So I recently caught The Raid, retitled The Raid: Redemption for its international release.
In short, you must watch it.
In less short, I was blown away by the film. I heard the buzz for the movie on the internet and decided to check it out at long last. Truth be told, I decided to check it out after the positive reviews for Dredd compared it to The Raid.
The set up is simple, a SWAT team is tasked with bringing in a drug lord, only to find themselves trapped in the building with most of its residents out for their blood. What starts off as a standard action film quickly descends into a balls to the wall martial arts monstrosity. It is genuinely exciting stuff.
The action is bloody and beautifully choreographed. The martial art used for the film is Pencak Silat and it is truly brutal stuff with lots of body strikes and bladed weapon use. The art may not be as graceful as some of the stuff you see in a Wuxia movie, but it lends itself to the desperation of the scenario. The sound design is wonderful. Gunfire rattles through hallways, blades whoosh through the air and limb strikes sound painful and crunchy.
I cannot say much for the acting as the film is in Bahasa Indonesia. The characters are quick sketches that one would expect to find in a martial arts film. The story beats are common to the genre as well. The film in this regard is strictly formula. However, rather than being lessened due to its adherence to formula, the streamlined nature of the narrative allows the action to shine, and the action is truly where The Raid shines.
The film is a masterclass in constructing action scenes with a good sense of geography. The action is frantic, but at all times you know where the key players are in space. The shots alternate between close up shots of blows landing to wide shots of leaps and larger movements. You are never left confused about who is hitting whom and where they are being hit. Even the use of hand held camera work, which gets shaky in some of the more frantic moments of the film, does not disorient the viewer. This is the power of establishing a good sense of where each actor is located in the scene.
So many action films these days use shaky cam and quick cuts to artificially inflate the tension in a scene. This usually ends up confusing the audience. “Which robot was punching and which was being punched?” Does that sound familiar? I heard that a lot in 2007 and that was just one of that film’s many, many flaws. Why was the action so confusing? There was no time or effort taken in establishing the character’s spatial relation to their surroundings and to each other.
Action is spectacle, and spectacle is best when it is not being obfuscated. I wondered why The Raid was subtitled Redemption outside of Indonesia. I’ve come to realise it’s not the characters in the film that earn redemption, but the film earning redemption for the Action genre.
By the way, I do suggest you watch it with subtitles. There isn’t much dialogue, but the English dub just pulls you out of the movie.