such group, the titular Warriors, sends nine delegates to attend a peaceful conclave thrown by the largest gang, the Gramercy Riffs, in Van Cortland Park. Representatives from all over the city arrive and end cheer for the Riffs’ leader, Cyrus, when he preaches a gospel of unification that would give the collective gangs control over the entire city.

But when Cyrus is shot down by a deranged member of the Rogues, the Warriors are blamed and have to hike all the way back to their native Coney Island (about 30 miles according to Google Maps), with every gang in the city hunting for them… and their leader Cleon a casualty before they can even leave the park.

The movie’s odd, funny, mean and unpredictable, but strangely compelling and exciting at the same time. As the subtitle of this post indicates there’s not much in the way of actual fighting– the Warriors have to employ a lot of evasion and intelligence to survive, picking only the battles that are absolutely necessary– it’s still an action classic that can’t be overlooked. Besides, we needed a break from strictly martial arts movies.

1) The Warriors vs the Baseball Furies

The Fighters:

  • Four Warriors:
    • Swan, the group’s new “War Chief” (leader), after the loss of Cleon at the rally. Strong, lean and level-headed. Played by Michael Beck.
    • Snow, another solid fighter and the group’s designated “music man.” Played by Brian Tyler, who looks like a 70s version of Donald Glover.
    • Cowboy, not as impressive physically as the others, and so-called because of his trademark cowboy hat. Played by Tom McKitterick.
    • Ajax, one of the gang’s best fighters. Though unfortunately he’s stupid at everything else; Ajax is short-sighted, confrontational, and sexually aggressive. Played by the great James Remar.
  • The Baseball Furies, another gang who’s answered the call to collect the Warriors. In a movie full of outlandish characters, the Baseball Furies are perhaps the most outlandish of all, sporting pinstripe baseball jerseys and full face paint. They’re simultaneously completely ridiculous yet also undeniably creepy. They’re also all armed with wooden baseball bats, which puts our heroes at a distinct disadvantage, at first. All played by stunt men, including their apparent leader, veteran stunt coordinator Jery Hewitt.
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“How ’bout a magic trick? I’ll make this bat DISAPPEAR!”

The Setup: The machinations of their chase have split off these four Warriors from their companions, and they exited a train station to discover seven or eight of the Furies waiting for them. The Warriors run into a nearby park with the Furies in hot pursuit, and Swan wisely breaks to the right with Snow, letting the rest of the Furies chase Ajax and Cowboy along the main path. Swan & Snow soon double back and pick off the slowest, lagging Fury from behind, putting him down for the count and taking his bat for their own.

Meanwhile, their friends run until Cowboy declares he can run no more, which Ajax thankfully takes as an opportunity to turn & fight.

The Fight: Ajax lays out his first foe almost as soon as he stops, catching him in mid-stride with a two-hit combo. Cowboy gets put down by their leader. Things slow for a moment after that, as the rest of the Furies settles into position while Ajax and their leader face off. It’s here that Remar growls out his famous line, “I’ll shove that bat up your ass and turn you into a Popsicle.”

The man’s bluster is not misplaced, for once (though thankfully he did not mean his threat literally), as he ducks under the first bat swing and quickly dominates the head Fury, doubling him over with a shot to the gut and finishing him off with a knee that sends him flying in a cool behind-the-back shot.

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Swan and Snow then show up, whereupon it becomes a free-for-all, the three active Warriors against the remaining four or five Furies. Some of it’s cheap shots and team-ups, but there’s some good old fashioned fisticuffs, and Swan even engages in couple “bat duels” with his weapon chocking repeatedly against his opponents’. Though well-done it’s too quick and intense to describe at length. Still, the staging does convey not just the Warriors’ skill but how well they work as a team, cooperating almost as if by instinct.

Most of it is not terribly complicated, either, but there is an odd, awkward and simple grace to the proceedings. It’s the kind of unpolished violence you don’t see so much in movies anymore, exploitative but not indulgent. Cheap, mean and quick, like a lot of the 70s classics.

The fight finishes as mighty Ajax swings a charging Fury overhead, and Swan finishes off his final dueling session. Cowboy rises, bruised but okay, and all four leave with some handy new weapons.

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Not much else to say. There’s lots of action and suspense in The Warriors, but as far as fight scenes go this one is basically all you get until near the end. It’s not about fighting so much as it is survival, and the Warriors surviving this fight– with some new weapons to show for it!– is a much-needed boost for the story.

Grade: B+

Recommended Links: A summary of the true Greek legend The Warriors is based on.

A pretty good Salon article (from 2005) on the movie’s enduring cult status. The differences between book and movie are of particular interest.

Coming Attractions: Rumble in the Bathroom.

"Which one of you guys is 'Sea Bass'?"

