Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Duplicating Perfection: Is There Actually Hope For The Upcoming Remake Of 'The Raid'?

It was the announcement that fandom had been collectively dreading for well over two years.  One could liken it to an inmate on death row, anxiously awaiting his execution date.  Sooner or later, after all the appeals have been filed and ultimately denied, the sentence will be carried out.  In this particular case, the switch was finally pulled (or the guillotine dropped) on Thursday, February 20th.  Screen Gems and XYZ films officially announced that the American remake of The Raid: Redemption would be going into production this fall.  Patrick Hughes, who is currently in post-production on The Expendables 3, is slated to direct.  A cast has yet to be announced, though some have mentioned the Hemsworth brothers as possible candidates.  So began a worldwide outcry of fans everywhere.

Fandom’s apprehension (If not outright revulsion) to the very idea of this remake is certainly understandable.  Two years ago, The Raid: Redemption took the festival circuit by storm.  Critics and fans alike were wowed by its unflagging energy, relentless intensity, and ground breaking action set-pieces.  Though it had its fair share of detractors (The late, great Roger Ebert being among the most vocal of that minority), its overall reception was undoubtedly warm.  So warm, in fact, that the impending stateside release of The Raid 2: Berandal has reached event level proportions.  In the minds of fans, that kind of reverence should automatically disqualify The Raid: Redemption as a viable candidate for a remake.  

Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian in a scene from The Raid 2: Berandal.

Unfortunately, a wide chasm exists between the sensibilities of fandom and the realities of the movie business.  Contrary to popular belief, remakes are nothing new.  They’ve long been part of Tinsletown’s standard operating procedure.  By their estimation, any story worth telling once is worth telling infinitely more times over, should that initial telling be successful.  Case in point: A Star is Born, originally released in 1937, was remade twice.  The first was released 1954, the second in 1976.  The 1976 version, though derided by critics, remains the highest grossing of the three.  That little fact goes a long way in bearing out Hollywood’s wisdom.

Past successes notwithstanding, shouldn’t the ethics of that wisdom be questioned in cases like this?  By any reasonable standard, an American remake of The Raid: Redemption is neither necessary nor advisable.  To say that the original stands on its own as an example of cutting edge action cinema is a gross understatement. Though it operates under the guise of a high-concept martial arts film, it’s also a definitive work of post-modern art, culling together different elements from a variety of mediums and genres.  The considerable debt it owes to the Hong Kong New Wave is obvious.  It also references contemporary zombie films, war movies, and the “survival horror” brand of video games.    

Keeping the above mentioned points in mind, The Raid: Redemption invites comparison to other, admittedly far more transcendent postmodern works such as Star Wars and The Matrix.  If those films, which both drew heavily from what was largely considered to be geek culture up until that point, could find a large audience in America, why not the original version of The Raid?  Surely, American audiences wouldn’t have any trouble tapping into its flow of kinetic energy, cultural boundaries notwithstanding.

Alas, cultural boundaries can often be insurmountable, even in the age of the internet.  This is especially true of the movie business.  Hollywood action films remain one of America’s biggest cultural exports.  They are as heavily marketed abroad as they are at home, and heartily consumed by audiences all over the world.  Unfortunately, the same rarely works in reverse.  Foreign made action films have a tough time in the American marketplace.  Even the most exceptional never achieve anything beyond a sizeable, if rabid, cult following.  The Raid: Redemption happens to be a perfect example of this.  It made a meager $4,105,187 during a very limited theatrical run in the U.S.  Not bad considering it was made for only 1.1 million, but it was hardly a runaway success.  Subtitles and faces of color have proven to be huge obstacles for North American audiences.  That xenophobia is both enabled and encouraged by Hollywood’s current business model.  Only in special cases, such as the critical darling Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, has this wisdom been proven false.  In such a hostile environment, perhaps the ONLY version of The Raid: Redemption that will be widely seen in North America is a Hollywood remake.

