I’m behind the times. It was only this past Sunday that I was finally able to see The Raid: Redemption. I’ve been following it a long time–Doug Benson reviewed it favorably on one of his podcasts. David Brothers had brilliant things to say. Mitch Krpata didn’t have as many nice things to say, but he is smart and all of his criticism is true.
I’m trying to find the words to express what I felt during the film–the experience of watching it was something like a religious ceremony. From what I understand, authentic religious moments are characterized by sharp, awesome (in the classic sense) realizations: God is powerful; everything in the world is connected; the Goddess is watching over everything; the lizard god Zorp will burn your face off one day. TR:R was like that for me. It has been a long time since I have seen a martial arts film that really wowed me, and I spent most of TR:R with my mouth open, repeatedly saying “Did you see that!?” and “Ohhhhhhh!” to my partner, who was trying to read her book and ignore me.
I finished the movie thinking, “Wow, it is amazing what a body can do.”
Those of you who are familiar with Deleuze and Guattari might recognize a similar question in their philosophy (lifted from Spinoza, of course.) Alongside this question is the question of what a body is and what it means for a to do something. A quick recap of answers to these questions: for D&G, a body is not an organic whole, but rather a combination of elements that are brought together by affective alliances and connections; a body is an assemblage of elements that, probably, performs a function (it doesn’t have it, it just probably does.) When a body does something, it is forming new connections, alliances, and bonds. Francois Dosse writes in Deleuze and Guattari: Intersecting Lives:
When Spinoza notes the inability to conceive of what a body can do, it was, for Deleuze, a real “war cry,” because Spinoza reverses the priority that had prevailed until then of actions and reactions of the soul over those of the body. For Spinoza, the body goes further than the knowledge that we might have of it, because it incarnates a way of being of the two attributes, extension, comprising speeds and slowness arranged among themselves. That which moves the body depends only on immanence. Spinoza locates himself on a level that is not the moral opposition between Good and Evil but rather on an ethical level, regarding the type of affections that determines the conatus. “Its possible the the free, strong, and reasonable man will define himself entirely by the possession of his power to act.” This is where the encounter–that Deleuze will later describe as the break in the flux, after meeting Guattari–is fundamental for persevering in being, because “I can” is tied to the capacity to be affected, which depends on encountering another insofar as the other can change the identity of the same. (146-7)
That is a big, silly amount of text, but it also gives us a short overview of Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of the body in relation to immanence–the body is defined by the ability for the elements in its assemblage to be affected by outside elements. The Raid: Redemption pulls these affective relationships to the forefront; in fact, the film is only possible because of them. The human body, an assemblage among many in the film (the city block, the drug economy, the surveillance assemblage, and so forth), is continually introduced to other bodies, both human and nonhuman, that alter the way that it interacts in the world. The protagonist, a young hero cop, is continually introduced to his own body in different capacities.
A quick litany of weapons used in the film: machete, knife, hands, feet, the mass of the human body, wall, lamp, shoes, tables, lightbulbs, architecture, refrigerator, a woman, many men, surveillance cameras, information, familial relationships, a broken door, an unbroken door, gravity, guns, and lots of other things that I can’t remember right now.
All of these things are physically, and in a tactile manner, immanent in the film. The articulation of the body presented in the film is all about reaching an intensity of affect; dodging a machete blow that cuts across the cheek slightly is an affective relationship of the highest caliber. I was pulled deep into the film because of this kind of choreography–it shows us how the body can quickly pull things into alliances and then let them go free again, allowing for new connections to be made consistently.
A lightning-fast martial arts fight is a demonstration in what a body can do.
Kevin Eubanks, in his essay “Becoming-Samurai,” writes about martial arts films and hip hop in the framework that Deleuze and Guattari set up. He writes:
I would, of course, argue that it is precisely this playful adaptation or literal deterritorialisation of otherwise geographically and culturally distinct realities that comprises the adaptive potential of hip-hop. Kung-fu, like hip-hop, is predicated on the exteriority of style. It is also a form of action based on precision and immediacy, on the fluid movements of the body itself deterritorialised as weapon, and thus it reiterates that blend of violence, speed and fluidity that grounds the hip-hop aesthetic: “I’ll defeat your rhyme in just four lines / Yeh, I’ll wax you and tax you and plus save time” (RZA and Norris, 211). Kung-fu lends itself to improvisation and to adaptability, essential qualities of combat and of lyrical flows in hip-hop music. For example, just as in kung-fu combat a fighter’s success is fundamentally determined by his ability to intuit and adapt to the style and skill and detailed movements of his adversary, the victory of a hip-hop MC engaged in, say, a freestyle battle will be determined by his capacity for improvising and adapting his own lyrical flow to counter and overcome his opponent’s.
I would take it one step further: it is not merely the “body deterritorialized as a weapon,” but rather that the body is continually caught in a process of allying itself with external forces. The other actors, human and nonhuman alike, deterritorialize and reterritorialize together. They enter into a grand assemblage, mixing and mingling together. When the bullet enters the body, there is an immediate connection between its ability to pierce and the assemblage of a liver.
In any case, check it out for yourself. The trailer is below.