Before you read my review of Gareth Evans’ The Raid, let me reiterate once more – as I have done in my press conference and screening report – that I’m not an action movie fanatic. I don’t like violent and bloody movies and I was severely overwhelmed when I first heard about this movie that Evans made. His first film, Merantau, was more up my alley because it was drama with plenty of action… not pure action with nothing else but action. Needless to say, I had not wanted to watch The Raid: Redemption, the movie as renamed by Sony Pictures (its American distributor), when it came out.
After watching it, though, I understood exactly why the movie was popular and why it was good. It is, as many people have mentioned, thanks to the fighting choreography that it can be as fantastic as it is. Using pencak silat, one of Indonesia’s ‘national’ sports, the Welsh-born director Evans bring a new energy to the action genre. But it’s not just the silat moves alone that creates a dynamic picture – it’s the entire design of the fighting scenes, starting from how the actors and stunts moved, to the way Evans and his DoP worked the camera, that made for highly exciting sequences. Silat itself is already a very showy martial arts discipline but combine that with great action performers and clever cinematography, nothing can go wrong.
Much props to Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, then, who are the two in-house fighting choreographers for PT Merantau Films, the production house who made the film – shot on set for the most part in Jakarta, Indonesia. Uwais and Ruhiyan are like the Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman of fighting choreography and in real life they interact very much the way Kirk and Spock in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek (2009) do: with plenty of bromance. They got the nickname Devil Kid and Mad Dog (the latter also being Ruhian’s character’s name in the film) for their supreme BAMF!-ness on set. Their chemistry is glaringly obvious in the fighting scenes, even the ones where they’re not together. When I watched the stuntment fight the police, I could see their signature all over the place. Their palpable chemistry breathes life into the film’s exhilarating action, which will leave you cringing, screaming, gasping and hissing in proxy psychosomatic pain.
Evans’ script is a very lean one. I’d imagine the physical script itself would contain more descriptions of how a room should look instead of how characters communicate; the screenplay is probably designed to feature as much action as possible. But for once I don’t mind. I’m actually relieved that it didn’t try to be witty or clever. It didn’t try to be philosophical or inspire thinky thoughts. This puts things into perspective for me: that actions sometimes speak louder than words and that’s exactly what The Raid is all about.
That’s also a good thing because, in the acting department, Uwais as the main star is still pretty much a novice and it shows. He has a strong screen presence and charisma but he’s still inexperienced when compared to his seniors. Ruhian often steal scenes with his unintentional comedic timing, which goes a long way in relieving the tension and thank god for that, but Uwais’ more dramatic scenes unfortunately highlighted his lack of chops. This is all fine, however, because the young actor can only get better with experience. The good thing is, Uwais never brings his co-stars down. Interacting with the more experienced Doni Alamsyah (or Donny Alamsyah; I can never be too sure which one is the correct spelling), star of the epic Indonesian films Merah Putih and the currently playing Negeri 5 Menara, Uwais seems more like an accessory than the main event because his screen partner was more skillful. But Alamsyah seemed to have fed off Uwais’ energy as well and delivered a solid performance that ended on a high, if slightly edgy, note. If I could make one request to the filmmakers for The Raid‘s imminent sequel, Berandal, it is to please include more Alamsyah in it.
Fellow athlete-turned-actor Joe Taslim was also another gem to see on screen. Young, fit and fierce, Taslim has now played in 3 movies. He got his part as the SWAT sergeant in charge of the team’s raid of a building full of criminals and convicts through Facebook, where he searched Evans and told the director about his skill set, until finally getting a chance to audition and the role. He, too, is novice but he has a slight advantage from Uwais in the acting department as he seems a lot comfortable in front of the camera. While the ladies may find him droolworthy (he is, I am pleased to report, as handsome in real life as he is on screen) it is his duel with Mad Dog in the film that had me feeling like I should get down on my knees and start worshipping the ground he walks on. A former SEA GAMES medalist for judo, Taslim gave Ruhian a run for his money. This sequence and the later Uwais-Alamsyah-Ruhian showdown are the highlights of The Raid.
Senior Indonesian actor Ray Sahetapy, of course, was one who knocked it out of the ball park. I’ve lost count of how many films Sahetapy made but I’m pretty sure his career has been alive slightly longer than I’ve been around in the world. His sleazebag character was both repulsing and amusing to watch and the contrasting impression could only be produced from one with a talent and skill like his. He appeared for the first time in this movie in a scene where he was killing minor scumbags. But before he got to the killing, he was eating noodles from a bowl… and it was annoying! His character Tama’s attitude was annoying. His speech was annoying. He made me want to put a hole in his head for being annoying. But, well, you know what they say? A movie is only as good as its villain and Sahetapy is the embodiment of that saying for The Raid.
A lot of people apparently accused The Raid for not being an Indonesian movie because its director is a foreigner. While I disagree with the notion because the funding of the film, as well as the production, 95% of the crew and 100% of the cast, came from Indonesia, I still say that The Raid is as un-Indonesian as it can possibly get, cinematically speaking. Evans’ filmmaking style is very different from Indonesian directors’ visions of a movie. His cinema is the kind I see in early Guy Ritchie and Matthew Vaughn films. Not exactly the skills per se but just the texture and nuance of the visuals. There’s a shot of the winding staircase taken from the center and the first thing that came to mind was somehow Paul McGuigan’s shots from BBC’s Sherlock TV series’ first ever episode, “A Study In Pink”. Looking at the episode, I had no idea why I thought of that when I saw Evans’ shot in The Raid, but then I concluded that it must be Evans’ British filmmaking sensibilities that showed in that shot. Such a thing might be a myth but I do think a filmmaker’s cultural background plays a part in the way he shoots a film. The point I’m trying to make is that Evans’ filmmaking sensibility is rather not Indonesian and if anyone wants to accuse the film being un-Indonesian, this should be the reason. Otherwise, this is an Indonesian film and anyone who thinks different should “f*ck ’em[selves]”.
I also give props to whoever was in charge of the sound department. The sound effect was highly effective – this alone could pump anyone’s adrenaline and set hearts racing. Combine this with Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi’s innovative score, The Raid has one hell of a sound design. Recently I watched Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and absolutely hated the sound of it. With all due respect to the legendary director, I thought the film’s sound design was too over-the-top. I wanted to close my ears for more than half of the movie. Surprisingly, the only thing I wanted to close by watching The Raid was my eyes during scenes where people’s throats get sliced and people’s heads get shot. My ears, on the other hand, were pleasantly entertained by the film.
And yes, I did just compare The Raid to Hugo. Apparently, it can be done and The Raid deserves the praise.
(A note: viewers in the US will get the Mika Shinoda/Joe Trapanese version of the score. Some Indonesians expressed their disappointment at not getting the Shinoda/Trapanese score, but let me reassure you that the Yuskemal/Prayogi score is more than good enough. It is awesome and I would rather have this than the other version.)
I’m still not keen on repeating the experience of watching the film on cinema. It met and even surpassed my expectations of the brutality, meaning that it is definitely not to my tastes at all. But I’m going to recommend the hell out of this film to every single person I meet and not only because I have met and like the filmmakers. I’m going to tell everyone to see it because it’s damn good entertainment and it is hands down the best action movie, from any country, I’ve ever seen in my life. Enough said.