Timothée Chalamet's Fighting Style in Dune Is Inspired by Balintawak Eskrima
It’s official: director Denis Villeneuve’s long-awaited cinematic adaptation of the sci-fi classic Dune will hit theaters in Metro Manila on November 10. That’s exciting, and yet also a little bittersweet, because as we’re all aware, there’s still some risk involved in going out these days. (We urge moviegoers to ensure that you are vaccinated, and to always go the extra mile in abiding by health and safety protocols.)
Anyone willing to take that risk for Dune, however, can at least expect, in return, a magnificent sci-fi epic, and a truly unique achievement of cinematic scale and spectacle. Finally, a worthy adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel.
But apparently—and this is really just a small, interesting detail relative to how absolutely incredible the movie is—they can also expect to see Timothée Chalamet using a Filipino fighting style.
In a video feature by the New York Times, director Denis Villeneueve breaks down one of the movie’s early scenes. In it, the hero Paul Atreides (played by Timothée Chalamet) spars with Gurney Halleck, his weapons teacher and something of a tito figure throughout the story.
The director reveals in the video that fight choreographer Roger Yuan chose balintawak eskrima as the inspiration for Paul Atreides’ fighting style. Watch:
Developed in the 1950s and widely attributed to the martial artist Vernancio Bacon, balintawak eskrima is a variant of the Filipino weapon-based fighting style eskrima, also known as arnis.
Balintawak eskrima is often described as a cerebral fighting style that emphasizes calculated counter attacks. “To appreciate Anciong Bacon's balintawak eskrima, you have to understand set-ups, anticipation, the art of outwitting through ruses and lures,” reads the description of a book on the fighting style. “Economy and simplification of motion, sans lavish and squandered movements; effective strikes fused and bonded with speed, power, elegance and grace.”
Which is why this is absolutely the perfect choice for Dune.
Balintawak eskrima makes sense for the movie not just because of the technicalities of Dune’s shields—that is, they only allow the passage of matter moving below certain speeds, and so to penetrate them, a fighter would need a slow and covert strike—but also because it expresses the temperament of Paul Atreides himself. In the book, a lot of emphasis is given to Paul’s calculations, as well as his ability to overcome challenges by biding his time and restraining his impulses. Through its many stream-of-consciousness descriptions, the book characterizes Paul as a well-trained fighter who succeeds by his wits and technique. In fact, fighting metaphors are used to describe the story’s many political maneuvers as well: “a feint within a feint within a feint,” is one of the book’s iconic phrases.
So sure, we can indulge that shallow thrill of seeing a Filipino martial art represented and demonstrated in a big Hollywood movie, by no less than World’s Dreamiest Twink™ Timothée Chalamet. But let's also appreciate that this wasn’t just a random shoutout—the choice of balintawak eskrima was purposeful, and showed a deep appreciation for how a Filipino martial art could fit perfectly into one of the world’s most well-loved sci-fi stories.