Lethal Welshman 2
It's nice to have a varied diet, and here in the UK we are lucky in that the fare of many nations is widely available. In some cases this sort of thing has become an accepted part of the culture – pop out for an Italian, an Indian, a Chinese, or even lately a Thai, and eyelids will go unbatted. Beyond things, however, things do get a little bit niche and specialist, despite the fact that what's on offer isn't necessarily that different from what we're used to – it's more a case of unusual seasoning than anything else, I suspect.
Indonesia is currently mounting an assault on the mainstream of a slightly different kind (the metaphor is an appropriate one), although if this was an Indonesian restaurant things would be slightly odd, in that the head chef was formerly based in Pontypridd. However, he is not a chef, he is a film-maker: his name is Gareth Huw Evans and his new film, The Raid, does more to further the cause of astounding, relentless, brutal, insane violence than any I can recall for as long as I've been writing about movies.
Our hero is Rama (Iko Uwais), an inexperienced young cop. We first find him about his prayers, then see him working out. Finally he kisses his heavily pregnant wife goodbye and sets off to work. All this, of course, is basically leading us to expect that Rama is about to have an utterly hellish day at the office, and so it proves.
Rama is part of a police assault team attempting to penetrate the headquarters of vicious crime boss Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy) and capture him. Riyadi has based himself at the top of a tower block, the rooms of which he has thoughtfully leased out to every headcase criminal in Jakarta. Riyadi's own deputy (Yayan Ruhian) has the somewhat-ominous nickname of Mad Dog, but prides himself on having the personal touch and being a tactile sort of person. This is because he doesn't really enjoy shooting people and enjoys murdering them with his bare hands much more.
The strike team enters the building and gets as far as the fifth floor undetected – but as the tension mounts, mistakes are made and the gangsters realise the police are in their midst. Riyadi gets on the tannoy and announces that everyone in the building who assists in exterminating the unwanted judicial presence will be able to live rent-free in perpetuity.
This is bad news for the cops, who find themselves trapped, rapidly taking casualties and forced onto the defensive. Even worse news is the revelation that this operation has not been officially sanctioned and there is no hope of backup coming to their rescue. Separated from his comrades and responsible for an injured friend, Rama realises that if he wants to survive he has only one option – to fight his way out to freedom, bare-handed if need be...
As you may have gathered, the script is not by Sir Tom Stoppard, but this is not really a problem as it is really just there to facilitate the carnage and mayhem which makes up the meat of this film (and pretty raw meat it is too). It's not quite as straightforward as I may have made it sound – but the police corruption and intrigue angle which is fairly key didn't quite hang together for me, while there's some soapy family melodrama involved too – which while a bit of a staple of the martial arts genre, still felt a bit hackneyed.
However, this is all basically immaterial compared to The Raid's action sequences, which are like a syringe of epinephrine driven straight into the heart – compared to anything I've seen at the movies in years, anyway. There's some pretty impressive full-auto gunplay early on, but it boils down to Rama and Mad Dog displaying their mastery of the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat. Now, this doesn't look all that different from many of the other martial arts styles people have been making films about for decades – the rawness of it, together with practitioners' fondness for making use of knees and elbows, reminded me a bit of the sort of thing Tony Jaa gets up to, but I digress. And the script certainly does not shy away from such genre staples as the hero taking on mobs of people in vaguely industrial settings, or the chief bad guy in a slightly more mano-a-mano fashion.
So it's not dazzlingly fresh or surprising – but the real achievement of The Raid, which is stunning, is to make it all feel like it is something genuinely new and different. The credit must go to Evans, for whom this is an astonishingly confident major debut. He really knows how to shoot a fight sequence, keeping the camera moving without indulging himself in eight cuts a second. Even more impressively, he understands the value of stillness and silence when building up to a piece of major action: there are a couple of really electric moments where people are being completely reasonable and civil – but you know this is just because they're preparing to go utterly berserk at each other. Evans himself has said that Die Hard was a major inspiration, but I can see much more of John Carpenter's early movies here, to be honest (something else he's acknowledged). He also shows something of Carpenter's mastery of music, adding cues to the fight scenes that really add to their impact (the fact that the soundtrack includes tracks with names like 'Quaking Old ****' and 'Machete Standoff' should tell you the sort of thing to expect).
The Raid is one of those films that comes out of nowhere and isn't released so much as detonated. Yes, it's raw around the edges; yes, the story isn't fantastic; and yes, the actual performances are unlikely to trouble the Oscars (having said that, the main villains are properly terrifying) – but none of this matters. I went in to see The Raid in a fairly good humour, comfortable in myself and with the world – I emerged two hours later as a trembling, staggering, exhausted piece of human wreckage. If I'd been to a restaurant, this would not constitute a recommendation – but The Raid is not a restaurant (stick that on the DVD cover as a quote), it's an action movie – and it's an absolute blitz of one.