One of the best fight scenes ever written

This is how you do it. Or, one of the ways, anyhow. There is no single way to do it. (Or, rather, the single way to do it is “Do a good job.” There are many ways to do that). But this is one of them.

It’s from Richard Condon’s Manchurian Candidate (1959), which if you only know from the movies, you’re missing a lot, not least an oddly affecting treatment of Captain Marco. For those of you who haven’t seen the movies, Captain Marco and his friend Raymond Shaw were captured during the Korean War and brainwashed. This turns Shaw into an assassin. Marco only gets nightmares. Horrible, persistent, driving-him-close-to-derangement nightmares, in which he sees North Koreans murdering men in his platoon. Condon’s good enough, as a writer–take a look at his bibliography and you’ll recognize some pretty good (or at least solidly entertaining) books–to make the reader sympathize with poor, twitchy, near-the-point-breakdown Captain Marco, who no one believes. Marco finally visits Shaw, hoping for some human company. Unbeknownst to Marco, Shaw’s Korean handler, Chunjin, is staying with Shaw to make sure that Shaw carries out the assassination.

Chunjin is one of the figures Marco sees in his nightmares.

Chunjin answered the door. He stood clearly under good light wearing black trousers, a white shirt, a black bow tie, and a white jacket, looking blankly at Marco, waiting for an inquiry, not having time to recognize the major, and most certainly not expecting him. To Marco he was a djinn who had stepped into flesh out of that torment which was giving him lyssophobia. Not more than four fifths of a second passed before Marco hit Chunjin high in the chest, having thrown the desperate punch for the center of the man’s face, but the Korean had stepped backward reflexively and had saved himself, partially, from the unexpectedness of Marco’s assault. Because he had not thought of himself as being on duty while Raymond was out of the city, Chunjin was unarmed. However, he was a trained agent and a good one. He held the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Soviet security forces and he had been assigned to Raymond on a crash basis. He had recognized Marco too late. He was entirely current on Marco’s dossier because the major was Raymond’s only friend.

The elevator operator, a sturdy twenty-eight-year-old, watched the Korean carried backward and the door flung inward to bang against the pink plaster wall. He rushed in fast behind Marco and tried to pull him back. Marco held Chunjin off with his left hand and cooled the elevator man with his right. Chunjin took that left arm and drew Marco into a prime judo catch and threw him high across the room so he could get at Marco’s neck, coming down on it hard enough to break it in the follow-up, but Marco rolled and kept rolling when he hit the floor and slipped locks on hard when Chunjin came down, missing him.

They were both Black Belts, which is the highest judo rank there is, this side of a Dan. Marco had weight on his man, but Marco was in a run-down condition. However, he had been lifted into a murderous exhilaration and was filled to his hairline with adrenalin because he had at last been permitted to take those nightmares and one of the people in them into the fingers of his hands to beat and to torture until he found out why they had happened and where they had happened and how they could be made to stop. What worked the best was the twenty-nine extra pounds of weight and, as four neighbors watched with studious curiosity from the safer side of the doorsill, he broke Chunjin’s forearm. The Korean almost took the side of his face and his neck off, not losing a beat of his rhythm during the fracture and appalling Marco that such a slight man could be so tough. Then Marco dislocated the man’s hip joint as he leaped to jab his foot into Marco’s larynx, and it was that second catch which brought out the great scream of agony.

He was pounding the back of Chunjin’s head into the floor and asking him a series of what he thought were deliberative questions when the youngest squad-car cop came into the room first and fast, hitting him behind the head with a sap, and the entire, wonderful opportunity passed.

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One Response to One of the best fight scenes ever written

  1. Alexx Kay says:

    I have a performance piece structured around a dramatic reading of the “Are you Arabic?” scene on the train. The book is full of strange tonal shifts, but it’s certainly gripping.

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