Release date: September 24th, 2012
Running time: 101 minutes
Country of origin: Indonesia
Original language: Indonesian with English subtitles
Writer and director: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Ray Sahetapy, Yayan Ruhian
When I saw New Jack City (1991) as a teenager, I was fascinated by the idea that organised crime can grow to such an extent that an entire building can be taken over and fortified to become a safe haven for criminals. It’s an incredibly worrisome thought; the criminal underground begins to take the shape of an army claiming its territory within our world with enough will and resources to go up against a police force that’s at best equal in its power.
Gareth Evans’ state-of-the-art action film The Raid, based somewhere in the slums of Jakarta, is crafted around this very concept. Some of the most dangerous murderers and gangsters of the city are hiding out in a 30-floor apartment block that’s under the control of ruthless crime lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) who resides on the top floor.
The film begins at dawn with a 20-man SWAT team heading for the building under orders to take Tama out. They systematically infiltrate the building floor by floor until they’re discovered by a kid who manages to warn Tama via the intercom. The crime lord then locks down the building and makes an announcement that’s heard on every floor: the uninvited visitors are to be hunted down and whoever succeeds can stay in the building rent-free for good.
In the ensuing mayhem, SWAT team leader Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) learns that the operation was not officially approved by the police department and therefore no one knows they’re in the building.
I consider myself an action fan of sorts, but I pick my films very carefully in this genre, yet I have to say, I found The Raid to be a very special piece of cinema. The combat scenes and choreography are shocking, heart-pounding and innovative and the masterfully crafted visuals are underpinned by the superb music from Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park, adding even more atmosphere to the experience of this ill-fated raid.
While the film aims to entertain with its straightforward premise and fast-paced action, I kept feeling something more profound while watching the film. Several floors with endless corridors with the trapped and misguided intruders who have no way of knowing when a violent ambush will burst out from behind one of the hundreds of doors. The armed attackers show no sign of identity or humanity and somewhat resemble demons rising from the underworld in this dark and haunted place. In the midst of the action, I realised that much of The Raid ventures into the world of horror – and does so to great effect.
The character that stole the show for me was Tama’s ruthless henchman Mad Dog, played by Yayan Ruhian. He uses every opportunity to engage in one-on-one combat without weapons, even if it means giving up his own. Fighting police officers on duty in such a manner is a once in a lifetime opportunity for him and he makes the best of it. He is one of those demons who will exhibit near-supernatural powers when he keeps on fighting under extraordinary pressure.
The young soon-to-be-father Rama (Iko Uwais) is a rookie member of the SWAT team. I really liked that we see him praying in the opening scene of the film, especially as Islam has not been portrayed favourably in recent years on the screen – and its reputation is repeatedly tarnished by its worst devotees who get the most attention in today’s conflict-driven media. He is shown caring for his pregnant wife and is modest but tough on the battlefield, guided by impeccable morals. Rama is a much-needed role model in modern cinema.
Although the film doesn’t rely heavily on the plot, it’s nevertheless interesting and realistic. It says more than enough about a corrupt world where one can helplessly lose a family member to crime, and where enemies can be found on all sides. The Raid is an unforgettable film that puts Evans on the map of action cinema. I cannot wait to see the sequel, but until then, I will watch this one many more times I’m sure.
Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.
Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.