When it comes to movies I’d like to think that I have a robust neutrality that allows me to watch a diversified range of genres without being impeded by critical or commercial success. I can watch the most grotesque horror movie or a drama that depicts the crippling social and physical deterioration suffered by someone who has contracted aids. It could be a whimsical Studio Ghibli tale or Schwarzenegger belittling a vaguely defined, accented bandit before pinning him to the wall with a machete. I’d watch the most austere drama that stars Brad Pitt desperately appealing to the academy for an Oscar or recite reams of dialogue from Bill and Teds Bogus Journey. I don’t grant preferential treatment to one specific genre, I just like to be entertained. There is however something deeply appealing about a movie that requires little concerted effort on your part to understand. A movie that takes pride in the exultation of its reckless absurdity, revelling in its own splendorous irreverence, presiding with the same exuberant audacity as a cage fighter whose defeated an opposition with one shattering punch. That vascular sentiment is perfectly exemplified by an Indonesian martial arts series called “The Raid”. Have you ever arrived to a party late and everyone is suitably drunk, relaxed and laughing hysterically at an incident you’ve missed? As you try desperately to relate some vague association with them and integrate yourself within the conversation, but it just comes across as forced, until you’re left alone in the corner sipping your cheap domestic beer like a friendless loser? That’s how I felt whenever anyone mentioned The Raid.
The Raid series (I say series, there’s 2 movies) is one of those word of mouth movies that generates its own publicity via the communal hearsay of individuals exultant admiration for something not everyone is aware of. Basically I’d never heard of it, saw a few people talking about it, checked it out and had my mind blown. For the uninitiated The Raid concerns a Indonesian SWAT team assembled to infiltrate a tower block teething with drug dealers, murderers, rapists and other disreputable sorts, to apprehend and extract a powerful yet deadly crime boss who controls the organisation. Ascending through this tower of torment is Rama, a rookie cop with more moves than a break dancing gibbon, that makes Jason Bourne look like a postman. It’s loud, brash, frenetic and deeply satisfying. Seriously who needs a gun when your fists can be considered lethal weapons?! The style of martial arts portrayed in this movie are brutally aggressive, but with a kinetic fluidity that’s furiously mesmeric. The sustained violence doesn’t become fatigued either, but instead imbues it with exuberant vitality that relishes in its mischief. The choreography is beautifully stylised, crafted through months of intense preparation that’s more art than action. It’s graceful yet hostile, like a balletic butcher, carving chunks of meat while pirouetting across the room. Sure the story is about as refined as ketchup and noodles, lurching from one fight to the next, but the lack of thematic complexity doesn’t detract from its provocative entertainment, but rather enhances it. The Raid didn’t need overly tenuous exposition, it let the fighting tell the story.
The Raid 2 is more of an aberration of the first and a far more ambitious project. It expands not only on the story but locations as well. This time Rama – the one man militia must go undercover to infiltrate the organisation of a prominent crime boss and discover the identity of the crooked cops and politicians under his sovereignty. Where as the The Raid was more a film about survival, the Raid 2 shifts to a more hardened crime epic that for me works better than the first. Because we aren’t restricted by the confines of a script that necessitates the isolation of its characters in one static location there’s now available scope to further energise the fights scenes in various, creative spatial environments. There are fights in warehouses, prisons, trains, nightclubs, kitchens, restaurants, cars and even a toilet cubicle?! Again each and every impact appears to connect with such furious intensity, with agonising routines that both captivate and horrify. Much like the first the volatile temperament of the combat will have you visually grimacing at every gruelling impact, with velocity hitting you at a furious pace. The visceral intensity of these scenes has a dramatic effect on how compelling the characters are too. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the techniques, a chilling realism that could only be achieved by perfect synchronisation of its performers that’s so provocative you’d think you were watching Cirque Du Soleil if the performers got into an aggressive disagreement. There’s a purity to it too. It doesn’t feel corrupted by the interference of producers or financiers who want to put their own mark on the movie. They just allowed writer director Gareth Evans free reign to make the movie he wanted, which is commendable.
“This is “Hammer Girl” and “Baseball bat man”. Guess how they kill people?”
The compatibility of violence and crime drama is never at odds as a great deal is done to conserve brutality so that it benefits the narrative, allowing for a greater emphasis on story. It’s essentially violence with a purpose. The gritty depiction of Jakarta accentuates the suffocating dismay that encroaches this captivating city, with austere environments tainted by the grimy pastel tonality of the isolating architecture, personified by Rama’s own solemnity at being exiled from his own family. Its touching if brief accompaniment of the dramatic wiz bang of the fights, but accomplishes the necessary pathos to retain viewer attention without diminishing the fluency of its over the top brutality. And of course the villains continue to oblige Rama by attacking one at a time, without weapons. Fools! It’s not without its faults however. The sequel features a slightly bloated cast that has a tendency to become a ponderous exercise in retaining each characters motivations, as a result it cultivates the development of superfluous characters with perfunctory motivations, whose names you can’t remember. Not that the original was exactly Schindler’s List. But the visual intensity never fails to invigorate with exhausting gusto, prompting audible sighs of relief that your respiratory system still functions.
In short I love both of these movies. It reminded me of the last time I watched a movie that made me feel like an impressionable 12 year, which was when I first watched Die hard at 12! I think I got bruises just watching this! It’s gloriously macabre, yet does a profoundly admirable job of bringing sentiment to such a brutally vicious film. With an exceptional soundtrack that heightens the pure insanity of the fights leaving you less energised and more exhausted, you’d be hard pushed to find a more capable modern day action film. Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian (star and choreographer of both movies) and Gareth Evan’s have revitalised the martial arts genre once immortalised by the encouragable charm of Bruce Lee. The repetition of the fights is almost rhythmic, like a well rehearsed dance routine. Mark Kermode himself described The Raid as a “musical with punches”. And that’s certainly a performance I’d want to see on the West End!
Have you seen The Raid? If not, why? Don’t you believe me?