film review: The Raid (2012) – JDIFF 20121 Comment
Ever since it’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, the “blogosphere” has been alight with talk of this little film which is bringing the lesser known Silat martial arts to the fore in the Western World. The clips and trailers which have been drip fed to the internet via various sites (you can see them all here) have only served to add fuel to the fire. I’ve seen it twice and I’m waiting for the day it’s released generally so I can urge everyone I know to go and see it.
Directed by a Welsh man and filmed in Indonesia, The Raid is not the kind of film that usually finds itself subject to high critical praise. Truth is, it’s just an action film. But what an action film. In terms of western directors, The Raid is up there with The Matrix and Die Hard for sheer action joyfulness. Of course though, this film isn’t actually a Western film, despite the director. It has far more in common with the likes of Ong-Bak, Oldboy and the film the director cites as his inspiration – Hard-Boiled – than anything the US or Europe has to offer.
Writer / director Gareth Evans and his star Iko Uwais have created a film which I think may be a catalyst for at least some change in the way action films are being made. The fact that the film has a young, native English speaker at the helm, pushing it out across the world, helps immensely, not least because it proves to cinemas that there really is an appetite for this kind of film in your local multiplexes. He is the face of their audience.
It also comes a good time. I remember recently another critic lamenting the poor quality of action films these days. In particular, he was complaining that whenever you see a hero fighting in a Hollywood film, you don’t. That’s to say, all you see is a blur of shaky camera, quick cuts and bits of set and props flying around them. I said, the only person doing action in Hollywood films these days is Jason Statham… well maybe we’ll have a new face and a new director out there soon. Even if Iko and Gareth don’t want to leave Indonesia, it shows budding action directors in the west that you don’t need explosions and special effects to make an action film that people want to see.
In case you’re wondering, I am aware that this isn’t really a review of the film. Since I don’t do spoilers there isn’t really a lot I can say about it. The premise is simple. A squad of policemen are tasked with breaking into the apartment block (read fortress) of the biggest crime lord in Jakarta and taking him out. Of course, it was never going to be that easy. The crime lord is soon alerted to their presence and choas ensues.
What makes this a great, rather than a merely fun, film is its flow. The action is not quite unrelenting. Which may sound like a bad thing but it’s not. There is an ebb and flow, it builds you up but it doesn’t burn itself out by trying to sustain the pace. Now I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t one or two moments where I thought, “ok, this beating is going on a little too long”, but we’re probably only talking 5-10 seconds here and there.
What also works is that it’s uncomplicated. There’s no messing around with say, flashbacks, or “meanwhile, outside the building” type crap. The narrative is confined to what we need to know to make the characters work. There’s a bit of set up at the start, the characters are given the necessary shape and away we go. Time for ass-kickin’.
Did I mention that this film is really violent. It’s really violent. Not overly so, I don’t remember turning away. I did in Oldboy. The Raid shows enough and well… it you don’t like seeing people getting the absolute shite beaten out of them then you shouldn’t see it… but I wouldn’t call it too much.
At one of the screenings I went to there was a Q&A with Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais afterwards. I was most interested in how they described doing the choreography*. He said that himself, Iko and Yayan Ruhain (Mad Dog in The Raid) spent around three months blocking out the fights, shooting the camera angles and editing it into a filmed storyboard for the action. Then they rehearsed with all the cast for 3 months, then shot it, gradually replacing the video storyboard with real footage. The work they put in it shows. By choreographing the camera as part of the action from the start it makes the whole film, all the action, seem organic. You’re not merely a viewer getting the best shot of the action, you’re be part of that action.
He also said that he was glad of the positive reception because proved that there were people out there that are as “sick and violent” as he is. I laughed.
If you’re a fan of action at all The Raid is a must-see. I mean that. Seriously, you have to go and see this. Even if you don’t like the film there will still be set pieces in there to amaze you.
Course, if you don’t want to see people being stabbed and punched in the face, you should probably avoid it. Just sayin’ like.
* = It might also be in one of those production videos I posted in the other article, I haven’t watched them…