Rama (Iko Uwais) is a rookie member of the local police force's SWAT team and he and the rest of his squad have been given the assignment of arresting a vicious gang lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy) who is hiding in a labyrinthine tower block protected by his own gang. When the mission goes horribly wrong the SWAT team become trapped and are forced to fight for their lives as things begin to spin violently out of control. Rama decides nothing else matters except arresting Tama and must fight his way up dozens of floors and through dozens more gangsters to reach his goal.
You may remember back in January I gave my thoughts on an earlier film called Merantau which was made by the same cast and crew that brought us The Raid. I highlighted that it was a solid debut for lead actor Iko Uwais that featured some varied and wonderfully made fight scenes. When I learned of The Raid's existence some time ago I become very excited at the prospect of seeing Iko cause some serious damage on screen. Suddenly the film started to pick up steam. Having been sold internationally it was given a really agressive advertising campaign courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics. One Exec even commented how he wished the film would have the same impact that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had when that was released to international acclaim back in 2000. With those incredibly lofty expectations they continued to build the hype and myself and many people I know were immediately sucked in and couldn't wait to see it.
Despite a big release gap between the US theatrical run and here in the UK, I waited patiently to finally see what I hoped would be my number one film of 2012. So, having seen the film a few weeks ago, I've been able to reflect on my thoughts and put them into a written review. I can happily report it was a film that for me, delivered on much of the hype. The many people I converse with didn't share my sentiments, being incredibly critical of the film's story but when you watch the trailer, you know exactly what you're in for so I found it odd that some people were expecting more. That's good for them I suppose but it's like I always say; Watching a martial arts film for the plot is like throwing your shoes in the air, hoping to kick clouds out of the sky.
The plot is what it is. Told in a very straight forward way so the audience can sit back and enjoy the many and I do mean many action set pieces contained within the film's very breezy running time. It's no secret that The Raid was a film born out of necessity. After completing Merantau, Gareth Evans and the rest of his team attempted to put together another film. A prison drama called Berandal which would star Uwais and feature the same style of martial arts, Silat. A teaser trailer was shot in attempt to attract funding but when that failed, Evans was forced to come up with a film that could be shot on a much cheaper budget but still have all the nasty and brutal fighting featured in Merantau. So, The Raid was created and ended up attracting more attention then Evans or anyone else for that matter could ever have anticipated.
I don't have a problem with the story at all. overly simple plot lines are a given when it comes to action movies most of the time so I for one am used to it. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad, they fight, the audience has a good time. That's all that should matter. If some people want more then that, I can understand but to criticise the film based on the story I think is unfair and undermines the talent involved here. Since Merantau Iko has become a slightly better actor. There's an attempt to give a backstory when in the opening scene it's established he's of the Muslim faith and he has a pregnant wife. I liked this because it at least gives something for his character to fight for when things go wrong and he has to fight for survival. There's also a good supporting cast. Sahetapy as the gang lord Tama is appropriately bad. There really is no need for subtlety when his main purpose is to antagonise the hero.
There's a few other characters but I honestly can't think of anything really noteworthy to say about them. Except one man. Tama has a bodyguard/hitman in his gang that goes by the name Mad Dog. Played by Yayan Ruhian. Yayan previously appeared in Merantau and was the man who fought Iko in the truly astounding elevator fight. Yayan plays his role to perfection. A man who carries a gun but doesn't like to use it. Preferring to let his fists and feet do the work. it was great seeing him again and I'm determined to watch anything he appears in from now on in the hopes of seeing him pull off more crazy moves.
Which leaves me to talk about what has to be the film's biggest selling point. The action. For me Merantau had some truly spectacular action scenes, from a Jackie Chan inspired roof top chase scene to the brilliantly executed elevator fight, I was confident that the same cast and crew could follow up what were already a high bench mark for them to hit. Each scene was choreographed by Iko and Yayan and it seems they really know how to work together as they have been able to almost outdo themselves with The Raid. Notice I said almost. Yes, the many fight we see here are really hard hitting, bloody and painful to watch but I never felt that it quite caught the magic that Merantau had.
Make no mistake, there's really a lot to like here. One such sequence sees Rama take on a corridor filled with bad guys using the deadly combination of tonfa and combat knife. This allows to really let the actors get visceral with their move sets and there are a few moments which will make you wince. Iko still throws in a few signature Silat moves as well as deciding to mix it up a little using some really impressive ground based kicks and take downs. Iko isn't the only one that gets to shine. Co-star Joe Taslim has an impressive fight against Yayan. It's clear Taslim doesn't have the same skill set as Iko but he does a damn good job of it and he gets in some good hits against his fight with Mad Dog.
The real stand out fight for me with of course the end finale. Much like Merantau we have a two on one situation with Mad Dog going toe to toe with Rama and another character Andi played by Donny Alamsyah. It's evident that the film had been building towards this and just seeing some of the moves used you can tell a lot of time and effort went into putting something great on film. Yayan shows that despite his diminutive stature he can more then hold his own when it comes to fighting on screen. Iko also gets more down and dirty, something which his character slowly becomes in each action scene. While in Merantau he was more about disabling his opponents, here Iko is all about killing them quickly and efficiently as possible. The fight we get to witness here tries to throw in as many different techniques as they can. kicks, punches, take downs, grappling, submission maneuvers, locks. Anything that looks like it hurts, they use.
Now, I did mention that it didn't quite hit the mark Merantau did and the reason is that it mostly has to do with the editing and the way some of it was shot. Some of the exchanges between techniques are cut a little too quickly and the camera doesn't seem to stay still. It's not Bourne Trilogy bad but it can get noticeable and a little more then distracting. I realise this was probably intentional on behalf of director Evans as sometimes it can help ramp up the tension but given that he showed how easy he made it all look in Merantau, it's strange he just didn't stick with the techniques he used for that film.
What we have though is still leagues above any fight film that Hollywood could ever dream of putting together and even puts a number of Hong Kong titles not starring a certain Mr. Donnie Yen to shame. I got a serious kick, if you'll pardon the expression, from watching this and was very pleased I got to experience it on the big screen. A luxury rarely afforded with Asian titles. The majority of people reading this have probably already seen The Raid but if you haven't, seek it out, watch it, enjoy it. If you have, then watch it again and show your support in the hopes that more films like The Raid will see their way into your local cinema.