The Raid (2011)
By: Stuart Giesel on April 4, 2012  | 
Director: Gareth Evans
Starring:: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy
Screnplay: Gareth Evans
Country: Indonesia
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Yes, the hype is true. The Raid (clumsingly retitled The Raid: Redemption for its US release) is the best action film in ages. With elegant simplicity, it embraces its straightforward plot whilst pummelling the audience with gasp-inducing moments of violence. It's probably the best pure action film since John Woo decided to kill hundreds of people in slow-motion and blow up a hospital containing a bunch of babies and Chow Yun-Fat's Tequila in 1992's Hard-Boiled.

The plot is beautifully simple, like an 80's arcade fighting game: a SWAT team organised by dodgy Lieutenant Wahyu (Peirre Gruno) infiltrates the drug den of notorious drug boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy) in a Jakartan slum with a mind to take him down. The building is stuffed full of reprobates, drug users, thugs and scumbags that are in Tama's pocket. When the SWAT team is discovered, all hell breaks loose, with the team attacked from all sides. Forget completing the mission - they're lucky to get out with their lives! With much of his team slaughtered, a rookie cop named Rama (Uko Iwais) struggles to stay alive whilst stubbornly trying to see the mission through. Fortunately, Rama is fucking brilliant at hurting people.

Writer/director Gareth Evans throws in some late plot twists and turns, but The Raid doesn't need them, because in essence it's all about the unbelievably agile and brutal martial arts prowess displayed by Iwais in horribly confined spaces as he takes out druggies and criminals with whatever he can get his hands on. One moment he's going Jackie Chan on a bunch of people with various props and weapons, the next he's settling in to some close-quarters devastation by way of Jet Li or Bruce Lee. But he's not really imitating other movie martial artists; Iwais is displaying the Indonesian martial art called Silat, and it's wonderfully suited for the big screen. Iwais is like a force of nature, ripping and bludgeoning and slicing his way through a rogue's gallery of bad guys. You can feel every punch, every crack, every face being slammed into the wall. Honestly, the last time I remember an audience cheering and clapping as much as The Raid was when I watched a (mostly drunken) late night showing of Drunken Master II. And there are many showstopping moments in The Raid. It's pretty violent throughout, with gunshots to the face and knives through thighs, but Evans doesn't linger on the gore or bloodshed - the pace is too frenetic for that.

But it's not all about ripped arteries and broken bones: The Raid knows when to cool its heels and let the tension creep in, or when to settle down by elaborating on a few plot points before getting back to the testicle-crunching carnage. Evans is a skilled enough director and editor to know how to genuinely build the anticipation before the next fight scene, so the audience is left practically holding its breath before the proverbial "release". Every fight scene has something new to offer, whether it's close-up hand-held "shaky-cam" gun battles or fluid displays of martial arts in a drug lab or a no-holds-barred punch-up in a bare room where there are no other items of destruction other than the fighters' fists and feet.

Acting-wise it's competent enough, but going into something like this is and expecting Oscar-calibre performances is like going to see a Michael Bay film for Raging Bull-quality acting. Sahetapy as bug-eyed boss Tama probably has the best time, mugging away and playing as nasty an end-of-game boss as you would want. Apart from star Iwais, however, the most memorable player is Yayan Ruhian as end-of-level boss Mad Dog (is it mere coincidence that he has the same character name as the one-eyed Mad Dog in Hard-Boiled?) who proves to be more of a match for Rama. Mad Dog, like Tama, is a force of nature, practically revelling in the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with a skilled fighter.

Thankfully, Evans knows to keep The Raid lean and short. The editing is superb and the film as a whole doesn't outstay its welcome, nor does it venture into dull or ridiculous territory like how the films of Tony Jaa tend to do. Even in the quiet moments you're never bored, you're too wired up. Whilst Tony Jaa's Ong-Bak and Tom Yum Goong (The Protector) had some superb fight scenes, they were often bookended with lifeless, painful and drawn-out scenes that the audience had to suffer through before the next moment of awesomeness.

Sure, The Raid's not perfect. There are a couple of needless twists, and for a film that so beautifully embraces the in-camera capabilities of its actors there is at least one surprisingly poor bit of CGI, but when everything else is so well designed to elicit whoops of joy you don't really mind.

With Jackie Chan and Jet Li too old to recreate their magic of days gone by, it seems like the Evans-Uwais combo is the new saviour for martial arts action film lovers (though Donnie Yen is still a reliable genre mainstay). With The Raid now poised as the first film in a proposed trilogy, let's hope the makers can sustain the same energy and excitement for its follow-ups. Inevitably, the sequels will be bigger, brasher and louder, but will they produce the same amount of joy-juice that the The Raid is capable of? Still, like the Matrix trilogy, we can always treasure the original for its brilliance whilst ignoring the sequels. And regardless of how the sequels turn out, we still have in The Raid a fantastic action film that shows how much fun can be derived from people being smashed in the face and stabbed in the chest. It's a breath of fresh air in a genre that's usually bloated with CGI-enhancement, annoying characters and useless suplots. In short, The Raid is the sort of film that you want to see again even as you're watching it.
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