Remember when this New Zealand filmmaker decided to adapt one of fantasy literature’s most epic novel trilogy into a movie and assembled a great group of people to make it? Well, we all know how that story went. The guy ended up not making one mediocre movie at all that only geeks watched in the cinema. Instead he made three spectacular blockbusters that went on to rule them all and won a bunch of Oscars for them.
Well. It just so happens now that there was a Welsh filmmaker who decided to come to work in Indonesia, discovered the country’s martial arts form called pencak silat, and made a movie about it. He, too, assembled a great group of people to make it. But, more importantly, he found this country’s answer to Jackie Chan/Jet Li/Tony Jaa/[insert another action movie star's name here]. So now we have this action movie that half of the world’s movie buffs are currently crazy about and put the country on the world cinema map.
The first filmmaker I’m talking about is obviously Peter Jackson. He is my number one favorite filmmaker in the entire planet. The second filmmaker I’m talking about is Gareth Evans. He’s also rapidly becoming my ultimate favorite filmmaker in the world. And it’s the second guy’s movie, The Raid (or rather, The Raid: Redemption – they had to add that extra word in order to get it released in the US), that is doing what Lord Of The Rings trilogy did for New Zealand.
For those of you who have miraculously not heard of The Raid, this is the lowdown: it’s a 100% pure action movie using pencak silat as the basic fighting choreography. It’s about a 20-man SWAT team that got sent to raid a building full of baddies. Despite successfully gaining entry to the highly dangerous building, they were found out by the mafia boss who ruled the building and who subsequently called his minions to come out, play and “have fun” with the cops. Mayhem and madness ensue. The film was well-received in the festival circuit (Toronto, Sundance, South By Southwest – you name it, they loved it.)
Confession: I did not want to watch the movie. I absolutely refused to watch it. I knew it was bloody, gory and violent. Human lives are wasted and, oh yeah, did I mention it was bloody, gory and violent? It’s not like we’re seeing Orcs getting beheaded here. We’re supposedly seeing human throats slashed, human necks broken, human spines cracked and so forth. Not my kind of movie. I like mindless action movies as much as the next Saturday night casual cinemagoer, but honestly? It wasn’t on my agenda.
Except I have a job as a movie journalist. My chief editor usually trusts me with features and he wanted me to write about The Raid. Besides, we were getting an exclusive interview session with the film’s stars and fight choreographers and which journalist doesn’t love the word “exclusive”? So last month, I went twice to Mr. Evans’ production company PT Merantau Film’s office in Tanah Abang, Jakarta, and interviewed two of the nicest guys you’ll ever know who are currently working in the movie industry. They are Iko “Devil Kid” Uwais and Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhian.
The interview went swimmingly. Both Iko and Kang Yayan are both charismatic and professional. They gave us plenty to work with for the article – I loved their answers so much I practically begged my editor to give me one full page for each actor/fighter to be featured – and I went to town with it. It was easily one of the most exciting interview experiences I had and this definitely beats interviewing Harry Potter actors. A few weeks after the Iko/Kang Yayan interview, I managed to get in touch with Maya Barack-Evans, the director’s wife who’s also The Raid‘s executive producer. Unfortunately her husband was at that time absent (abroad on festival duty, the lucky bastard) so I missed out on interviewing him.
Until today, that is. Because today the members of the Indonesian press were invited to The Cone, fX mall, Jakarta at 9.30 AM to attend a press screening of The Raid. Present were the cast and crew of The Raid: Mr. Evans, Iko, Kang Yayan, athlete-turned-actor Joe Taslim, popular star Doni Alamsyah and the legendary Ray Sahetapy, among others. All the actors with minor roles, like Tegar Satrya, and even actors with no character name to speak of (“Machete Gang #1″ guy was there – his real name is Alfridus Godfred) were also present and accounted for. Just about every recognizable faces from the cast and crew – and those who are not so easily recognized – came to celebrate this mixed gathering of news, media and film people.
The press conference was neatly executed, from the invitations to the door prize event, and I was impressed with their tidy organization of the event. Whoever was in charge of it – kudos to you. It felt like a Comic-Con panel (not that I ever went to San Diego) but I am willing to bet money that the atmosphere at the press conference would give a run for Comic-Con’s money.
In the formal Q&A event, producer Ario Sagantoro and Gareth Evans answered all the important questions from the journalists. Then Roy Sahetapy displayed the reason why he is a legend of Indonesian cinema (seriously, is this guy human?) by reciting a poem that concluded in the cast shouting, “Merdeka!” (Freedom!) Needless to say, he got a well-deserved round of applause there. And Iko and Kang Yayan killed it with their bromance. (“We have chemistry,” Kang Yayan confirmed after he was asked about his relationship with Iko. “We started as friends,” Iko continued, “and now we’re something else.”) It really doesn’t get more exhilarating than that.
