Mary Rose Cook's notebook

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The Raid 2

I enjoyed the first Raid film: elegantly staged martial arts where the violence has a satisfying crunch to it. But The Raid 2 is far superior because it is better at controlling the gaze of the audience.

To say the fight scenes are dances is sort of true, but sort of trite. Dances in films are often shot wide, and they are ensemble pieces which means there is only ever one thing going on. They’re like stage plays. In film, the eye can be directed and montage can be used to show that more than one thing is happening at once. Many people who make dance movies seem not to understand this. They seem blinded by the fact that the material originated as a play.

The film shows us real places with many things going on at once. This makes the film very immersive and, thus, visceral.

Part of the director’s skill is in choreographing elaborate set pieces with many concurrent sub-fights, and presenting them in a small number of extended shots. For example, there is a big punch up in the muddy exercise yard of a prison. The camera pans and dollies from fight to fight in a way that must have required a great deal of organisation. But the director is better than that. We are not seeing the proceedings through our naked eye. We see them through a camera that can do film things: zoom, frame, focus. At the end of one long shot, the camera finds two men trying to escape over a fence. It rises into the air as one of them climbs, shows him being shot, tilts up and zooms to see the prison sniper who fired the shot, and tilts back down to see the second prisoner get shot.