It takes something special to shake up a genre that has a glut of often repetitive entries. Martial arts action movies are ten a penny. Even with a dedicated fan base that loves such kick punch action, it’s rare for a movie to break out. The Raid, released back in 2011 (re-titled The Raid: Redemption), dropped the jaw of anyone who watched it due to sheer edge of the seat nail-biting action.
The Raid is an Indonesian movie starring Iko Uwais and Joe Taslim. Both of whom have found some Western success since. Crime lord, Tama, runs a high rise building as a safe haven for those fleeing justice. It has been a no-go area for police for years. A crack SWAT team lead by Jaka (Taslim), on orders from Lieutenant Wahyu, must storm the building with stealth and pick their way up to the top in order to arrest Tama. But things quickly go south with then are spotted…
There is minimal plotting here but enough to give the resulting action enough context. The pacing is handled perfectly as the action kicks in relatively quickly but also takes breathers so you don’t get swamped. Director Gareth Evans has clearly learned from his previous movie, the superb Indonesian movie Merantau, also starring Uwais, by stripping out the fluff and delivering on lean and vital action.
The movie mostly relies on handheld cameras so whether it be a gun firing or a fist swinging you are often right in the thick of it. Evans makes sure that action this visceral is directed right into your eyes at every slice of the edit suite.
At first, our action is mainly gun-based. There is plenty of panicked shooting as our SWAT team are ambushed in tight corridors and must fight for their lives. But just when you think it’s going to be all bullets, the visceral martial arts begins cracking bones. Uwais is proficient at the Indonesian fighting style of Pencak Silat, a style that uses every part of the body and surroundings as a weapon.
The fighting is choreographed as a free-flowing fury of fights, elbows, knees, and weaponised objects. There are just as many moments that make you wince as applaud as your screen is lit up with such skill. It makes The Matrix look like Swan Lake!
Rumbling under all this is a sublime electronic score from Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park). The thrumming keeps the tension high and it’s only after it ebbs away that you realise you haven’t blinked for 10 minutes. Once the team is spotted, a building-wide alarm button is hit, but instead of blaring sirens everywhere, Shinoda’s score takes the alarm sound and distorts into in a threatening bass growl, emphasising the horror our characters feel as the dread of their situation sets in.
Ah, yes. ‘Dread’. You may recognise some of the style of this movie as it was stolen wholesale by the Karl Urban ‘Dredd’ movie, where Judge Dredd has to survive a locked-down building of criminals trying to kill him. The Raid may not be a well-known movie, but its influence is definitely felt by Hollywood.
This is a movie I can watch again and again and again. It is a streamlined, heart-pumping martial arts movie that also knows when to ease off the pedal and give us some character time. There is some family melodrama which adds a nice sprinkle of emotional stakes. And the movie’s peak of a two on one fight where the evil Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian – whose also provides fight choreography work) smashes back his two highly skilled attackers must be one of the best fight sequences in film, full stop. Enjoy!
Words by Michael Record