If you haven’t been living under a rock with your fingers in your ears for several months, you must have heard of The Raid. But now that it’s finally arrived, does it live up to the hype? Well, happily the answer is a resounding, bone-crunching “yes” as it’s an action movie with few equals; 101 minutes of almost non-stop gun-toting martial arts action and a pulse-quickening foot up the arse for modern martial arts cinema.
Deep within one of Jakarta’s most notorious slums is a high-rise apartment block, home to the city’s most notorious criminals – gangsters, junkies and murderers – all ruled over by the iron fist of a fearsome drug lord. It’s a 30-floor fortress which is considered nearly impenetrable and all who have attempted to assault it have failed.
That’s something that the authorities hope to change and so an elite SWAT team is sent in with the mission to sweep the building and eliminate anyone/anything they encounter. But as they break in under the cover of darkness, they swiftly realise that the biggest challenge will be staying alive long enough to get out.
Initially, it seems that The Raid might follow the same formula as many action movies that have gone before it. After all, other than being set in Indonesia, on the surface there’s nothing new. The gung ho heroism and the simplistic dialogue is par for the course as are the sketchily drawn characters. Even the villain conforms to the expected cold-blooded laconic villain type.
But where The Raid excels, nay triumphs, is in its execution. Far from the close-up shaky cam that has become the preserve of movies like The Bourne Trilogy and Daniel Craig James Bonds, the action here is filmed wide, so you can see what’s going. Fight scenes are long and brutal and often filmed entirely in one take, emphasising not only the athleticism of the practitioners but the fluidity and the effectiveness of the martial arts.
The result is breathtakingly visceral and unlike anything that’s been in cinemas for years – bones snap, joints are wrenched, and every bad guy gets seven kinds of hell liberally beaten out of him. Seeing Iko Uwais tearing through a horde of bad guys in a corridor, each of whom is wielding a machete or knife is a thrill that has no equal in modern cinema.
Given that the martial art on display here – Pencak Silat – is so devastatingly effective and gloriously cinematic, it’s actually surprising that it’s taken this long to bring it to the screen. It serves as a perfect showcase for an art that moves seamlessly from weapons-based combat to unarmed assault and one that’s not afraid to use its environment – tables, chairs, walls, light fittings, door frames all get in on the action, not to mention the most memorable use of an explosive fridge.
While the action pushes the adrenaline far into the red, director Gareth Evans has to be praised for his understanding of the beat of cinema. He knows exactly when to pull back, to give the audience a chance to catch its breath and the quiet moments propel the story forward and give us a chance to regain composure before unleashing yet another barrage of furious action.
If there are any criticisms, it’s that the final boss fight against Mad Dog (which is naturally a pre-requisite for this genre) is a little too long – and given that most of the other fights are over in mere seconds, it feels artificially extended. That’s not to say that it’s not a superb demonstration of martial arts prowess, just that it seems to belong in a different film.
The film also has several different cuts; the mainstream UK release uses a new soundtrack from Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. Unfortunately, the persistent “wub wub” dub-step-esque throbbing threatens to overwhelm a film which was perfectly fine with its original score.
But that’s small potatoes to a film which is not only a strong contender for the best action movie of the year but will also potentially change the landscape of modern martial arts cinema.