Even though it’s a not on general release yet, through following The Raid UK on Twitter, I was alerted to an advance screening of the film for Showcase Cinema Insiders. Having seen the trailers on YouTube and a few special features, and having heard of the film from State-side conventions, I blew off Sunday evening with the family and booked my ticket.
Written and directed by Gareth Evans, The plot is as much as it needs to be: a twenty-strong team of Indonesian riot police converge on a 30-storey tower block to take down a brutal (aren’t they all?) crime lord. The team is a mixture of battle-weary cops, fresh meat, hot-heads, and the lead of the film, Rama, played by Iko Uwais, star of Evans’ earlier film Merantau, which I’ll be checking out shortly. Rama is shown as a devout Muslim, a father-to-be and someone who loves early morning sit-ups, bag work and chin-ups, just like me. Kind of.
So, a short van-ride later (I think, the cinema ballsed-up the projection and cut off the subtitles, so I had to go inform them), they arrive at the tower, hook up with the raid leader and proceed. The spotters are taken care of, and the team start moving up floor by floor, encountering no resistance.
Well, until they do, in the form of an alarm given by young lad. It’s an actual alarm, with a foreboding drone, which is nothing compared to the chilling, monotone, passionless voice of Tama the crime lord, who informs the residents of the block that whoever helps to clear the “infestation” can live there rent free. As you would imagine, the inhabitants of the tower block aren’t exactly nice people (save a couple), so within a few minutes, all hell breaks loose.
From here on in, I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice to say, most of the team get cut down very early on, leaving a few main players. As the bullets run out, more, er, creative ways have to be found to dispatch of enemies, including a novel use of a fridge. In fact, in a very visual film, the sound direction of the explosion is done very well, with the high-pitch whine that signifies you’ve suffered hearing loss. The weapons sound very punchy too.
So, as the team lessen in number to guns, machetes, knives and axes, the core of the team have to fight their way out. Without giving too much away, there is another plot point (or two) that add to the film to keep it moving along. That said, the action direction being what it is, I would have happily watched them fight their way out anyway. Gareth Evans must have a lot of films in his library, as there are many influences. A stand-out one is a character called Mad Dog, played by Yayan Ruhian, a clear nod to John Woo’s Hard Boiled. He gets to take out Jaka, the team leader hand-to-hand in a thrilling scene, which is exceptionally brutal. He’s about a head shorter than, well, everyone but he’s very, very fast. And yes, I know it’s choreographed, but they’ve still got to throw those kicks and punches. There’s one piece where Mad Dog throws a kick, Jaka grabs the leg and just swings him into the doors of a cupboard. The poor guy gets tossed about a lot, actually…
But this is Rama’s film, and the action stays firmly centred on him. After safely depositing an injured team member with an unlikely ally, he tries to regroup with the rest of his team. He does so eventually, but not before dispatching people in a variety of manners, namely gun, knife (the thigh rends are particularly unpleasant), fists and a doorframe (don’t ask). Iko is a practitioner of the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat, but there’s also thai boxing in there, and a few others. Comparisons with the Thai martial artist Tony Jaa (star of Ong Bak, Warrior King, etc.) are possible, but I found the silat portrayed on screen to be more compact and less focused on large moves, which seem to be Tony Jaa’s signature moves (think flaming knees). There weren’t as many limb breaks as there were in Warrior King, however, and it’s good to see something different.
To sum up, the action is pretty much relentless, but it has structure, a plot driving it and great spectacle. I have no problem giving it a 10/10, and looking forward to picking up on Blu-Ray for all the special features.
Edited for a correction to the team leader’s name; it was Jaka, not Andi – my mistake, thanks to Melissa for spotting it