Gareth Evans’ bone-crunching, ball-breaking, wince-making, all-kicking, action film is here – get ready for the next Ong-Bak!…
Away from effects-laden ‘event movies’, it’s rare for an action film to have gained so much interest long before it’s release, rarer still for that move to be in another language, but that’s exactly what Welsh-born director Gareth Evans‘ The Raid has done, winning over audiences at Festivals since last year. You might even say unprecedented, I can’t remember anything as hotly anticipated as this since Ong-Bak.
(And a campaign to get ban the film banned running in The Times for alleged glamorisation of knife crime – say what? – can only of helped to get this film noticed on wider scale. Nice one, Murdoch.)
Evans’ leading man, Silat martial artist Iko Uwais, stars as Rama, a member of a crack SWAT team performing a raid on a tower block ruled by a drug lord. Getting in is not the problem, however, it’s getting out alive that’s the thing. As the drug lord enlists not only his henchmen but also the blocks own residents in bringing down the cops. And the raid itself turns out to be ‘unofficial’, led by an aggrieved police officer frustrated at his forces corruption. Bottom line: they’re on their own…
Old school action fans will immediately spot Evans’ references to John Carpenter’s classic Assault On Precinct 13, not to mention Escape To New York), which Evans’ has always been open about. Of course Assault itself was a homage to classic Western’s like Rio Bravo with a bit of George A. Romero zombie de-humanisation thrown in. But you can’t fault Evans in sticking to a very basic plotline and then exploiting it to the highest degree: this has everything you could possibly want in an action film!
Non-stop action from start to finish, there’s machine gun shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, hand-to-machete combat and some wincing, and eye-wateringly painful moments that seem to have more in common with the Giallo and horror films of Italian masters like Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci than directors like James Cameron or Don Siegel – especially when it comes to using splintery doors as deadly weapons!
This is efficient filmmaking on a small budget: you can almost hear the accountant totting up the very literally bang for his bucks on this one! Evans keeps the editing super tight, forgoing too much backstory (who needs it?) and over-long lulls for pace, giving his characters little time to do anything more than react, let alone the audience. It’s on a par with best of Asian action films and leaves Hollywood films standing. Throw in a crowd-pleasing fight between Iko and the films other martial art choreographer Yuyan Ruhian who plays the appropriately named ‘Mad Dog’, and you have something for everyone.
Some two and bit years on from his first film with star Iko, Evans proves he’s come a long way. Merantau, The Raid’s predecessor, fell too easily into a simplified take on universal hero themes that have become such a cliché of kung fu cinema: a small town boy exposed to the true corruption and danger of big city living, luckily able to throw his weight around, but only when pushed to his limits. It was Bruce Lee in The Big Boss, it was Jackie Chan in Project A, most importantly it was Iko (and Evans) hero Tony Jaa in Ong-Bak.
(ANd do I mean universal: it’s also Luke Skywalker or Frodo.)
Merantau was a solid enough piece; Iko was obviously talented even if it was stunt work over building sites that really took your breath away. But the drama elements didn’t stick, which was a shame, as if anything Iko – who could hardly be from less of a drama school background, a one-time phone salesman with an interest in martial arts – is naturally more impressive and likeable on screen. Not that this time that really matters, as mentioned this is far more about reacting that acting. And Evans surrounds Iko with a solid cast that really takes the weight off his growing skills.
It’s been a long time since a true action film has delivered on so many levels. Arguably you have to go back to the height of John Woo or John McTiernan’s original Die Hard, another obvious reference point for Evans. With so many big, massively budgeted ‘event’ movies this year, full of cheap thrills and vacuous CGI, this comparatively meagre film blows them all off the screen.
This might not match Ong-Bak for Tony Jaa’s daredevil stunts, but it’s a more effective film on every level. Forget the big-hitters, this has it all – don’t miss it!
The Raid is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD from Monday 24 September by Momentum Pictures.
This review was originally published 5 May 2012.
Home media details
Distributor: Momentum Pictures (UK)
Edition: DVD (2012)
The Raid comes to UK DVD and Blu-ray jam-packed with a stack of extras so full that NO ONE can be disappointed with this release!
As well as a fine transfer of the film itself, there's an exclusive UK commentary with director Gareth Evans and star Joe Taslim that's full of behind-the-scenes insight; there are several featurettes, including Behind the Music with Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese and An Evening with Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais; and there's the Claycats version of The Raid, a homage so accurate I wouldn't be surprised if Gareth doesn't personally commission them to adapt all his movies from now on! :)
The Blu-Ray adds video blogs and a choice of US and original uncut versions of the film.
Phew! Is that enough for you? Wow, whether on DVD or Blu-ray even if this film was 'average' that would be enough to make this a must-buy...
...but the action film of the year? Buy it! But it now!