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Film review: The Raid

Updated on May 9, 2012

For some inexplicable reason, certain films attract more buzz than others. It could be for a number of reasons: it could be a casting thing; or perhaps a well-loved book getting picked up for a film; or just the fact that a number of superheroes end up in the same feature. Rarely though, does a foreign film benefit from such strong word of mouth before its release. Indonesia's The Raid however has been catapulted onto numerous film radars by one almighty buzz bomb.

The reason is clear; it takes a truly bland story and injects it with a frighteningly massive dose of action.

One of Jakarta's tower blocks is the HQ for crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy). He runs all his operations from the top floor, whilst the rest of his gang occupy all the floors beneath him. It's a homely setup that seems to suit everyone.

The police haven't been able to touch them. Until now. A small SWAT team, led by Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim), have been instructed by the powers that be to penetrate the building and take Tama down. As it turns out, getting into the building was a piece of cake. The bigger problem soon becomes clear to all members of the SWAT team: getting out alive will be a far bigger challenge, due to the fact that they soon find themselves embarrassingly outnumbered.

One member of the team however, Rama (Iko Uwais), appears to know how to look after himself in tough situations. But as they all soon discover, there's tough, and then there's tough.

It's fair to say that The Raid is unlikely to win any awards in the originality department. All there is to it is literally a SWAT team meet their match in a block of flats. But, somewhat ironically, where it scores highly is in its brutal execution.

The first half of the film is devoted to gun play, whereas the second focuses on physical combat. Put the two together and you have a sharply choreographed, breath-taking, cinematic ballet of violence.

Considering the film's locale, it's not difficult to believe that an action hardened Asian director would have taken on this project. But the real surprise is they didn't - Welshman Gareth Evans did. Leaving the valleys of his homeland behind him, Evans moved to Indonesia, where he soon became fascinated with the martial art Pencak Silat. It's this style of fighting that features in his previous film Marantau as well as this one.

As previously mentioned, the film's story might not be Evans' strong point (which he also wrote), but he sure as hell shows a lot of flair behind the camera. The Raid is a constant barrage of visual punches to the face; it's literally a tour de force as the action is delivered on a constant conveyor belt of kapow! After a while, it wouldn't be a surprise if you became a little punch drunk from all the smacking around; it may be an incessant onslaught, but it brings with it the kind of pain that you're more than happy to sit through.

Yes it takes itself a little too seriously, and the script must have comprised of just the one word – fight – but Evans brings such high-impact energy to the screen that it's difficult not to be left totally impressed. It's frenzied, frenetic fighting fun.

Who would have thought a film, with subtitles no less, would not only receive so much buzz, but totally deserve it?

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