“Which one of you guys is ‘Sea Bass’?”

Ong Bak (retrospective, part 2)

The conflict finally comes to a head.

No one image could sum up the movie better.

No one image could sum up the movie better.

After the bravura sequence where Ting fights three contenders in quick succession, there’s some silliness involving an extended chase on auto-rickshaws (golf carts, basically) that’s kind of cute but really out of place in a martial arts movie. Then Ting accidentally finds some of the stash of Komtuan (the villain), whose main gig seems to be stealing or unearthing religious relics and selling them. He tells Ting he’ll return Ong Bak if Ting fights a traditional Muay Thai bout with Saming, the villain’s Dragon and a fierce fighter himself. Ting readily agrees.

5) Ting vs Saming

Ting Fights: Saming, of course. He’s young, buff, really mean-looking, and basically a total psychopath. Before the match he’s seen injecting himself with a needleful of an unidentified substance that apparently makes him stronger or more pain-resistant or something. It’s completely ridiculous that such a wonder drug would exist (maybe it’s the same venom that Bane uses), but it’s a well-established cheesy action movie trope– much like how in older dramas, blind folks were always one “big operation” away from regaining their sight. Played by Chattapong Pantana-Angkul. Trying saying that five times fast. Or even once at normal speed.

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The Fight: Almost completely one-sided. Komtuan asserts later that Ting deliberately threw the fight, though it looks like he’s struggling mightily here regardless. He could be faking the struggle and still taking a dive, but either way, between the drugs and the maybe-faking, Ting doesn’t really put a dent in his villainous opponent, and he definitely takes a brutal beating himself.

Saming first invites Ting to take several shots at him, and Ting delivers several strong-looking punches & kicks that Saming just shrugs off. When the bad guy fights back, he hits with devastating power.

Saming quickly knocks down the hero, and finishes off the round with a couple of devastating knee drives right into his mid-section– this could kill a man in real life.

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Ting’s corner man tries to haul him off to recover, but Saming pursues even then and keeps wailing on him; it’s pretty clear that whatever aggression he usually has is amplified greatly by his Magical Movie Drug.

Ting rallies back briefly but is quickly beat down some more, even getting hit by a vicious clothesline that sends him spinning through the air an absurd number of times.

Humlae tries throwing in the towel, but Saming won’t take no for an answer and keeps up the beating. He does a running knee so hard that it knocks the hero out of the ring and onto the announcers’ table. He then pursues AGAIN and kicks the fallen Ting in the chest for good measure. That’s about the end of things.

One-sided fights are rarely all that interesting, but this one gains some extra points just for its sheer brutality and Saming’s unrestrained craziness. It serves mainly as a bit of darkening plot material, giving the hero a major stumble and obstacle before he is able to return triumphantly. And fortunately it’s smart enough enough to get its ugly business over with quickly.

Grade: B-

6) Gas Station Brawl

It is not, despite what this picture would imply, a poorly-attended daytime rave.

It is not, despite what this picture would imply, a poorly-attended daytime rave.

Ting Fights: A handful of Komtuan’s goons. After the fight, Ting & Humlae met up with the villain at an abandoned gas station in order to get Ong Bak’s head back. Of course, he reneges on the deal, and presents them with an empty box. Then he has his thugs hold the two at gunpoint and prepare to kill them while he leaves, for some reason. Don’t bad guys know you ALWAYS stay around to make sure the hero gets finished off? It’s like they don’t even watch movies.

The Fight: Ting manages to turn things around pretty well. A few goons stay inside to finish the job while a few others wait outside. Ting waits until the one who’s holding him face down tries to apply a silencer to his pistol (why? They’re in the middle of nowhere), then whips up and starts beating the guy. With some assistance from Humlae, they soon take out all the goons inside. At one point Ting punches a guy so hard that his face smacks hilariously against a wooden table.

The real fun starts when they get outside. The villains eventually figure out that all the noise they hear in the building isn’t good (their biggest hint is one of their buddies get kicked through the door), but when they check the room, Ting has apparently slipped out the window. He cancels out the gun advantage of one thug, who was waiting in the driver’s seat side of a truck, by jumping so hard at the truck’s open door that the force of it closing knocks him all the way through to the other side.

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At least two more guys nearby have guns, though, so Ting avoids them by hiding amongst a bunch of wreckage off to the side. Their shots end up striking a drum full of oil and creating a significant explosion. As they approach looking for Ting, the hero suddenly emerges from the smoke with both of his legs on fire, and takes out the nearest one with a flying knee followed by a kick to the face. While, I’ll remind you, HIS LEGS ARE ON FIRE.

I'll also remind you that Tony Jaa did all his own stunts.

I’ll also remind you that Tony Jaa did all his own stunts.

