Just about everything you may have heard about The Raid is true: ‘Ong-Bak meets Die Hard‘, as Total Film pegged it (I think it was Empire who called it Die Hard Boiled, which I quite liked), it is one of the most breakneck, action-packed, frenetic, insanely violent and stupidly entertaining films of the year.
The set-up is simple: in Jakarta, Indonesia, Rama (Iko Uwais) is a new recruit in a SWAT team who are going to take down the drug lord who resides in a high-rise tenement, where he provides rooms for other criminals (who act as de facto security). The police are out of their depth, despite being a collection of heavily armed and highly trained individuals; things do not go to plan and it becomes a battle for survival. Then it’s all most non-stop action until the end.
Comparisons with the Thai film Ong-Bak are apt: in that, Tony Jaa made his breakout performance by displaying his muay Thai talents in a film that showed the action without cuts or gimmicks (and with all of the pain). In this film, Uwais demonstrates his talents at pencak silat, the Indonesian martial art (fairly similar to muay Thai in some respects), which is seen in long single takes, no CGI, bruises and all. There are some brutal yet fantastic set pieces, such as when Uwais is fighting off a large group in a corridor that is armed with machetes (echoes of the scene in Old Boy) that is exhilarating and unbelievable, and which will have you emitting ‘Oofs’ and ‘Ohs’ in empathy for the amazing stuntmen who suffer so much for our entertainment. And the film is like that pretty much throughout, with a few breathers for necessary plot exposition.
The other impressive aspect of this film is the assured touch from the relatively novice director: Gareth Evans is a Welsh man married to an Indonesian woman who discovered Uwais while doing a documentary on Indonesian martial arts. This is Evans’s third feature and his second with Uwais; they spent three months in pre-production for this film on the fight scenes alone (along with the actor who plays the drug lord’s psychopathic henchman, Mad Dog) and it was worth the effort. It’s an amazing achievement and combines the over-the-top action of Asian cinema with a more controlled approach to plotting from Western cinema (if you have watched any Asian cinema, you will be used to the balls-to-the-wall nature of the action scenes; however, the storytelling here is more streamlined and less bonkers than a lot of Asian films).
The film itself is hardly original, the dialogue is standard action stuff, there is no subtext (the good guys are good and the bad guys are very bad), and amazingly all the criminals residing in the building are experts in pencak silat as well (what are the chances?) but that’s not the point: if you want to see eye-popping action (stuff that made some gents behind me want to leave because they couldn’t handle it) in an extremely well-made film, you should see The Raid.