21 May 2012

THE RAID- Review

I've generally resolved not to mention American language remakes in reviews of popular world cinema releases, because it's beside the point of actually reviewing the original. I'm flouting that rule in the first sentence of this review, because the already-announced remake of The Raid is even more pointless than most Hollywood chunder of its kind. Why remake a film which is primarily lauded for its action scenes? The most you can do with the material is attempt to recreate it shot-for-shot, or clumsily try and fail to better the choreography of the first time around.

Essentially a showcase for the explosive big screen potential of silat, a martial art which appears to be based around punch-kicking and kick-punching absolutely everything that crosses into your eyeline, The Raid's script is minimal in the overall proceedings. There is a story, which involves an Indonesian SWAT team raiding a tower block full of violent, criminal martial artists, but Welsh writer/director Gareth Evans has chosen to largely tell this story through action sequences, and otherwise in Indonesian, rather than the English language. See how pointless the remake will be?

Aside from anything else, the film has received a saturation release in the UK, and a plethora of rave reviews, so it's not like Western audiences aren't going to get the chance to see it. And see it, you should, if you're any kind of action fan. It's interesting that two recent action films have taken the unusual premise of a domesticated safe haven for criminals, between this and the mixed Mel Gibson comeback project, How I Spent My Summer Vacation. The Raid doesn't take too much trouble to set up this premise before the fighting starts, instead preferring to paint the whole picture over the course of the film, using lots of baddies' faces as paintbrushes, and the walls of the apartment block itself as its canvas.

So, while Evans' script has no pretensions about its crime thriller genre elements, I very much enjoyed the crossover points. It complemented the film's particular brand of bone-crunching entertainment, to have the plot resurface enough to where I wasn't gorging on one part or the other. It could easily have left me feeling queasy, but the script, or what there is of it in between extraordinary choreography, is very well-written. I can't think of many pure martial arts films I've seen that I enjoyed as much as this, so part of the film's success has to be put down to the balance between genre, plot and fighting.

It also allows for a bit of fun with two of big bad Tama's main henchmen. They're referred to as Andi and Mad Dog, but we're not told which is which at that point. When they both enter the fray with the SWAT team down below, it's still a while before we're given any clue as to which is the brains of Tama's operation, and which is the violent, raving lunatic. It turns out to be a lot of fun finding out, once Mad Dog is let off the leash and turns out to be even more adept in the ways of silat than any of the other characters we've seen thus far.

As hard as it can sometimes be, to tell how performances are working when they're being delivered in another language, I liked all of the actors and their performances here. Some of them represent basic archetypes, in keeping with the film's relatively simple setting, but there's none of that tendency to cast good martial artists who can't act very well. They're just as believable delivering a heartfelt bit of dialogue (not that there are many tender moments to be had) as a roundhouse kick, a virtue which, again, offsets the more unbelievable, ambitious and audacious moments of violence throughout.

You can count the number of foreign language films that have received The Raid's saturation release on one hand, but it's not many films that utilise punches and kicks to the body and face, and their transcendence of all language barriers, to such magnificent effect. The plot is uncomplicated, but the choreography is so frantic, and Evans' direction so breathlessly, flawlessly intense, that you find yourself scrambling to keep up with every twist, every turn, every one of the seven stab wounds per second that one unfortunate baddy gets early on in the film. This is pure-cut action cinema, at its most adrenalised.

The Raid is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
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If you've seen The Raid, why not share your comments below? Toughest job for the director of the American remake- casting a replacement Mad Dog. That guy was fucking excellent.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Ro said...

Solid review Mark. Couldn't agree more. Freaking loved this film. Of course, it definitely helps if you like martial arts/action films.

On reflection though i do question the effectiveness of this fighting style when some hand-to-hand-to-foot-to-head battles rage for minutes, with both parties wearing innumerable fists and elbows and knees to the face but are still able to keep fighting (whilst others take one hit or kick and they're down).

Regardless this is probably the most excited I've been about a martial arts flick since Ang Lee introduced the western world to wire-fu in Crouching Tiger.

Kudos to Gareth Edwards, and you're totally right - props to the actors too for emoting as well as they flykick!