And you thought your landlord was bad…
Available onÂ Youtube for $2.99.
The introduction starts out slowly, but hints at the sparse nature of the movie. The first eighty seconds or so shows the main character praying, reciting the Koran, and practicing his fighting technique. It moves on to show him bidding goodbye to his pregnant wife and his concerned father. This is Rama. He is a new member of Indonesiaâ€™s SWAT. And he is on a mission.
The mission, which Sergeant Jaka deems necessary to repeat while on the way to the mission, is to take down a crime lord named Tama. Tama has somehow taken control of an apartment building and has been acting as landlord to a bunch of criminals; some being merely addicts, others being violent psychopaths. The team of around twenty is to make its way up the apartment quickly and quietly, detain anyone whom they can, and take down Tama. It turns out, however, that the leader of this raid, Lieutenant Wahyu, has an ulterior motive in getting Tama.
Things seem to be going well at first. They manage to sneak in thanks to some tenant who may be one of the less violent ones. The squad manages to get just under halfway up the building when a child spotter spots them. He manages to get the word out to a second child spotter before getting a bullet courtesy of Wahyu. The second spotter sounds the alarm, which makes its way to Tama. I am not quite sure how necessary that all was, since Tama has several security cameras around the building, but no matter. Tama calls in some assassins from the outside to kill off the cops standing guard, and then tells the tenants that he will waive rent fees to those who kill the cops inside. When one of Tamaâ€™s underlings worries that this will bring in reinforcements, Tama assures him that none will be forthcoming. And he is right; Wahyu did not consult with the higher ups about this raid. They are on their own. Rama and his comrades will have to kill their way out of this or get slaughtered.
Okay, so I have to get this out of the way first. The creator of this movie is not Asianâ€¦at all. His name is Gareth Evans and he is Welsh. That said, what makes him different from, say, Danny Boyle, is that he has a genuine connection to Indonesia. His wife is half-Indonesian and he had moved to Indonesia sometime around 2007 or 2008. He is comfortable with the language and knows quite a bit about the place. He pretty much discovered deliveryman Iko Uwais while making a documentary and cast him as the lead in 2009â€™s Merantau, a film that was all right, but nothing particularly special. But, two years later, Iko and Gareth collaborated again on something that was particularly special: this movie.
This movie is not all action all of the time, as many of hyperbolically claimed. It is not even all action 75% of the time. I would say that it is 37% if I am being generous, but more like 29% actual action. That is still quite a bit for a movie that is just slightly more than 100 minutes, but not as much as people make it out to be. The Raid is also not a movie without story, as some people have said. There is actually more to the story than what I have described and a bit more characterization than what I have provided.
I think that what many people feel is this movieâ€™s relentless violence is actually the movieâ€™s relentless atmosphere. Despite there being really only four or five groups of antagonists, the movie feels as if there are perhaps hundreds of bloodthirsty killers just a few floors down. There is little time for chit-chat, one-liners, or bonding sessions; any downtime is barely calm before the storm. This is a far cry from movies likeÂ Die Hard or even Hard Boiled. Stripped of much of the Orientalist exoticism that pervades many Asian movies that make it to the West (as well as Slumdog Millionaire and even Merantau to an extent), it keeps most distractions to a minimum and retains sheer tension that occasionally explodes into brutal violence. That could be because Evans simply did not care for the philosophy behind the Martial Arts, but I donâ€™t believe that to be the case. At least, I donâ€™t believe it to be the main reason.
Evans had described the movie as a horror movie, and while it is not one in the traditional sense, I do kind of see it in terms of tone if not in style. The horror is not something supernatural or even the immediate threat from the guys close by. It is the unseen mob of psychopaths a few floors down or outside the window. This is how the movie can get away with a scene where a group of cops with guns hide from a group of crooks with machetes and keep it effectively tense.
There is one â€œexoticâ€ concession to the movieâ€¦okay, two if you count the Islamic praying at the start. The main goal of this film is to showcase the Indonesian Asian fighting styles known as Pencak Silat, which are notable forâ€¦uhâ€¦being featured in this movie. Given the premise of the film, there are guns involved, particularly in the beginning of the film. As the movie progresses, however, the guns take a backseat to knives, machetes, unarmed combat, and a few unconventional weapons. One could cynically point out that the antagonists seem to stop using guns at around the same time as the cops run out of bullets and that many of the criminals (though not all) seem to attack the cops individually as is typical in a martial arts movie. But if one spent too much effort getting caught up in potential narrative flaws (such as how the bottom floors were not quite as secured as the cops had believed), one would miss the forest for the trees.
Tony Jaa films may have been a breath of fresh air for Martial Arts films at the beginning of the new millennium, but this movie goes a step further. There is no real â€œfun factorâ€ here in terms of characters, situations, or tone. The entertainment comes from the fight scenes, the violence, and the moments of dread (ahem) in between. A less focused director (or one with a bigger budget) may have chosen to go all out with the premise by having the main antagonist be some flamboyant decadent madman or have the apartment complex be a madhouse filled with Batman villains. Instead, the main bad guy is just some normal looking guy whom you would not think would be a brutal sadist and most of the guys going after the cops just look like toughs. Two concessions may be the guy with the constant stare and one particular person who states that he prefers to kill with his bare hands instead of using guns. That is pretty much it for quirky crooks.
This is all about the violence and the threat of violence. Even if the action is not practical in real-life, it has the sheen of authenticity. No ballet or super-long jumps; just brutal efficiency, sometimes shown up close. There are only a few moments that are shown in slow-motion, and they are more to reflect how time slows down when you feel something really bad is just about to happen than to showcase some sick high kick. There are no repeat shots of a sick move either, though there is some impressive camera work at times, such as when the camera follows the cops as they jump through a hole in the floor. There are really only two moments that I can think of that takes its time and allows the audience to absorb what just happened and appreciate it. This is cool without calling much attention to its coolness. There is little time to remark on stuff or cheer, particularly at the end, where catharsis is effectively undercut.
This movie is awesome at being a barebones action movie. That said, some may prefer a little more meat on the bones. If so, after watching this movie, I would recommend watching the sequel, The Raid 2, also known as Berandal. With a bigger budget, Evans was able to move the film to different parts of Jakarta and surrounding areas. He put in a bit more cultural flavor and a few quirky characters, as well as a lot more story. Berandal is also almost 50% longer than The Raid. But it is good, and deserves so much more than its box office received.
Just three notes before I end this. The video on youtube is the ever-so-slightly censored version of the movie. That means around ten seconds of film was taken out. I am not sure why, since I donâ€™t feel as if the cut footage was any more gruesome than what was left in, and the first cut led to a continuity error that you may catch if you feel like counting. Still, it does not take away from the movie that much. Also, this movie was released in several places as The Raid Redemption. Whatever the reason may be, I am not calling it that. And finally, there is supposedly going to be an American version of this film being made starring the all-American (hah!) Chris Hemsworth, whom I guess will introduce the world to the all-American martial arts style of Punch Punching.
If you like action movies with little fat, then this may be a movie for you. Because it is awesome. Yep.
Next Time: Swing Girls (Japan: 2004, approx. 105 minutes)
Time After Next: Sophieâ€™s Revenge (China: 2009, approx. 110 minutes)