Thursday, 7 June 2012

The Raid 2011

Indonesian film Serbuan Maut (released internationally as The Raid) has taken the world by storm. Screened as the Official Selection at a number of well-reputed film festivals, it's being touted as 'the best action movie in decades' (Twitch).

The story is simple enough: a SWAT team of elite cops raids a multi-storey building owned by a crime lord, in the hope of arresting him. Leaving aside the preliminary ten minutes, the rest of the film is the raid - a martial-arts-infested, non-stop-action treat where people keep getting butchered in the most innovative ways. A film like this does not necessarily need dialogue, and whatever dialogue there is, is simple and cliched. In fact, the character arcs come straight out of a bottle too: there is the cool-as-a-cucumber-but-ruthless underworld don; his two henchmen - one crazy and one calm; the rookie cop who is looking forward to becoming a father; the honest leader whose men would follow him into any battle; and the corrupt old man who only looks out for himself. Throw in the story of two estranged brothers, on both sides of the law, and some daddy issues - and the formula is complete.

Sound like a Bollywood movie? You bet! Except this is the film Sanjay Gupta has been trying (and failing) to make for years.

The formula may be stale, but the action is not. The film showcases what is apparently called Pencak Silat, a form of traditional Indonesian martial arts. It is fast, brutal and pretty extraordinary. Two of the main actors (said rookie cop and crazy henchman) are the fight choreographers of the film - and understandably they both get to have the most astounding fight sequences. In some scenes, the visuals are breathtaking - and in all, the pace is unrelenting.

Barring a couple of typical, must-have shots, the camera work is excellent for the kind of action it captures. It moves very quickly, covers all angles and never once bores. Of course, the editing is perfect too. But it is the music and sound recording that deserve a very special mention. All the brilliant choreography and cinematography in the world would have been wasted if this film didn't have the strength of the score. Every fight sequence carries its own little soundtrack, often very different to the previous one (this is saying a lot, considering there are a lot of fight scenes and barely any moments of respite). Even the soft humming sound of continuous gunshots works beautifully when it is used. The technical work is flawless and complements the breakneck speed of the action perfectly.

Don't get me wrong, though - this is not Ong Bak (2003). The fights are never that neat and Iko Uwais / Yayan Ruhian do not have Tony Jaa's grace. My knowledge of martial arts is limited at best, so maybe the difference is simply that this is a far more brutal and honest form of fighting than Muay Thai is - but visually, it is less 'precise'. Yet if you enjoyed the beauty of Old Boy's (2003) sequence where Oh Dae-Su fights a corridor-full of hoods, or the magic of Bourne Ultimatum's (2007) bathroom fight scene, The Raid is exactly what the doctor ordered - and then some.

I'm just repeating myself here, but the action in this film is on steroids - it's fast, brutal, relentless and ever so rewarding. Unlike Ong Bak, you never get a break in this film - it literally goes from one killing spree to the next. Not for the faint-hearted - but if you enjoy the genre, watch it NOW!