The inconvenient truths of the movie business have always proven a bitter pill for fans to swallow, which brings us to the dilemma at hand.  The makers of The Raid, its sequel, and the impending remake are all too aware of the aforementioned truths.  However, instead of lamenting them, they continue to push ahead with their current agenda.  I speak mainly of Gareth Evans (Writer/Director of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal) and Todd Brown (Partner in XYZ films, producer of The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal, Founder/Editor of Twitch Film).  Both Evans and Brown are executive producing the remake.  One might think that their direct involvement would offer fans a bit of relief.  To the contrary, the moaning of the peanut gallery continues unabated. 

While they are clearly aware of the discontent that abounds, both men continue on undeterred.  While at the 2014 SXSW to attend a screening of The Raid 2: Berandal, Evans spoke to Crave Online.  He came out in full support of the remake and its director, roundly dismissing all criticisms and offering Hughes his full blessing: 

“I think what worked for me was the fact that nobody questioned what I wanted to do on that (The Raid: Redemption), the same way I don’t think anyone should question what Patrick wants to do on that (the remake).” For me, in order for that film to work really well, they’ve got to let him go off into his sandbox, play around and see what he comes up with. When they suggested Patrick, I had no problem at all because he’s a super talented director. Red Hill, fucking great film. Such a great movie.”

A haunting image from Patrick Hugh's Red Hill.

Todd Brown has been equally firm in his stance on the matter, offering his critics no quarter.  In a recent Twitch Film piece titled “On Remakes And Profiteering,” he educated fans as to the realities of the movie business.  He soundly debunks the collective notion that remakes function as merely as convenient cash grabs that rely solely on brand recognition.  It’s hard to argue with his logic, as he offers both facts and insight to back up his claims.  He also reminds fans that were it not for the prospect of an eventual American remake, The Raid: Redemption might never have seen the light of day.     

The stance and wisdom of Gareth Evans and Todd Brown notwithstanding, I’d be remiss not to make a case for the concerns of fandom.  I am neither an industry insider nor a professional journalist.  I am merely a concerned admirer who respects and cherishes the work of both men.  I absolutely adore The Raid, and only hope to see its legacy honored by the impending remake.  Though I am not arrogant enough to proclaim myself as the sole gatekeeper of that legacy, I’d like to offer my thoughts on a possible direction for this remake, one that I think would birth an exceptional film.   

“I don’t think the action discipline is going to veer too far away from what we did. What I hope they do is take the basic premise and then use that as a springboard for him (Patrick Hughes) to go off and create his own action style completely. You could still do that deconstruction of weaponry down to hand to hand combat. You could still do that, but they don’t have to follow scene by scene the same as we did. That’s what, for me, what is most refreshing about a remake of this as opposed to a remake of something where it’s all about following the characters and the plot exactly the same to the tee. This is an opportunity to take the bare bones of it, the crux of it and do something completely fresh. It’s like a second pass of doing different action sequences.”

It’s encouraging to know that the basic template of the original will survive a Hollywood translation.  I agree with Mr. Evans in that the remake should very much be its own entity, while cultivating its own unique aesthetic.  Not only should it stand apart from the original, but it should also distinguish itself in a crowded American marketplace.  That being said, it can do so without completely excising all that made the original unique.  Aside from the basic blueprint of the original, there’s another crucial element that I’d like see survive an American overhaul: The Southeast Asian martial art known as silat.  

The inclusion of silat in the American version of The Raid could be beneficial to the project in a number of ways.  In the original film, it functioned as the primary weapon in Officer Rama’s arsenal, proving far more valuable to him than any number of guns or knives.  It could almost be seen as an unbilled/unnamed character in the film.  Aikido performed a similar function in Steven Seagal’s inaugural film, Above The Law.  As is well known by now, Seagal has always lacked any true charisma or acting chops, but Aikido allowed him to stand out from his peers.  It also allowed the film itself to stand out, as its hero was using a style that jaded American audiences had not yet been exposed to.  Silat could be the exact same thing for the American version of The Raid and its as-yet-undetermined star, without necessarily being the sole focus of its fight scenes. 

