If you’re into your action, chances are you’ve at least heard some rumblings about The Raid (known as The Raid: Redemption in the United States for baffling, lawsuit-dodging reasons), an Indonesian martial arts extravaganza written and helmed by Welsh director Gareth Evans. After a very successful tour of film festivals and a decent run in the U.S. (well, decent for a subtitled foreign film) it’s finally made it to our shores and goes on general release this week. It’s already garnered some perfect and near-perfect scores from critics and, for the most part, actually deserves the hype.
The story is fantastically simple. We join rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) as he and his heavily armed SWAT team take on a derelict apartment building run by crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) and full of low-level criminal scumbags and junkies. The SWAT’s mission is to clear the building’s 30 floors and take out Tama. Needless to say, it doesn’t exactly pan out that way. The plot isn’t the reason people should go and see this. It’s a basic frame to hang increasingly brutal and frantic set-pieces on. It reminded me of an old arcade beat-em-up like Streets of Rage, where you have to slap wave after wave of cookie-cutter enemies followed by the more colourful mini-bosses before ultimately taking down the head honcho. Cinematically, the film reminded me of a mix between [Rec] 2 (apartment building, SWAT team) and Ong-Bak (martial arts, waves of goons getting taken out by a lead badass). Much like Ong-Bak, The Raid is a showcase for a specific martial art, but instead of Muay Thai, it’s the Indonesian fighting style Pencak Silat. The writing is steeped heavily in cliché, only made bearable by the spoken language being Indonesian. A point which the inevitable American remake won’t have in its favour. There are a few decent quieter moments however, almost all of them being unbearably tense, especially a scene where Rama and an injured colleague are hiding in a hollow wall, only for the psychotic, machete-wielding Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) to start stabbing through the plasterboard, the terrifyingly sharp blade steadily getting closer and closer towards our heroes.
The action is genuinely brilliant. It’s fast, brutal and consistently innovative. It’s really refreshing to see an uncompromising, unashamedly violent film achieve exactly what it wants to- to make you smile and wince in equal measures. The Raid features some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen and manages to sweeten the deal by being well-shot to boot. My arch-nemesis Dr. Shaky-Cam makes an appearance, but it is thankfully used sparingly and as a result, is used to great effect. The film is essentially a feature-length action sequence, which is exactly as awesome and as problematic as one may expect. My personal favourite fights are the claustrophobic hallway scrap which reminded me of the infamous hammer bit from Oldboy and a brilliant sequence that takes place in the building’s narcotics lab. A special mention also has to go to the bit where the film shows Indiana Jones how to properly “nuke a fridge”.
Whilst the fights are amazing and air-punchingly cathartic, it does all get a bit exhausting after a while, especially with the near constant yelling from Rama and the various cronies getting their throats handed to them. The sequences never get boring, but I couldn’t help but think “Oh, here comes yet another fight”. There are a few bits of gunplay at the beginning, but it all soon boils down to hand-to-hand nastiness. The film also has a bombastic soundtrack courtesy of Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and Tron: Legacy’s Joseph Trapanese, which injects the already great sequences with an oppressive electronic punch that compliments the visceral action very well.
I thought The Raid was fantastic. It’s a slick, ultra-violent martial arts demo that frankly embarrasses Hollywood actioners by comparison. There’s not much in the way of plot, but hey, that’s not the point. It’s a superbly choreographed taser jolt to the action genre that should have Hollywood sitting up and taking notice. Highly recommended.