(Review originally published at One Hundred Words Magazine)
The action film genre gets a kick in the pants with director Gareth Evans’ kinetic Indonesian martial arts thriller. Set in an apartment block in the Jakartan slums, a SWAT team tries to arrest the chief occupant – a seemingly untouchable criminal overlord. Problem is, all of the other occupants are on his payroll, and it’s left to a single cop (Iko Uwais) to punch, kick, stab and shoot his way through the henchmen to the top dog. The plot is of course a flimsy hook on which to hang the action, but what artfully shot, adrenaline-pumping action it is.
Postscript: On a side note, it’s nice to see that multiplexes have embraced this low-budget, low-tech festival hit. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time a foreign language film was playing at the local Cineworld but not at the Picturehouse. Yes, it’s an action film of course, and as such its natural audience will be rather more mainstream than that of the arthouse circuit. But that in itself doesn’t guarantee a wide distribution, and being subtitled with a no name cast certainly doesn’t help.
So what makes The Raid different? Is it perhaps serving an audience that Hollywood has tended to ignore in recent years – that of the adult action thriller? Something that hasn’t been watered down to get a more marketable rating, like PG-13 in the States or 12A in the UK? Certainly The Raid pulls no punches when it comes to its onscreen violence (though it doesn’t dwell on injuries; it’s a visceral, not a gruesome watch, and it’s not nearly as bloody as something like Tarantino’s Kill Bill). But those of us who remember films like Die Hard and Lethal Weapon in the 80s remember a time when the 18/R-rated thrillers used to be Hollywood’s bread and butter.
The other point is that martial arts is a language that transcends linguistic boundaries. Hong Kong action flicks have been doing the rounds on video for years, and any modern American beat ’em up/shoot ’em up movie worth its salt will normally feature some form of fighting technique imported from the east. Given that dialogue is pared down to a bare minimum in The Raid, and the plot could be written on the back of a postage stamp, it’s probably fair to say that subtitles aren’t going to put the multiplex crowd off from seeing it.
Might this open the floodgates for more overseas action films turning up at the local multiplex? I suspect not, but The Raid at least proves that it can be done, and it certainly won’t be the last.