How First Blood helped to influence this new take on action vengeance.
As we cover in our UAMC review of SISU, this is certainly one of the best — and most ultimate — action movies to come out this year. A true love-letter to 80s and 90s action cinema, SISU packs all the punch of an 80s era Stallone thriller or a 90s Van Damme beat-’em up.
To learn more about what makes SISU feel so raw and ultimate, we sat down to chat with filmmaker Jalmari Helander to explore how the film came to be, and how he brought 80s and 90s action influences (in particular First Blood) into his ultimate action infused project.
UAMC: Great film. Really loved watching it. And honestly, it was probably the best action movie I’ve seen of this year — and that includes John Wick. So it was a pleasure to get the chance to view it. So yeah, this interview is for a website called The Ultimate Action Movie Club, which is all about 80s and 90s action movies and then how they kind of leak into today. And I’m very excited to see a Rambo poster first blood poster there behind you. So very cool. I just wanted to ask a few questions about it. So what was the initial inspiration for making SISU?
Jalmari Helander: Well… [points at First Blood poster behind him on the wall] First Blood definitely started it all for me when I was a kid. And watching all those 80s and 90s action movies, which are really close to my heart. And I’ve been actually trying to figure out what’s missing from the modern day action movies, which 80s and 90s action movies had. Do you have an opinion for that?
UAMC: Do I personally? I think SISU did a lot of the things that come from the heart of 80s and 90s action, which were very, let the action lead the story and let kind of a little more real action in, let it kinda breathe a little bit where you can kinda see them catch their breath and stay in the fight scenes longer. I think all that stuff was really apparent in SISU. And then, I don’t know, I mean, there are movies like John Wick and other action movies now that I feel like are doing it a little bit better, so I’m glad to see that. But I don’t know, there’s kind of an over-the-topness that is kind of missing too, and I think SISU brings that back and does it very well…. That was actually one of my questions. How do you feel about the state of modern action now and where SISU kind of fits into this new version of the genre?
Jalmari Helander: Well, I wanted to do a classic take of how to make action scenes. And, and I wanted it to be inventive with the action scenes to show that there’s something that audiences haven’t seen before. But that’s something I’ve been thinking a lot, like what is missing now? And I think probably one of the biggest reasons, because it all happens all the time in CGI now — and as long as we don’t talk about like Mission: Impossible or something like that — is that there’s something missing. Like if you think about how buildings explore for example. In the first Independence Day film for example, because they made them with models and it looks so good compared to things today where you blow everything up all in CGI, like the whole planet can blow up but it still doesn’t feel like anything. So I don’t know. We should go back to the old ways of doing things, I think.
UAMC: I agree completely. And that leads into our next question for you, which is about how much of SISU relied on practical effects versus CGI. And how did you personally find that balance? Because I know some of the sequences would be impractical do to practically — I mean y’all have a whole fight scene on a crash plane for example — but how did you approach these two forms of action filmmaking?
Jalmari Helander: Well, I tried to get the best from both worlds because of course, when you’re shooting, the schedule is tight and it’s not easy to repeat something which is done physically like bullet hits or explosions or stuff like that. So what we did in VFX was we fixed some of the problems we had when we were shooting, but I think there’s always has to be some something for real to make it work because if you’re just doing it with CGI, like bullet hitting the people in the crowd or whatever, you can see that. So you have to have something for real before you go to amplify it in the VFX.
UAMC: That makes sense. Quick question about the fight choreography and the stunts too by the way. How involved were you in the process of shooting all the stunts and doing some of the choreography? And how early in the process did you all begin kind of putting these fights together on paper and in practice?
Jalmari Helander: Well, I was pretty clear with my reasons for the fight scenes. Of course there’s a lot in the middle of these key movements that the guys have created. But I had these moments where I wanted to go. Like if we talk about the first fight scene, I knew that it definitely would open with that shot into the head. Like, because I wanted to show the audience (and also the Nazis) that, okay, you are dealing with this kind of guy now… and ask them, do you really want to go down this road? And so I wanted to surprise everyone and have after that like a few key elements of how the fight scenes would end which I was real clear on early on.
UAMC: Very cool. To wrap things up I just wanted to end where we started and ask you about your ultimate action movie influences — in particular First Blood. How did you homage or honor these 80s and 90s classics which you grew up in in SISU?
Jalmari Helander: Well, [First Blood] influences everything I guess in SISU,like the story itself even. We have a guy who’s beat true war, and we don’t basically know anything about him from the beginning. And, as we start to learn a little bit more we find out that this guy is actually really, really tough, and everyone tries to warn the people who are fighting him that you shouldn’t do that. That you should just go away because it won’t end nicely for you. That’s all there and it’s in the nature of those classics and there’s just something really cool to me about all of that.