Ting immediately jumps into a conveniently-located tub full of water, but is soon attacked from behind by another thug, who tries to choke him. Ting breaks free and immediately puts him down with a spinning flip. Possibly the most unrealistic moment in this movie is that the second bad guy actually had the presence of mind to attack Ting, rather than just standing there slack-jawed while going “THAT WAS THE COOLEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN”

Instead, he just had to kill the moment, so this happened to him.

This is what happens to buzz kills.

Ting and Humlae then take out the last jerk just before he escapes on a motorcycle. Just before the thug passes out, Ting gets Ong Bak’s location from him.

A fun and breezy bounce back from the ugly beating Ting took last time (really, he should be in the hospital), something which both the music and the staging reflects. There is some solid physical choreography here but really the martial arts takes a backseat to outrageous stunts for this scene.

In conclusion, Tony Jaa set his legs on fire.

Grade: A-

7) Cave Rumble, part I

Ting Fights: A handful of Komtuan’s goons. Well, two handfuls: Ting sneaks up to the entrance of the cave where there’s four chumps with guns, but he takes them out so quickly it doesn’t really count.

Here, now you've pretty much watched it.

Here, now you’ve pretty much watched it.

Then not far into the cave, he runs into some tougher resistance. For some reason almost all of them are armed with machetes, odd implements for a digging crew.

The Fight: The hero is immediately ambushed by the half dozen or so machete-wielding fools, and he soon grabs a long pole– between the pole’s appearance and the odd sounds it makes when struck, it’s hard to tell if it’s wooden or metal or what– and evens the odds. He smacks them around with the improvised staff for a while, but eventually it gets hit hard enough to break in half. Naturally, Ting just immediately adapts and fights with two sticks– escrima– for a while.

Then he trades that for one of his foes’ dropped machetes, but apparently his inner pacifism takes over and he discards that as well. That leaves him unarmed against a couple lingering thugs, but fortunately he finds a few tonfa, or at least some sort of implement that can substitute for them. Tonfa are almost tailor-made for Muay Thai’s elbow-heavy style, so the rest of this particular ass-beating is like Christmas for Ting.

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That pretty much finishes up this batch, as well as a few late-comers. The last chump is apparently the smartest, since he just up & runs away.

Once again Prinkaew and Jaa have changed up things a bit, this time by showcasing a weapons-heavy fight. And quite a variety of weapons at that: swords against unarmed, staff against swords, escrima against swords, sword against sword, tonfa against sword. And since the alley chase doesn’t really count, this is the first time in the movie Ting has taken on such a large amount of people in close quarters at once. Some cracks are starting to show in the choreography, namely when you can see a few instances of stuntmen moving their bodies into position to receive the simulated blows (the fact that Prinkaew keeps switching to slow motion makes it even more apparent).

Still, it’s an ambitious & fun scene, and nobody’s perfect. Jaa’s performance has the character more determined & fierce than ever. He’s a man on a mission, and this mission is just getting started.

Grade: B+

After this, Ting makes the inexplicable decision not to take ANY of the weapons he’d been using into the next room. Apparently every fight for him is like a whole new video game is for Samus Aran. Anyway, he goes deeper into the cave and discovers Komtuan and Saming high up on some scaffolding, waiting as their crew saws through the neck of an enormous Buddha statue. Komtuan sees Ting and taunts him with Ong Bak’s own head, which he has handy next to him in a bag for some reason. But first the hero has to get through….

8) Cave Rumble, part II

Ting Fights: Another half-dozen or so of the gangster’s thugs. Some of them are even wearing flak vests, for some unknown reason. And at least one of them is not a native Thai but a white guy, so points to the villain for diversity, I suppose.

The Fight: It’s the penultimate battle and the last real melee brawl of the film, so it pulls out all the stops. Unlike last time, weapons are mostly left out (with one notable exception), but the mooks are tougher than ever, and Ting accordingly ups his game with a surprising amount of tricky aerial moves and devastating blows. Some particularly memorable tricks involve Ting laying out two thugs in quick succession with a continuous series of spinning jump kicks, or the time one baddie ducks under a jump kick so Ting just lashes out with his other leg while still airborne.

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It really does take a while for Ting to take all these guys out, though, and you can see him taking a few wallops himself. Sometimes it’s because he’s distracted with one of the other five combatants, but a lot of times he’s simply not ready– the guy’s worn down like nobody’s business. Real-life physical endurance is of course out the door before we started, but Ting’s even pushing past the point of action movie physical endurance.

Our tiring hero gets it worst of all just after he saves Humlae from being hung to death the slow way. The last baddie, who has a glass eye (or maybe it’s just weird-looking), gets ahold of a long, serrated saw and hurts Ting pretty bad with it, first whipping him across the face and back with the flat end, then charging at him with the blade out. With no objects at hand to block with and no time to dodge, Ting is forced to prove the limits of his dedication to rescuing a freaking chunk of stone.

