Review: The Raid (2011)

Directed by:
Cast: , , , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

The Raid opens nationwide on the 22nd of March. Check Madman’s site for more details.

Director Gareth Evans and newly-minted action star Iko Uwais have followed up their 2009 martial arts flick Merantau with this hard-edged action film, and Madman have been good enough to bring it to cinemas nationwide! The last big action movie I remember them doing a cinema release for in Australia was Ong Bak, a logical point of comparison for this one — both come from Southeast Asia, both feature lead actors with real backgrounds in lesser-known martial arts, and both eschew wirework and CGI in favour of more realistic fight sequences.

Where they differ, though, is in their genres. Ong Bak presents a storyline familiar to kungfu film fans: the classically trained martial artist from the countryside who comes to the big city, only to get in over his head (cities being dangerous dens of iniquity, where all that training comes in handy).

The Raid belongs to the stripped-down, guns-blazing school of cops and robbers action cinema. Think John Woo’s Hard-Boiled, or perhaps Die Hard.

Iko Uwais is Rama, a rookie cop and father-to-be. He is attached to a special forces team tasked with taking down notorious drug lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy), whose giant, crumbling tenement building is infested with underworld nogoodniks and has been a no-go zone for police for years. Careful and well-organised, they make it six floors up before a spotter trips the alarm, the building is shut down, and every hood with a machine gun or a machete comes looking for them. Overseeing the hunt for the police are Tama’s two lieutenants, Andi (Donny Alamsyah), an operator who’s more likely to bribe than beat, and Mad Dog (co-choreographer on the film Yayan Ruhian), who to be honest is rather more into beating.

So, perhaps the story is a bit derivative. We have all the archetypes; the heroic rookie cop, the hardworking superior, the sneering kingpin, the brutal killing machine. It’s just enough to support the real focus of the film: the action, which starts ten minutes in and ratchets up progressively until the closing credits. And what a piece of work it is: Evans has gone to town on the action, from the weaponry used in the opening scenes to the hand-to-hand fighting later on, when our lead characters go up against each other. Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian are particularly impressive, basing their choreography on the Indonesian martial art pencak silat. There’s also a fight sequence between Mad Dog and Jaka, the force’s commander (Joe Taslim), which pits silat against judo, something I wasn’t expecting.

The filmmakers here work extremely hard to keep the action sequences inventive, and they deploy scores of guns, knives, machetes, fists, knees and, memorably, a fridge, in service of that aim. By and large, it works — it’s a visceral, muscular film, and if anything the scenes in which Iko Uwais isn’t fighting off dozens of men in a hallway slow it down. (They certainly don’t look as well shot and edited.)

The international buzz is telling: it has cinema distribution in the USA, with a re-jigged soundtrack and an unnecessary “Redemption” tacked on to the title, and there’s an English-language remake underway as well.

In the same way that Hong Kong classic The 36th Chamber of Shaolin is the kungfu movie distilled down to only its essential scene, the hero’s training sequence, The Raid expands the climactic “escape the villain’s stronghold” action movie trope to fill the whole film. Action junkies will go nuts for it!

8 floors of machete-swinging goons out of 10.
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