My favorite quote from that session? Definitely the one from Mr. Evans, who responded to the query of what he thought of the opinion that said The Raid couldn’t be categorized as an Indonesian movie because it was made by him, a foreigner. His answer was a very eloquent”f*ck ‘em. I’m the only bule (foreigner) here. Everything else is Indonesian. This is an Indonesian movie.”
What happened next was like a junket, albeit a very casual one. None of those actors being in a room and we get to be escorted inside to talk to them for an allotted time. The cast and crew went around the room to meet with the journalists and we spoke to them, asked them questions and took their photos in a relaxed manner. For my magazine, Total Film Indonesia, I managed to get soundbytes from Mr. Evans and Joe Taslim. They’re mostly follow-ups to my questions from the Iko/Kang Yayan and Maya interviews and there were a few things clarified/confirmed from their statements. Again, the impression I got were the same as the ones I got from Devil Kid and Mad Dog: that they were the nicest, most down-to-earth and grounded people you’ll ever meet. I can’t really imagine Michael Bay and Shia LaBeouf being THAT nice – can you?
As if this was not spectacular enough, after lunch we were treated to the movie at Platinum XXI cinema next door to The Cone. Funnily enough, the producer said at the beginning, “Forget any kind of moral messages. Be as loud as you want – it’s not a movie where you should stay quiet.” I find that suggestion refreshingly brilliant.
Another confession: I watched half the movie while covering my vision with a scarf. Sorry. It’s a damn great movie (my personal review coming up next) but it’s also still not my kind of movie. It’s the kind of mindless violence that drove me mad wanting to hide behind a blanket or walk out totally out of the cinema. But I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I walked out so I ‘manned up’, so to speak, and stuck through it until the bleeding bloody end. Through a purple scarf, though.
I was reminded of the first thing Kang Yayan had told me in our interview. I’d asked him, “I don’t think I’ll go see the movie. What can you say to convince me to watch it?” He had laughed then and said, “I’m not trying to sell this movie but trust me, if you miss it, you will regret it.”
And after that screening ended, I couldn’t help but feel that his words were the absolute truth. The Raid isn’t just a film. It’s an experience. The act of going into the cinema, watching it on a big screen, with your friends and a large group of people, and screaming and gasping because of the heavy duty action sequences and set-pieces are all part of the film’s story. This is, I believe, what makes it so well-received: it evokes something in you that makes you want to express yourself outwardly and share it with other people.
Just like the way the cast and crew answered our questions – they never once sounded tired or annoyed by our never-ending questions (which by now they must have heard a million times). They only sound more enthusiastic the more we quiz them about their experiences. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie among the people who worked in the production (down to the guy who makes coffee, who was actually introduced before the screening, although his name escapes me right now). And Oom Roy Sahetapy did confirm all of this by saying, “There was nothing difficult about this film because we all had fun on set, with a director who kept us spirited even so early in the morning.”
And that very thing is what makes me compare The Raid to Lord Of The Rings: Peter Jackson and his cast and crew had that kind of camaraderie and they made one of the best film trilogies of all time. The Raid is still so far from LOTR’s orbit – we’re not even going to mention anything about the Oscars because, as the handsome Joe Taslim said, “The more people praise us, the more nervous I get” – but you can bet that it is on its way to proving its hyped up reputation to be one of the most memorable films ever made. One of the best action movies ever made? For sure. But it is also, generally speaking, the most memorable one as well.
You’d think that people would stop waxing poetic about The Raid by now. Overrated hype can truly be a buzzkill; the movie is not even out for the public in Indonesia (and the US, Canada, Australia and some other countries) until Friday, 23 March 2012, so the filmmakers are currently anxiously waiting for the reaction of those screenings because they all claimed that this was where the “real test” would be. Perhaps it’s better not to heap the compliments too early because this might jinx their box office performance.
But what else can you do about a movie whose actor thanked us for an interview? (I tweeted earlier: “Unfortunately, Joe Taslim is busy so we haven’t chatted with him yet.” He tweeted back: “If we meet later, let’s talk again.” I wrote back: “Thanks, Joe. You were wonderful in that movie.” He responded: “Thanks for your support.“)
With that kind of feedback, I can do nothing else but to wax extremely poetic about it. Although the point of the exercise is this: Believe in The Raid. Watch it.
Read an article on The Raid: Redemption and exclusive interviews with Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian on the next issue of Total Film Indonesia, Issue #29, out this week in Indonesia.