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I’d… I’d say he’s proven it.

They stand off for a little while, until they’re interrupted by Humlae. The eye-guy soon gets the best of the comic relief, though, and breaks his arm in a very painful-looking way. Fortunately, when Ting recovers, he pays the guy back by breaking his leg in an even more painful-looking way.

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Ouch.

As the middle part of the climax, this spout of violence does succeed at continuing to ramp up the action from its already-absurd levels. The weapons-craziness from before has been jettisoned in favor of pure martial artistry, at least until that saw gets whipped out– and oh, how mean that is. All very well done. Except for the music, it doesn’t really work; very light & silly.

Grade: A-

Ting knows the final battle’s coming now, so he takes a quiet moment to himself, wrapping his wounds in tape and putting rope around one fist. Like a man.

9) Cave Rumble, part 3: Ting/Saming rematch

Ting Fights: Saming, duh. Plus a couple goons whose digging he interrupts. Humlae and Komtuan get mixed up in there briefly as well.

The Fight: Whew.

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Either due to his resolve or just not faking it this time (and despite having just exercised enough to drop an elephant), Ting fares WAY better than before. Nevertheless, Saming is still quite fierce, with the two having a nice back & forth. It’s apparent that Ting has the edge, slight though it may be, and he slowly gains the upper hand. Sometimes the two actually just take turns hitting each other, which is so awesome in a very macho & hilarious way.

But Ting only gets more angry, and soon enough he starts willingly absorbing blows without even trying to dodge or counter them– he’s so far into Beast Mode now he may never come back.

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Finally, a double-punch to the head seems to put Saming down for the count. Ting goes up to stop the workers who are still dutifully sawing off the enormous Buddha head, and while he’s beating them up (not too hard), Saming jabs like six needles full of that magic drug into his stomach at once. Ruh roh.

Once Ting finishes up, he comes down to head for Komtuan, and gets blindsided by a flying double-kick to the head (!) from Saming, a blow bad enough it leaves him defenseless against Saming’s assault for a while. The uber-henchman (now red-eyed and even crazier than before) tries to finish Ting off by choking him to death, but just before he blacks out he gazes at the giant stone head, and instantly gains enough BUDDHA POWER that he’s able to break free and put a hurt on Saming. Then, in a moment that would be the insanest part if it happened in most other movies but here it barely cracks the Top 5, the camera zooms in ultra-close on Ting’s eye as it becomes consumed with flame….

It's like he's charging up a super combo in Street Fighter.

Eye of the Thai-ger

… and does a jumping elbow smash on the top of Saming’s head that’s so tough it cracks his skull open.

"I've got a SPLITTING headache!"

“I’ve got a SPLITTING headache!”

I mean… damn.

Saming collapses under the impact of Ting’s Limit Break, but when the hero turns his attention to the mastermind once more, the villain calmly produces a gun and shoots him through the shoulder. He had that gun the whole time and he didn’t use it? What the crap?!

One-armed Humlae then shows up and has a brief tussle with Komtuan that involes the villain getting knocked out of his wheelchair and the comic relief taking repeat sledgehammer blows to the face & torso in order to protect Ong Bak’s head. Meanwhile, Saming, never one to let a fight go the first or second time it’s over (whether he won or lost) comes back for some more, necessitating Ting to put him down by doing a knees-first jump into his stomach that crashes them both through the entire scaffolding.

"GERONIMO!"

“GERONIMO!”

From the bottom floor, Ting can’t do much to help his friend, but a little Buddha ex machina steps in, as the enormous stone neck finally gives away, letting the head fall off onto the evil & blasphemous villain (Humlae rolls away to relative safety, but dies of his wounds soon after anyway). The word “karma” doesn’t flash in huge letters on the screen, but it might as well.

It’s not quite mind-blowing, but still an appropriate finish to a series of dazzling setpieces– remember, the last four or five fights happen practically back-to-back. If anything the last battle might suffer a bit because the viewer is just plain fatigued by a solid 30 minutes of climax. Err, you know what I mean.

Grade: A-

Well, that’s Ong Bak, one of the more impressive debut films in recent martial arts history. It’s not perfect but it’s a shame we don’t see more like it. Perhaps one day Tony Jaa will team up with the guys who made The Raid and all our heads will never stop exploding, but until then we can only hope.

Recommended Links: The one & only Seanbaby on the absurdity that is Ong Bak’s first sequel. “Luckily, all Thai hospitals have a Tony Jaa wing where they treat victims of Tony Jaa.” I certainly hope so.

Coming Attractions: Come out to play.