There exists a golden rule in movies which states that the more fighting a film has, the less coherent the plot has to be. It’s why the Matrix 2 made fuck all sense; it’s why the majority of conversations in Bruce Lee films are furrowed brows and flared nostrils; and it’s why I can think of at least three instances where Jean Claude Van Damme was allowed to make a film starring two Jean Claude Van Dammes.
After seeing a trailer for The Raid, I expected a script made up of punch sounds and screaming. After seeing the whole film, I was not wrong. The Raid makes up for all the shitty camcorder in a washing machine slap-matches that Hollywood has been shitting out since early 2000; starting at an enjoyable level of ‘fuck yeah!’ and working it’s way up from there. It’s like when you convince your friends that this one great part is ‘totally worth sitting through the rest of the boring stuff for.’ Except in The Raid that one great part is the whole film and the boring stuff is about thirty seconds of abdominal crunches and pull-ups.
If you really must know, though, the plot revolves around a SWAT team on a legally questionable mission to vacate and seize a tower block that’s being used for all sorts of shady dealings, including the production and consumption of meths and other drugs. Prior to being residential, the block was also presumably used as a wholesale warehouse for storing machetes.
But no one just wants cheesecake for breakfast, lunch and dinner, no matter how delicious it is, so drama is injected by having the main man, Rama (Uwais), on a sidequest to find and retrieve his brother whom he was somehow able to locate but the authorities weren’t despite him now being part of a massive criminal organisation. There’s also a poor tenant just trying to get medicine to his sick wife who no one on the team ever thinks to ask why, if he cares for his wife so much, he keeps her in a high rise full of fucking drug addicts and murderers.
If this has got you worried that a shallow plot might affect the overall quality of the film, then you can relax: the good news is that Indonesians care even less about the plight of the Stuntmen Workers Union than Tony Jaa does. I would remind you that Tony Jaa is the man who lit his own leg on fire and kicked an extra square in the head in Ong Bak.
At least half the fights in The Raid end in a way that I can’t see as being possible without genuinely injuring the loser, gratuitously: one tenant of the block is knocked out by having his head smashed into a light and then the plasterwork below it three or four times without any jumpcuts; forcing me to believe it really happened. That’s one of the more conservative moments: The Raid is that rare and beautiful combination of the old school elegance of traditional martial arts films but the brutal practicality of an MMA match (for a fun drinking game, take a shot every time somebody is grabbed by the leg; two if they are then swung into a wall).
The spectacle is further bolstered by a minimum of that stalwart staple of modern cinematic bullshit and serious personal bugbear of mine: the shakey cam, which means you get to see every hit land with ferocious clarity. In fact, sometimes the action becomes so frantically vicious that you’ll swear most of these men just woke up, bewildered, in a building one morning and were told they could only see their families again if they followed the instructions on the tannoy.
I realise a film that revolves almost exclusively around fighting having alarmingly realistic combat shouldn’t really come as a shock, but even the parts that had to have been wire-fu –unless the production crew are now standing trial for murder in the first degree– are brilliantly filmed; particulary the scene where Rama tackles an extra who was never told what eyelids are for out of a window and faceplants his way down three stories onto an iron stairway.
I was going to make a joke about how you could rename this film Stuntman Finishing School and it would still make sense, but I don’t think there’s a single person who would recommend doing half the shit in this film even if your profession almost exclusively revolves around reckless endangerment and getting pummeled in the face. Ironically, the people who take the most punishment in The Raid probably didn’t even get paid enough to buy the health insurance they’d need to cover it.
The only real downside to all this flagrant pugilism is that even the most basic plot elements are never really adequately explained, (I still don’t really understand why they were raiding the building,) and some of the calmer moments drag on for far too long while everyone who was graced with a speaking part makes the most of it by shouting all their lines as loud as they can and dropping f-bombs like they were carpet-bombing their Nan’s sensibilities. Also, if you’re not into dubstep, (like the majority of people online who have nothing better to do than moan about Skrillex,) then I guess you might not enjoy the soundtrack. I personally thought it suited the action perfectly; the fighting is too dirty and primal to fit a more traditional orchestral affair.
Really, though, complaining about any of that is missing the point of The Raid entirely: It’s like moaning that there aren’t enough guitar solos in Pride & Prejudice or that Sylvester Stallone skimmed over the finer points of restaurant management in Rocky Balboa. The Raid is what a good video game movie would look like if the laws of the universe didn’t forbid such a thing; it’s the cinematic equivalent of a Dragonforce song (in a good way): Preposterously over the top but still technically impressive and very, very enjoyable if you’re willing to overlook the ham-handed drama they occasionally attempt to inject.
In short, it’s action porn at it’s finest, and you should go see it in the cinema before they drop it to make room for another fucking best-seller adaption about middle-class, endearingly awkward white people falling in love or kids who just want to dance to that god-awful Skrillex noise.