Benjamin has been reviewing films online since 2004 and has seen way more action movies than he should probably admit to!
What's the big deal?
The Raid (known as The Raid: Redemption in the US) is a martial arts action film released in 2011 and is a collaboration between martial artist and star Iko Uwais and Welsh director Gareth Evans. Evans discovered Uwais whilst filming a documentary about the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat and went on to cast him in his first movie, Merantau. Originally planning a big budget follow-up to Merantau, various delays meant that Evans had to scale back his plans and the project evolved into action-thriller The Raid with Uwais once again cast as the lead. Made for just over $1 million, the film became a critical smash with many claiming it to be one of the best martial arts movies seen for a long time.
What's it about?
Rama is a young, talented SWAT officer with the Indonesian police who kisses his pregnant wife goodbye and joins up with an elite squad of officers preparing to storm a building. Their objective is a crime lord called Tama Riyadi who owns the building and provides accommodation to a large number of criminals who rent from him. Rama is one of twenty officers involved in the raid alongside Officer Bowo, Sergeant Jaka and Lieutenant Wahyu and after making steady progress undetected, they make their way up to the sixth floor.
Suddenly, the lights go out and Tama speaks to the tenants via PA system offering free lodgings for life for whoever kills the policemen trapped on the sixth floor. As they are ambushed and gravely injured by a number of assailants above and below them and with no reinforcements arriving, Rama is faced with a stark choice. He must proceed unaided after Tama while his colleagues attempt to escape further injury by heading back down to the ground floor and safety.
Trailer (contains scenes of violence)
What's to like?
So you like your action movies, then? Getting tired of the same old pyrotechnics from Hollywood which are increasingly getting more digital with each release? Had enough of former stars clinging on to their former glories like Stallone does with every Expendables sequel? In the mood for something a little different? Then welcome to your salvation - The Raid is the sort of film that doesn't bother with boring stuff like plot or character development. It's more concerned with delivering a full-on, brutally satisfying action picture like Hollywood used to - with real stuntmen and choreography instead of computer sprites.
The action flows at an extraordinary pace once it starts, rarely letting up and proving to be some the best action sequences filmed this side of the millennium. It reminds me of a more physical version of the parkour-inspired French film District 13 or early Jackie Chan releases where you're watching through your fingers in case something goes wrong. You feel every blow and at the end, you're exhausted and dripping with sweat - but still eager for more. Uwais leads a phenomenal cast who leap about the place like a pack of malicious Buster Keaton impersonaters and amazingly gives the Hollywood big-wigs something to think about.
- Despite its tagline stating "30 floors of hell", the apartment building in the movie only has 14 - 15 if you include the ground floor!
- The martial art used in the movie is called Pencak Silat, an indigious form of fighting originating in Indonesia.
- All of the guns featured in the movie are actually Airsoft replicas. Every bullet, ejected casing, muzzle flash and cycling action had to be added digitally in post production.
What's not to like?
The more action a film seems to feature, the less time it spends on other stuff like plot and characters. The Raid has one of the most simplistic storylines I can recall seeing and doesn't offer anything unusual or surprising to the viewer. It's more like a old-fashioned video game where the plot didn't matter so long as you were killing people in a variety of locations. The film also doesn't spend too long dwelling on the characters - apart from a brief bit of background on Rama, we know nothing about these characters so when they suffer a grisly end, it's as meaningless to us as a news report about some minor conflict in a far-flung part of the world. These characters never feel like people and that, for me, is a problem.
If all you're looking for is mindless action then this will satisfy the most jaded of action fans. But personally, the best action films were always more than bloody shoot-outs and fisticuffs. If you look at Die Hard, there was more to it than Bruce Willis running around in bare feet. It had tension, drama, a charismatic and charming villain and even humour - you cared whether McClane lived or died. Even the henchmen had their own little defining characteristic. These are all things that The Raid lacked and so desperately needed.
Should I watch it?
The Raid is not the greatest action movie ever made but it does contain some of the best action scenes I've seen in a long while - and I watch a lot of action movies. Each fight scene is wonderfully shot and edited to produce some of the most heart-pounding, adrenaline-fuelled sequences that rival anything Hollywood has produced in years. But if it concentrated on a bit more story and allowed us the time to get to know the characters, this might have been one of the all-time greats. If nothing else, it should serve as a warning to Hollywood that the rest of the world are catching them up...
Great For: action junkies, bad days at work, lads night in
Not So Great For: romantic evenings, pacifists, girls
What else should I watch?
Certainly, The Raid made me pay more attention to The Raid 2 which, if anything, offered even more bangs for your buck and not just because it's longer. Taking off almost immediately after the end of this film, the movie is more epic in scale and feel with a plot that expands the criminal empire that faces the overwhelmed police. It too lacks certain definition among the characters and the plot gets a little confusing but it's a worthy successor to a film as good as this. Certainly, it's more exciting than more comedic outings like Kung Fu Hustle or Shaolin Soccer - it's more like Ong-Bak than anything and trust me, that's good.
Of course, there isn't much wrong with going back to the acknowledged master of the genre Bruce Lee. The classic Enter The Dragon might be as advanced and cutting edge as a Nintendo Gameboy but it still delivers when it comes to martial arts. Or if you prefer sheer visual artistry instead of wanton violence then Hero or House Of Flying Daggers will definitely float your junk boat.
Release Date (UK)
18th May, 2012
© 2015 Benjamin Cox