Martial arts movies - once sneered at by critics and ignored by the masses, they have carried on bringing "oohs" and "ahhs" and "ouchs" to its fans throughout the years. Some have even tried to bring layers to the genre to open up its appeal - Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon broke the critic and box office barriers allowing the likes of crazy Kung Fu Hustle to reach a wider audience.
Now, it would seem that the art of kicking and punching seven bells out of people is about to be championed by the most unlikely source, but that could be exactly what's required... A guy from Wales!
Director/writer Evans has something that most of Hollywood has been trying to create/reproduce/bottle for years - the ability to deliver expected cliches and spectacle-driven scenes whilst making it feel like a whole new experience for the viewer. Hours after seeing it, you may reflect upon similarities between The Raid and other films, but believe me, you won't be doing that during its fingernail in palm-digging, wince-inducing, recoil-startling, breath-holding 101 minutes running time. Once it all kicks off (pun intended), you'll find yourself subconsciously waiting and needing for any moments of calm to to digest and get over the events that have just forced their way into, and onto, your nerve endings.
The mix of Welsh writing and Indonesian fighting has created the "why has it never been done before?" mix of Assault On Precinct 13 and Die Hard - two films that wowed and wooed both audiences and critics alike. This phenomenal combination will replicate the same success if there is any justice. Just like Willis' "wrong place, wrong time" cop that was hopelessly outnumbered, with little support and able to feel and show pain and fear, Uwais' rookie cop who's fighting to stay alive to return to his pregnant wife, shows human emotion when the adrenalin has left his body in between fights. These scenes of slight "normality" not only help you to connect to, and root even more so, for his outnumbered character, but really do give you the time to take a breath and process the fight sequences that you've just witnessed. This needs to be done as a small part of you realises that there was no CGI at play here - what you see upon the screen, it what was filmed. Every back-breaking, neck-snapping, leg-contorting move was choreographed and carried out - and it shows!
Evans has eschewed the norm camera techniques since Saving Private Ryan introduced it to directors and audiences alike - there's no fast editing or hand-held shaky camera work to add to the impression that you're in the thick of it. The camera is placed in new locations - up above at a neck-straining angle, upon the blood-soaked, body-littered floor - and the buy-in from the audience is achieved purely from the moves executed against one another, and not from quick cuts.
As said, there is elements of "done before" within The Raid, but not like this specific combination. You may have lines such as "we go in, we take him out" delivered all macho-like, but then you get "no guns....pulling the trigger is like ordering takeout," just before two experts square off for a behind-closed-doors, Mano-et-Mano fight to the death. And these fights involve everything around - fridges, florescent lights, tables - not unlike Jackie Chan's style, but there's no comedic value here... just raw survival instincts.
A rarity where its open end has you demanding a sequel, this is a film like no other that has been released this year so far, nor will be. A perfect weekend evening flick with friends, even if you don't do subtitles, you should stop that nonsense and make a date to visit the worst building to be stuck in since John McClane "came to the coast, to have a few laughs..."
UK release date: 18.05.12