Monday, April 6, 2015

Bad guys who fight fair

As I was watching The Raid: Redemption (or just The Raid) last night, I found myself disappointed as the inevitable moment approached when one of the villain's key henchmen was about to be dispatched.

That's because until this point, the guy had been just about the most gentlemanly combatant you could hope for.

And although it's not much of a spoiler to let you know that a villain's key henchman will be dispatched in an action movie, let this be your SPOILER WARNING about The Raid, Redemption or otherwise.

This Indonesian action flick is about a police raid on a tenement run by Tama (Ray Sahetapy), a vicious drug lord, and it has the satisfying narrative momentum of moving up through the floors to the boss on the top level. Tama, meanwhile, sends his people down toward the invading cops, whose raid is off the books, meaning they can't call for backup. One such "people" is Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), whose long hair reminded me a little of 1980s henchman actor Al Leong. Seeming almost like a Zelig, appearing in every action movie you could imagine, Leong become sort of a cult figure among my high school friends.

Mad Dog may be mad -- as in he's got mad skills -- but he's not the type of shameless psycho who would normally be his boss' #2. In most movies, not only is that character physically gifted, as Mad Dog is, but he's willing to use whatever sinister leverage he can to defeat the hero. If there's an opportunity to "cheat" in any way -- to the extent that cheating is possible in their particular scenario -- he will take advantage of that opportunity and then some. See, the hero needs to overcome not only being overmatched physically, but also the dirty tricks of someone who will stop at nothing to kill him.

Not Mad Dog. Mad Dog is all about giving you second chances, and then even third chances.

The first time we see Mad Dog in combat, he gets the drop on the lieutenant, Jaka (Joe Taslim). They're involved in hand-to-hand combat in a hallway, and Mad Dog pulls out a gun. Typical villain behavior, right?

Nope. Mad Dog motions the barrel of the gun in the direction he wants Jaka to walk. They end up inside one of the apartments, where Mad Dog puts down his gun and explains to Jaka that "pulling a trigger is like ordering takeout." If he's going to defeat an enemy, he wants it to be through fair, hand-to-hand combat. Apparently, he just wants some privacy so the purity of their fight will not be diluted.

Because Mad Dog is awesome, he eventually does defeat Jaka in this fashion, after a spectacular couple minutes of fisticuffs and, uh, legicuffs. When he finally snaps Jaka's neck, he seems to almost regret having the fight come to an end. It's the sorrow of having to put an end to a worthy opponent.

Later, he's engaging in typical henchman behavior by torturing a traitor from among his boss' men, Andi (Donny Alamsyah). This is the brother of the hero, Rama (Iko Uwais), who has been working closely with Tama unbeknownst to his law-abiding brother. When Tama discovers the relationship between the two and that Andi missed an opportunity to either kill or capture his brother, he turns him over to Mad Dog for a beatdown. Mad Dog strings him up like a side of beef and administers a series of punches and kicks to his midsection. Rama comes upon this scene and attempts to save his brother from it.

Mad Dog should just leave Andi strung up and fight Rama one on one. That would be more than fair and more than fulfill his obligation to his own personal code. No one could ask any more of him.

Instead, Mad Dog allows Rama to free his brother so that they can both fight Mad Dog. You wouldn't think either of them would be up to the task after the events of the day -- Rama having been beaten and bloodied by a dozen other assailants, and Andi getting beaten repeatedly by Mad Dog just now -- but both seem to be at or near 100%. (Hey, it's an action movie, what do you want.) And they proceed to take on Mad Dog, their two barely being an equivalent to his one.

And in fact, they really aren't his equal. Mad Dog leaves one brother bloodied and panting and is about to snap the neck of the other, as he did to Jaka. But the free brother manages to grab a length of broken fluorescent light bulb and shove it into Mad Dog's neck.

Because Mad Dog is awesome, this only slows him down a little bit. He still fights the brothers for another minute or so before they finally get him down and use the length of bulb jutting out of his neck to slit his throat.

The movie invites us to celebrate this as a victory for our heroes, and I guess it's a credit to the way the movie has established the characters that we do see it that way. Rama is very likeable and is about to become a father, and his brother is someone who presumably went wayward and can still be redeemed (is that the meaning of the title?). But it's kind of sad that it has to come at the expense of Mad Dog, whose combat chivalry knew no bounds. If he just wanted to clean up a mess and be done with it, he might still be henching to this day.

I had originally intended this post to be a discussion of a number of other villains who fight fair, but in truth, the movie villain as an archetype is usually such a dirty fighter that examples did not immediately spring to mind. If the villain or the villain's henchman does sacrifice an advantage over the hero, it's because of pride -- because he wants to taunt the hero or unveil his whole master plan. It has nothing to do with creating the conditions for a fair fight.

So rest in peace, Mad Dog. You were too good for this world ... even if you were the muscle for a cruel Indonesian drug lord.

No comments: