My recent journey into the cinema of Indonesia come to a close (at least for now) with my cinema screening of “The Raid”, and it is safe to say that I saved the best for last. Again, the hype surrounding this film was massive with most people claiming “The Raid” to be the best action film of at least the last decade. Review after review, all I read was how impressed people were of this film, even after the expectations had been set so high, no one seemed to be disappointed rather these expectations were exceeded. So would “The Raid” meet my own expectations, or would all of the hype turn out to be just hyperbole?
“The Raid” has a very simple, yet brilliant concept. It is about a group of special force policemen who are sent into a large, fifteen storey apartment block with the aim to extract and arrest the crime lord who resides at the top floor. However the criminal kingpin doesn’t just live there, he owns the place and rents out the apartments to the worst-of-the-worst criminals at a reduced price. As soon as the policemen enter the building, they are ambushed and locked in. The majority of them are assassinated in a shower of bullets, but the few that survive the attack must now try to get out of the building alive. This obviously is not going to be easy, with Tama (the crime lord) explaining to the residents that whoever kills the police gets to live at the place rent-free for their lifetime.
This is the second pairing between director Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais, their first being “Merantau”, and to say that this film is a step up from that film is an understatement to the fullest, and “Merantau” was a very good action film to begin with. The biggest improvement is the whole level of intensity within “The Raid”, it is a kill or be killed scenario, and everything reflects that. This movie moves at a blistering pace, although it is not action from go-to-woe as has been reported. It is true that when the action kicks in, it does last for a long time, but within the film there are quiet moments where suspense takes the place of action. Evans does a masterful job here of building and sustaining the suspense, which always ends in brutal violence. Again, due to the dire situation the policemen are in, the intricately designed and choreographed fight scenes are performed at a pace that has to be seen to be believed. Any doubt people may have had of the legitimacy of Iko Uwais’s fighting ability will be erased after a viewing of “The Raid”, as he is amazing in this. His character is often taking on multiple opponents at a time, most of whom are armed, and again the speed and complexity of these fights…………..Wow! Honestly, I am speechless! Similar to his work in “Merantau”, Gareth Evans continues to stage and shoot these fight scenes in a way that we always feel the full impact of the move and never have a problem understanding exactly what is going on at all times.
In my review for “Merantau” I made a comment stating that Uwais’s acting talents needed a lot of improvement and I am happy to say that he has succeeded here in this department. He makes his character of Rama, a rookie cop, easy to identify with and he seems to fit the role like a glove. Of all of the characters in the piece, Rama is given the most to do on an emotional level, as he has a wife back home waiting for him who is heavily pregnant, and it turns out there is also a personal connection within the building that drives Rama. Another thing that Rama must deal with is an injured friend, who gets badly hurt during a gunfight. These are scenes that I wasn’t sure Iko Uwais would ever be able to successfully tackle but he does a fantastic job here, and because of that, he is able to give his character a charisma that he was unable to do in “Merantau”. Another thing that Uwais has done is made himself totally believable as a bad-ass. Ray Sayhetapy, who plays Tama, is also great in his role and very charismatic. Originally when I saw the trailer for “The Raid”, I was worried about Sayhetapy’s performance because it looked far too broad and over-the-top, more like a caricature of a villain, but the strength of his performance actually gives Tama much more depth than I was expecting and turned out to be a fully rounded character. In fact for a martial arts film, the majority of the performances are excellent, which is a reason why I feel it is a step up from the Tony Jaa films that “The Raid” and “Merantau” are often compared to. No matter how good the fights are in Jaa’s films, the acting in the dramatic scenes are always deplorable so the film as a whole can rarely be considered great.
Probably the biggest strength of “The Raid” (besides Iko Uwais himself), is the return of Yayan Ruhian who plays “Mad Dog” and is Tama’s right hand man and his muscle. This is a much meatier role for Ruhian than his role of Eric in “Merantau” (he is the guy Uwais fights in the elevator), and this time he really gets to showcase his martial arts skills. Yayan Ruhian is one of the film’s main choreographers as well, so he is largely responsible for the amazing fights in “The Raid”, and his character of “Mad Dog” is the only character in the film that actually enjoys the fight, rather than just going in for the kill via guns and knives. In one scene, he actually gets the upper hand on a policeman, but instead of killing him right out, he drops his weapon to fight off one-on-one, just to prove how good he is. He also has an amazing one-on-two fight (where the “heroes” are the ones actually outnumbering the villain) that is just incredible.
The fight scenes (and the film as a whole) are very violent and bloody. Remember that these are life or death situations, so when characters are using knives and guns (yes, guns are sometimes integrated into the fights), these weapons are being used for the distinct purpose to maim or kill. Unlike other action films also, if someone is stabbed repeatedly they will not be getting back up. Due to the way the fights have been shot, it would have been impossible to use practical blood effects , so a lot of the blood is done via CGI which I normally have a problem with, but I was so enthralled by the scenes themselves that it did not affect my enjoyment at all. The hard-hitting nature of the fights are very brutal, and the speed which they are performed, makes you appreciate just how much pain and sweat and, I’m sure, bruises these fighters have gone through to bring to us these amazing fight scenes.
In this day and age, I am astounded that I was able to see “The Raid” on a cinema screen at a multiplex. Seriously, what would you have thought the chances would be of seeing an Indonesian martial arts film in any kind of cinema in Australia, let alone a multiplex? Also to see it in its original language and subtitled rather than dubbed. Everyone involved in this movie has done such a great job of marketing it and getting it out there (Madman has done a stellar effort here in Australia), but really it is the word of mouth that is working the best and that is due to the film’s quality. If this film were no good, no one would be talking about it. I will say that as excited as I was to see this in a multiplex, it may have diminished the effect of some of the film. I often find that the level of care in regards to projecting a film at these cinemas to be less than satisfying, and unfortunately that was the case here. When I returned home and re-watched the trailers, it was quite shocking just how badly the film was projected.
A quick note about the title, although the Australian posters all have the title as “The Raid” on them, the actual film prints come with the slightly adjusted American title “The Raid: Redemption”. The slight change in title has to do with the fact that this film is the first in a trilogy, and the second film which is titled “Berandal” is hard to translate into something meaningful in English, so will be titled “The Raid: ??”. Gareth Evans explains that the sequel will be something different entirely and be much slower in pace, with characters who are mentioned in “The Raid” suddenly becoming big players. It will not be a rehash of the original film and will not be set in the apartment block, but rest assured we will be following Rama on his journey, who will now be a new father.
Overall, this was a stunningly good film that lives up to all of the hype. I honestly cannot think of another action film from the past decade that betters “The Raid”, so I guess it is true that it is the best action film of the decade. Beware of the fact that it is incredibly bloody, so if you are sensitive to that kind of thing, “The Raid” may not be for you. It is definitely not for children (I had a bloody irresponsible parent bring a child of no more than seven years of age to my screening). I am now waiting with baited breath for the sequel to arrive.