The Raid

I can’t recommend The Raid: Redemption.  It’s an Indonesian action movie that has won some acclaim internationally.  I watched it because I’d seen Merantau, by the same director (Gareth Evans) and starring the same actor (Iko Uwais).  Merantau wasn’t bad if you are a martial arts fan: the production quality was high and the pencak silat was great.  Silat is the Nusantara’s indigenous martial art and it draws on Islam for its spiritual discipline in the same way that the more famous martial arts of Northeast Asia do with Buddhism.  Merantau has several memorable fight scenes including an extended duel in an elevator that shows off silat’s close, compact fighting style well. The crowded alleys of Jakarta and the hillside kampongs made good backdrops too.  The plot was predictable and the acting strictly average but you could forgive it that if you came for the silat.

So when I heard The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan Maut) was even better I gave it a chance, hoping they’d stepped up the plot and the acting. They … went in a different direction. The plot was a 30-second contrivance to set up an hour and a half of grisly non-stop murder and mayhem inside a broken-down Jakarta tenement.   It was truly gruesome, with a lot of the open hand stuff replaced with gun, knife and machete slaughter.  Even my 14-year-old boy was disgusted, though I confess we both sat it through to the end.

What struck me though were the subtitles.  The sergeant says “Diam!” and the subtitles read “Shut the %&$* up!”  Diam just means quiet, nothing more. The hero calls the villain “Anjing!” and the subtitles read “%&$* you, you #*%!”  Anjing just means dog, the same word for dog you’d see in a see-the-dog-run children’s book.  And it was just relentless: the subtitles were inserting all this vile English profanity that just wasn’t there in the Indonesian.  Here was the goriest, most brainless bloodbath of a movie, and no one uttered a four-letter word.

Maybe I missed a few, since the movie was in rapid-fire Indonesian.  But the more I thought about it, I realized, in the nearly ten years I’ve been here, I’ve never heard a single word of profanity uttered in Bahasa Malaysia.  I’ve seen people get angry, get frustrated, suffer an injury, but I’ve never heard them curse.  I know the words exist, I know what they are, but I’ve never heard them used.  I know, I know: I’m a boring middle-aged homebody with religious proclivities.  I’m sure if I hung out with glue-sniffing teenagers under the bridge it would be different.  But I think it is fair to say that vulgarity and profanity are simply not as pervasive and accepted as they are back in the States. 

But so yeah, I can’t recommend The Raid.  If martial arts aren’t your thing but you want to try some Indonesian cinema, 9 Naga (Nine Dragons) was good.  Watch that instead.  Of course, I'm not really very knowledgable about local films.  Next up for me is Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa.  Any good? If you have recommendations for Malaysian or Indonesian cinema, I’d like to hear them.

Avatar II: Blue As I Feel

Avatar 2: Blue as I Feel

Synopsis of the upcoming sequel to James Cameron’s Avatar:

Sulley continues to grow and mature as a Na’vi. We explore the wondrous beauty of the planet with him and the nuances of Na’vi society. But he begins to see aspects of the Na’vi he never noticed before that trouble him. He notices conflicts within the tribe that he tries to solve. But his solutions are not apt and they are not welcomed. He finds he still cannot communicate in Na’vi the way born Na’vi can, and at night, he dreams in English. Images of his former life flash before his eyes. Then a major crisis affects the tribe, and his advice is not solicited. The solution put forward by the tribe requires a significant military role on his part. He disagrees with the strategy and sees major flaws. Nonetheless, he agrees to participate, as his standing in the tribe is at stake. In the ensuing action, the strategy works and the crisis is resolved but Jake himself suffers a fatal injury as a result of misunderstanding the plan due to a nuance in the Na’vi tongue. The screen fades to black as Jake stares dying into the distant stars. THE END.

Originally posted at TalkIslam where I can no longer post for some reason, recycled in an oblique contribution to this discussion.

Just for Me (and you) Media

Do not f*** with Azzam Al-Britani
Do not f*** with Azzam Al-Britani
What a pleasure it is to come across a book or a song or a movie that feels like it was made expressly with you in mind. There have been a number of works lately that felt that way, well at least that I was among the intended audience. Narcissism, I’m sure, and yet what a feeling! You don’t get that from downloading the latest George Clooney vehicle, I’ll say that much. I recommend them all to you.

The Infidel: Comedy about a Pakistani-British Muslim who discovers he’s an adopted Jew. The movie is schlocky in the extreme, with the bulk of the humor playing on extremely well-worn Jewish stereotypes. But this Jew-ish Muslim laughed and laughed.

Four Lions: A comedy about an incompetent terror cell of Pakistani-British Muslims. A comedy about bumbling suicide bombers, yes. I was nervous about it because of how awkwardly muslims are treated in movies, but this guy, a non-muslim at that, gets it so right, it is just pitch-perfect. The first half of the movie is so hysterical and convincing that I was completely blindsided when the first casualty occurred and the movie suddenly became very very dark.

Zeitoun: A book recounting the experience of Abdurrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian Muslim immigrant, and his family during the Katrina Hurricane. The book is so simply and plainly put forward that the wonder and the horror and the truth of what they went through becomes undeniable. No hype, no spin, yet such an incredible story that any American who reads it has to account for what it tells us about our country.

Wait! Story time! A shaykh at the Haul of Imam al-Haddad held in my local masjid two weeks ago related this to us:

Once upon a time, there was a sultan who was an avid hunter. One day, as he and his vizier were hunting alone in the forest, the sultan drew his sword to slash some undergrowth. In a moment of clumsiness, the sultan tripped, fell and severed the index finger on his right hand. As the sultan and his vizier hurried back to the palace, the sultan angrily demanded to know why such a thing had happened to him: he, being the sultan and a pious servant of God! The vizier simply said, “God must have a reason for this calamity to befall you.” The sultan was only enraged further. “What! That’s the stupidest answer I’ve ever heard! What reason could it possibly serve for me to lose my finger like that!” And upon reaching the palace, he had the vizier thrown into prison.

A year went by, until one day the sultan was out hunting once again. Following the trail of a mighty beast, he went further into the forest, until he stumbled upon a village of cannibals! They quickly set upon him and bound him to a carrying-pole. From their excited chatter, he learned they were preparing for a major feast as today was their high holy day. They were overjoyed to have caught such a prize on such a day! Soon, they began to remove his royal Muslim garb and the head priest approached with the sacrificial knife. Only then did the head priest of the cannibals notice his right hand – he was missing a finger! According to their sacred law, no defective human could be sacrificed, and so he was freed.

The Sultan raced back to the palace and headed straight for the prison doors. Flinging them open, he embraced his old vizier. “You were right,” he said. “God did have a reason! Had it not been for my missing finger, I would certainly have been sacrificed! Please forgive me for imprisoning you unjustly all this while!”

“God had a reason for that too, O Sultan. Had I been free and at your side, I would surely have been sacrificed in your place!”

I laughed, and I wish more lighthearted teaching stories of that sort were in our khutbas and lectures. But that joke touches on the issue of Divine Justice and the perennially difficult topic of why bad things happen to good people. For many Jews, for example, the idea of a loving God was irreconcilable with the event of the Holocaust. Prof Sherman Jackson takes up the same theological dilemma among Blackamericans in Islam and the Problem of Black Suffering. His third book I’ve read, after Boundaries of Theological Tolerance and Islam and the Blackamerican, which seem to be meant as a series of sorts. One part dialogue with Black Christian thought, one part introduction to the schools of Islamic theology, one part advice for American Muslims, it is quite remarkable how Prof Jackson ties all the threads together so neatly. I’m not the one to write a review of a book of this caliber, but like with Islam and the Blackamerican, I found it filled with sharp, useful insights thrown out almost off-handedly along the way. And while it confirmed for me how thoroughly rooted I am in the Ash’ari outlook, it was the first time I felt I could really appreciate the perspective of Ibn Taymiyyah’s school and what it contributes to the house of Islam.

Finally, take a moment to check out this awesome video: Hamdulillah, by The Narcicyst ft. Shadia Mansour. Look at yourselves, you’re beautiful and your garb is beautiful!

[Video via Planet Grenada]

Little Odessa

Little Odessa‘s an older movie (1994) that I just picked up on VCD a little while ago. It’s not a particularly interesting drama, but the setting is. It’s filmed in a part of New York city called Brighton Beach. It’s a decaying industrial sector with a large Russian immigrant population. The climax scene in the movie uses Ailanthus altissima to great effect. The thug (Tim Roth) has taken his victim to an abandoned factory to assassinate him. The victim stands at his grave. As Roth raises his gun, we see the bare branches of Ailanthus altissima rising between them like the devil’s own horns. There’s no doubt the director (James Gray) included the tree on purpose; just look at how tips of the branches line up with the gun and the victim’s head. It’s a depressing movie, like every movie by or about Russians I’ve ever seen, but it’s worth watching for the scenery.