Friday, May 9, 2014

In the Nature of Scorpions and Tortoises - #fridayflash

The tortoise was just coming to shore when the scorpion scuttled by. It stopped in the pebbles and waited for the tortoise to approach.

“Pardon me,” said the scorpion, “but could I have a ride to the other side of the river?”

“I don’t know,” said the tortoise. “I am going back there this evening, but I heard there are some very shapely turtles sunning up by the road on this side. I wanted to ogle them.”

“That is a noble cause, but I hear there are some very shapely scorpions over on the other side of the river. I’ve never seen the shape of a scorpion over there, you know. Lived here all my life.”

“That is a shame,” said the tortoise, trying not to look the scorpion in the face. Unfortunately at their level, there was very little else to look at.

“As someone with the gift of aquatic travel, I hoped you would see fit to help a brother out.”

“How long is a scorpion lifespan again?”

“Not impressively long. I’d very much like to ogle a decent scorpion before I die.”


“You’re not afraid, are you?”

The tortoise stirred. “No. What?”

“Good. There’s a terrible stereotype about scorpions stabbing people with the least temptation. Only rednecks believe in it.”

Scorpions can be very pushy, and any tortoise hates being called a bigot. He wound up rationalizing out loud. “Well, it’ll only be a minute. I’ve been swimming a lot faster lately. Cardio training from a race with a rabbit.”

“Is that so?” the scorpion inquired as he scurried up the tortoise’s shell. He paused at the top, his tail quivering.

The tortoise eyed him. Since scorpions have much more complicated eyes, he couldn’t tell if the scorpion was staring back at him.

They dipped into the water. The scorpion’s legs coiled inward as though he were dying.

“Are you alright?” asked the tortoise.

“I’ve never been over water before. I guess I’m nervous.”

The tortoise could not tell, but it seemed the scorpion was staring at his shell. He swam a little faster.

“Are you licking your lips?”

“I don’t have lips. I’m an arachnid.”

His tail bobbed, as though nodding in agreement. With every bob the thorny tip drew closer.

“Almost there,” said the tortoise.

The tail drew as far up as possible. It quivered for an instant.

“I’m sorry,” gasped the scorpion.

“Sorry for what?”

“It’s my nature!”

The scorpion struck down with all his might. His barb snapped against the tortoise’s shell.

“Oh, is that your nature?” asked the tortoise. “Mine’s a carapace.”

They didn’t talk for the rest of the trip. The scorpion got off with his head down, and the tortoise barely looked at him. He slipped back into the water with a mutter that sounded like, “Dumb ass.”

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The (Unexpected) Brilliant Writing in The Raid 2

I loved The Raid: Redemption, with its perfect action movie plot of cops climbing a gang building, each floor occupied by angry criminals. It's the perfect excuse for the unparalleled fight choreography that got the little Indonesian film international acclaim.

That's also why I didn't expect such great writing in the sequel, The Raid 2. No book or movie has sunk a hook that well on me in years. I envied their skill at making me question what was going on in the hero's mind as he sunk into the criminal world. There's a lot emerging writers can learn from its first act.

Rama is our hero – our moral and incredibly capable police guy. The Raid 2 opens with the murder of Rama's brother. He swiftly vows to bring down the crime organization responsible, but to do so he must ally with fringe police he doesn't trust, and from there get tossed into the same prison as the son of the mob's boss. If he can ingratiate himself, then he and the fringe police will have a path to the heart of the organization.

I didn't say you only watch it for the writing.
So Rama gets himself convicted of a crime, but once inside, always acts bitterly towards the son. He only has a sincere interaction with him during a massive riot in the recreation yard, where he saves the son's life. The two have a moment of bonding before riot guards drive everyone into the ground.

The movie jumps forward a few years. The son is already out, and today Rama is getting out too. The mob has pulled strings to help him. On his way to the car, Rama fusses with the cuff of his shirt, tears out a listening bug and drops it in the road before he and the son drive away.

In the cinema, I leaned forward in my chair wondering if, during those five years, he'd switched sides.

Then Rama meets the mob boss himself, who makes him strip. A specialist checks his every crevice, and even feels up his discarded clothing to make sure he's trustworthy. Once they're sure, they incinerate his old clothes and get him a good suit. Something fit for his new life.

The new family.
Did he know they'd do that? Did the police he's working for not know and bug his clothing? Or has he changed in prison? It's too plausible that he could bond with the son while missing the companionship of his brother. But he also could have gleaned that this pat-down was coming and found the police's bug to be foolish.

The opening act of the movie does a brilliant job of making the audience ask those questions, and then tweak them as the unspoken thrust of what characters do. There's the visceral side, of seeing him manhandled and talking humbly to a man who could have him shot at any time, but those are the trappings.
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