Wednesday 23 May 2012

The Raid (aka The Raid: Redemption)

Raiding Places

The Raid 
aka The Raid: Redemption 
aka Serbuan Maut
Indonesia/USA 2011 Directed by Gareth Evans
Now showing in UK cinemas.


That’s the word I think I’d use to describe The Raid, if I had a choice. But I can’t really because... well you know... it’s not actually a word.

Okay I really did know what that last sentence was going to lead on to, I promise... there was going to be an open bracket at the end of word and then the sentence... “quickly checks the Urban Dictionary to make sure kickasstacular isn’t a word in common usage”. That’s where my opening paragraph fell down here folks... as I’m afraid I did just check the Urban Dictionary and it turns out “Kickasstacular” is already in common usage... see here.

Okay, so carrying on as if nothing has happened...

There are only a few films that I can think of, off of the top of my head, that I would consider to be in the kinetic realm of the kickasstacular. That is to say, action movies which are so fast and ferocious that you get almost an adrenalin rush just sitting and watching them from your seat. Of recent cinema history I can only think of the following: the first District 13 (Banlieue 13) movie, Danny The Dog (aka Unleashed) and the first Ong Bak movie. These are pretty much it in terms of the modern contemporaries of this movie... at least as far as I’m concerned.

Written and directed by a Welsh man living in Indonesia, The Raid has garnered solid reviews for being the absolute state-of-the-art in modern action movies and, after seeing it this weekend, I can see why. It’s not exactly non-stop and the action sequences are, quite competently, tempered with a few breathers from the blisteringly paced editing on show throughout the majority of this movie. What singles it out from the films I listed above, however, is not the discovery that the action sequences are in any way more spectacular than those films... because they’re not. The one thing The Raid has working both for and against it is the fact that the three films listed above had some definitive moments of humour to help balance the action sequences and to give the audience a bit of a rest... The Raid, however, is perfectly (or imperfectly, depending on your personal viewpoint) humourless. Instead of pacing the movie out with classic moments of comic relief, the movie fills in the non-action scenes with a grim, dark suspense that, in some cases, becomes almost too unbearable to watch.
Update: Please see the comment left below by Zanirma which explains the moments of humour in this film and highlights the issues of things getting lost in translation. Brilliant comment.

This does give it a less over-the-top feel for a little while but, after some time has passed, there’s a point about a third of the way into the film when you think, no men could take this kind of punishment this consistently and not get tired and, while there is a sequence after a major fight scene where the director has tried to address this “longevity” issue somewhat, it’s pretty obvious that, by this point, you’ve entered the unpredictable world of the OTT action-versus-science school of film-making. But, also by this point, the audience members are probably beginning to feel a little punch drunk themselves, so they’re possibly not going to notice too much.

The Raid concerns itself with a police raid on a block of flats filled with a criminal community and protected by various traps to stop such a thing happening in the first place. The police team need to get to the top and take out the “boss man” (I’m realising as I’m typing this that Bruce Lee might well approve, since this is a very similar concept to what he originally wanted Game Of Death to be). The plot is simple (and one of the policemen briefing his men in the van journey to The Raid also acknowledges this in a little dialogue nod to the audience)... but it’s not so simple that there aren’t a few, admittedly obvious, twists along the way. The character who turns out to be the real lead hero of the film, for example, has his own agenda for being there and, quite apart from that, there are questions also raised once the shooting starts as to whether The Raid has been officially sanctioned or not. I don’t want to give too much away here so that’s the last I’ll say about plot details... but there is a lightweight (admittedly) intelligence to the story which pulls this above most of the other big screen action fests doing the rounds these days. Not much, to be sure, but certainly enough to raise it above the heads of others.

Also, although the action is quite exhaustingly driven and paced, for the most part the editing does not work against the sequences it’s trying to portray. You will surely understand the geography and choreography of the combat sequences as they are happening and not as some kind of delayed, what-just-happened response which you will need to concentrate on to cobble together in your mind after the fact.

That being said, I did notice a few continuity errors throughout the film, the major one for me being when the main protagonist (such as he becomes) head butts one of the less deliberately cardboard of the villains so hard that the bad guys eyeball explodes with a bloody pop. In the rest of the fight, however, the guy just seems a bit squinty and there is no blood on his face. I’m completely forgiving this as an enthusiastic insert-shot-after-the-fact on what must have been some very hard to shoot action sequences, however, and the very fact that I could even comprehend what I just saw under these kinds of ultra-lightning cut sequences is probably a testimony to the strength of the editing on this one.

And that was it... my one and only negative piece of criticism of The Raid. 

I think it’s a really great little action movie and the success it’s receiving is very much deserved and ensures that this will now continue on as a franchise... the next two parts in a planned extension to a trilogy already being plotted out, it seems. This movie does leave a few questions hanging in the air as to the nature and origins of just went on, to be fair, and my one hope for continuing the series is that the second and third parts don’t try to repeat the formula too much and we don’t end up with more “blocks of flats” movies... they’ve already done that as good as it will get in this one.

So if you like a hefty dose of anxiety inducing, pulse pounding, action cinema... The Raid is a cinematic block of flats that’s right up your street. I’m not sure how long a subtitled movie from Indonesia is going to be staying around at the cinemas though, so you’d best get out and watch it while you can. You won’t be sorry.


  1. Actually there are moments of humour in The Raid, but it got lost in translation. The humour happens to be in the comical accent of some of the bad guys, so only Indonesians can understand it.The banter between Andi and Mad Dog really sounds funny in Jakartan slang. But the one that drew the biggest laughter in Indonesia is the dialect of the machete guy, his lines become popular quote in Indonesia.

  2. Hi Zanirma,

    Thank you so much for letting me know that. I seem to remember someone telling me years ago that a lot of the humour in Bruce Lee's films got lost in translation for various reasons too on their UK and US releases.

    I would never have known about this element to the movie had you not left your comment and it's the first time I've felt compelled to actually edit my post based on a comment by a reader... see above in the main review and you'll see I've put a note in the review to come and read your comment after.

    This is so enlightening and I'm really grateful that you spent some time reading this and I very much appreciate you taking the time to comment here and educate both me and my readers in this matter.

    Well done and, again, my thanks to you.

  3. Don't forget about the scene when Gofar offered a bread/butter knife to Rama for doing field surgery to his friend Bowo. And then he offered spoon or chopstick when Bowo's angry. It's pretty funny for me.

    1. Hi there.

      Hmmm.. yeah. I can see that humour could be interpreted in that scene but it didn't really seem to have that tone when I watched it with an audience. I know what you're saying though... but things were just a little too intense there, for me, to appreciate any lightness.

      Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated.