THE RAID, or: the Fine Art of Ultraviolence, as it really should be subtitled (subtitled REDEMPTION in the USA, which is sort-of a spoiler) was the finest martial arts film for a decade when it was rolled out over 2011-12 around the world. Simple, high-octane and beautifully brutal. Not bad for a previously unknown Welsh expat and his buddy who does martial arts.
A SWAT team is tasked with liberating an apartment block from a malicious drug lord (Ray Sahetapy) and his private army. Rama (Iko Uwais) the young new addition to the SWAT team, bids goodbye to his pregnant wife and before long is surrounded on all sides by rapidly degrading concrete and heavily-armed henchman. With much of his squad soon injured or dead, it is up to Rama to shoot, stab and brawl his way to the top of the high-rise and confront the mastermind behind it all.
Never before had human brutality looked so beautiful, presented in a way which would resemble an intricate dance if it weren’t for the copious blood and bone-snapping. It’s a joy to see a relatively unknown martial art being practiced on the big screen, and the Indonesian Pencak Silat allows for the choreographing of action unlike any you’ve ever seen before. Movement is unpredictable, full-on and incorporating the environment in nastily brutal ways (the manner in which Rama makes creative use of a door jam still makes me shudder slightly).
Uwais is far more than a blunt instrument however, and in the long tradition of strong silent types with a good heart throughout film history, it is established early on in the film that Rama is only committing the acts of brutality he does to provide a safe and financially secure life for his wife and soon-to-be-born child. The drug lord Tama is also shown to be the most diabolical of evil-doers, a representation of everything wrong with contemporary Indonesia, and thoroughly deserving of everything that comes to him. Uwais, along with Yayan Ruhian, who plays the terrifying and volatile bodyguard Mad Dog, choreographed the film and made the numerous action sequences so explosive and memorable.
Though the film in a sense de-sensitises you to violence, such is the extent and frequency of it on screen, you are brought crashing back down to reality by Writer/Director Gareth Evans’ human characters and subtextual comments on social problems prevalent in modern Indonesia (poverty, the break-down of family units and the dominance of the illegal drugs trade are all referenced within the film’s narrative). Evans is not just incredibly talented as an action director, guiding cinematographer Matt Flannery’s stylish camera work, and undertaking the striking, expert film editing himself, but he’s also an effective and intelligent, though minimalistic screenwriter, and as a passionate promoter of Indonesian culture, which he clearly has a great love of. He’s certainly a real talent to watch, and I am incredibly excited to see how else he can elevate the action genre, and perhaps other areas of cinema in the future.
The Raid was the finest martial arts film in a decade on release. What would Gareth Evans follow it up with? An even better one. Seriously, if you haven’t seen THE RAID 2, correct that right away. In fact if you’re reading this without seeing either then I can highly recommend a double-bill. The characters grow, the world expands, the action gets bigger and more ridiculous, Indonesia is put on the map of action cinema. What’s not to like? SSP