There’s a famous scene in Tony Jaa’s The Protector where our hero, searching for the mob boss who stole his elephant (don’t ask) has to fight his way from the lobby of a hotel to its top floor dispatching waves upon waves of bad guys along the way. It’s brilliant as one five-minute single-take action sequence, but can it sustain an entire movie?
That’s the question Gareth Huw Evans sets out to answer with his latest film The Raid, a white-knuckle Indonesian martial arts action thriller which sees police officer Rama (Iko Uwais) and his cohorts raiding a 30-storey apartment building inhabited by the criminal empire of Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who has opened his tower up to all kinds of nefarious ne’er-do-wells.
But instead of getting caught up with pesky annoyances like story or character development, Evans packs all the back-story for the film into – literally – five minutes before the opening credits, and the remaining time is dedicated solely to increasingly incredible action set pieces.
This is either a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view. On the one hand, virtually anonymous main characters are hard to care about, and with no stakes attached to the violence it can all become a little tiresome. On the other, if all you’re looking for is a Saturday night fight fest, the choreography in The Raid is among the most mind-blowingly fast-paced and intricate martial arts choreography you’ll see this side of a Jackie Chan movie. (Although, unlike Chan’s films, The Raid is full of CGI.)
Playing out like a video game, the film is structured so that the action becomes more up-close and personal with each level, as the officers run out of ammunition for their assault rifles and move to knives and hand-to-hand combat as the war drags onward and upward.
Like sub-bosses leading the way to a main boss battle in every side-scroller since the days of the Commodore 64, Rama must dispose of three heavies who stand between him and Tama, with neither side gaining the upper hand during their tense, back-and-forth battles. Until, that is, a mildly surprising revelation re-frames allegiances between cop and crook and neatly wraps up what little plot was introduced at the beginning of the film.
Occasionally teetering too close to the edge of believability and with almost every action movie cliché imaginable squeezed in, The Raid will appeal to existing martial arts action fans but offer little enticement to others. If you can forgive the occasional Wilhelm scream, cursory story development and blatant CGI enhancement, it’s not without its appeal.
The Raid opens theatrically in Australia on March 22 through Madman Films.