Iko Uwais (left) and Yayan Ruhian (Right)

In order to ensure that silat is properly incorporated into the remake, the production team would need to achieve the proper synergy between east and west.  It should be a melding of styles and sensibilities that gives rise to something wholly unique.  That kind of marriage requires the absolute best of both worlds to be successful.  On the Indonesian side of the equation, silat would need true ambassadors of the form to ensure its safe journey.  Who could possibly be better suited for that task than Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian?  Not only did they star in the original (as Officer Rama and Mad Dog, respectively), but they also handled the fight choreography.  Allowing them to have a direct hand in developing the remake only seems right.  Of course, since neither man can speak English, there’s a severe language barrier to consider.  Perhaps that hurdle can be overcome with a good onset interpreter.

The North American half of this endeavor needs an artist of equal stature to Uwais and Ruhian.  At first glance, it would seem that such a man does not exist.  Big-budget Hollywood Blockbusters long ago abandoned the fundamentals of stunt work and fight choreography for computer assisted short-cuts.  That being said, I think Larnell Stovall is up to the task (Click here to read my interview with him).  To support my claims, I will not offer a show reel of his achievements.  I will simply point all parties involved toward the film Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning.  Regardless of what one might think of the film itself (which is actually pretty damn good), Mr. Stovall’s talents cannot be denied.  The fights are eclectic and organic.  They don’t rely too heavily on unnecessary acrobatics.  Mr. Stovall could successfully weave silat into a much larger martial tapestry, while still maintaining its integrity.   

However, even if silat were to be prominently featured in the remake, what star (or supporting player) could effectively wield it?  This leads to yet another nagging uncertainty: casting.  Even the most able bodied action stars in the U.S. likely only have a passing familiarity with silat, if any at all.  Even then, those who might prove to be relatively quick studies in the art might not make for the best casting choices.  For instance, casting someone like Jason Statham could prove disastrous.  His presence can hopelessly stigmatize a project, making it feel like yet another generic entry into his personal filmography.  The Hemsworth brothers could prove an even worse choice, as their action chops have yet to be proven.

Bone (Michael Jai White) standing triumphantly over a conquered opponent in Ben Ramsey's Blood and Bone.

Gareth Evans himself suggested either Scott Adkins or Michael Jai White for the lead.  While both are certainly excellent choices, they could also stigmatize the project.  Stateside, both men have become welcome fixtures of the B-level action circuit.  Casting Scott Adkins in the lead may be a bit too predictable; it would be exactly what fans might expect.  He’s the most recognizable (IE:white) face in the aforementioned minor leagues of action cinema, as well as the most able bodied.  If I had to choose between the two of them, I’d place my vote with Michael Jai White (Click here to read my interview with him).  He’s a deceptively multi-faceted performer.  That much should be clear after the one-two punch of Blood and Bone and Black Dynamite back in 2009.  His presence in the film could help it secure a demographic that is perhaps already guaranteed, but no less essential: African Americans.  Though “karate flicks” may considered a niche market in the west, Black folks have happily and heartily consumed them for over forty years.  After all, from an artistic standpoint, there’s no real reason why the hero of this film has to be white.  Scott Adkins can still have a place in the production, perhaps as the remake’s version of Mad Dog.  A potential face-off between White and Adkins could be the centerpiece of the film, as it offers number of tantalizing possibilities.

Contrary to popular belief, a remake of The Raid: Redemption doesn’t necessarily have to be bad.  By all indications, it has a real chance of being quite good.  Maybe it won’t be the instant classic that the original was, but it doesn’t have to be.  Gareth Evans and Todd Brown seem to have a vision for it, they haven’t steered the boat wrong yet.  Still, I implore the both of them to keep the fans in mind. Of course, our love for the original in no way entitles us to any preferential treatment.  We are but a small part of the remake’s intended audience.  That being said, we most certainly matter.  Please don’t forget us. 

1 comment:

  1. What an excellent piece of writing. Few notes, though. Iko actually can speak English although not fluent nor confident enough. And Larnel Stovall is the additional fight choreographer for Berandal (although the main choreography has been finish by Iko and Yayan long before The Raid existed)