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‘Dune’ director says fight scenes inspired by Filipino martial arts

Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel Dune has come back to the big screen once more with the new action-packed film adaptation directed by Denis Villeneuve, starring Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, and Dave Bautista. 

Villeneuve recently told The New York Times that the film’s combat scenes are inspired by Balintawak Eskrima (also known as Balintawak Arnis), a Filipino martial arts style developed in the 1950s. The fighting style involves blocking opponents’ attacks using both a weapon and a free hand. Fight coordinator Roger Yuan designed the choreography for the fight scene. 

Villeneuve dissected a fighting scene from Dune on “Anatomy of a Scene,” a video series by The New York Times. The scene dissected in the video was of Gurney Halleck (played by Brolin) training Paul Atreides (portrayed by Chalamet) for combat, and Villeneuve explained the fighting discipline used for the scene — both fighters are trying to distract each other by executing fast movements so that the opponent will be open for an attack, slowly inserting a blade inside the opponent’s shield. 

According to the Dune director, the Balintawak Eskrima’s fighting style is “closer to a chess game than a fighting sequence. When you fight someone with a shield, the idea is to distract them with moves in advance.” 

Arnis, Kali and Eskrima are very similar, according to stick fighting instructor Louis Lim. He added that the practitioners of these three styles of martial arts influenced each other, hence the similarities, and it often only differs depending on who teaches these fighting styles. 

Arnis has been featured in many other films aside from Dune, including Mission Impossible III, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, the Bourne series, and Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon, which was inspired by traditional Southeast Asian cultures including the Philippines. 

Villeneuve’s Dune is not the first attempt at a film adaptation for Frank Herbert’s 1965 epic sci-fi novel. Alejandro Jodorowsky made an unsuccessful attempt at a film adaptation in the 1970s, followed by David Lynch, whose 1984 adaptation was critically panned.

Villeneuve’s critically acclaimed Dune adaptation was released in the US last week and is set to open in Philippine theaters on November 10, when cinemas reopen. Dune marks the first major theatrical release in the country since the pandemic started.

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