“This is what I do”, grunts a slightly-built Indonesian man with wide, intense eyes and sweat-soaked ringlets. What he does is, to be blunt, kick the living crap out of people.
The Raid is not a film that requires much cerebral attention (besides reading the subtitles). It is not a film that has strong character development, thoughtful emotions, or witty dialogue. What it does have is amazingly brutal yet beautiful martial arts, braided together in such a way that the hour and a half running time races past in a blood-drenched, sweat-stained fury.
The plot is fairly simple: an Indonesian crime lord, Tama, sits on the 15th floor of a tower block, ruling his nest of drug-addled criminals in between staring at a bank of CCTV monitors and beating people in the head with a hammer. A SWAT team are ordered to break into the tower and “clean it out”; the audience follow their journey up the floors, as they become less and less successful and more and more dead. The corrupt lieutenant had failed to gain proper authorisation for the attack, leaving the team on their own, with no back up and no way out.
It is easy to draw comparisons with this year’s Dredd 3D: in both films, a police force take on a tower block that has become a haven for criminals, ruled over by a cruel boss. Some scenes appear almost identical – hiding in the room of the one “good guy” in the building (completely inexplicable why he would live there), or Tama calling over the PA to let his army of vagrants know that the enemy is within. A quick internet search midway through the film led to the discovery that The Raid is essentially the original, and therefore any plagiarism falls on Dredd’s hefty shoulders (it also led to asking “which came first: the chicken or the Dredd?”).
If Dredd was a slow-moving leviathan, its tower block a fantastical futuristic monolith, The Raid is a piranha, darting through the scummy South-East Asian underworld in a haze of claustrophobic, fast-paced hyper violence. The martial arts are intense and vicious, the Indonesian pencak silat style looking less like the choreographed fight scenes of a Jackie Chan movie, and more like a back-street brawl. Stylish special effects, muted colours and a handful of beautifully framed shots give this film an almost graphic novel-esque feel, and Gareth Evans, the Welsh director, also makes great use of sound, building the tension and intimacy with lip-biting silences.
Admittedly, by the end the fight scenes did drag on and it was a struggle to focus on every punch, kick and gruesome stab with little plot to bond them together. Iko Uwais puts in a decent performance as Rama, the young, good-hearted cop, but his character is never more than an empty vessel to fill with – admittedly awe-inspiring – martial arts skills. This is not a film to change your life, nor even necessarily one to remember the next day; nevertheless it should be lauded for its ability to take a simple concept and execute it to (near) perfection.
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