By Drew Turney
Have you ever watched a compilation? Maybe you love Funniest Home Videos or you search ‘fail’ on YouTube looking for clips of people crashing motorcycles into signs or having parkour accidents. Maybe a friend of yours buys or downloads compilations of scenes of a particular genre of pornography (because, you know, you don’t do that yourself) rather than have to sit through ‘plot’ when it’s the last thing porn’s good at (so your friend tells you).
”The Raid” is something similar. It’s not totally devoid of a narrative, but it knows it’s the Hong Kong-style action equivalent of a compilation, a mixtape of martial arts, gun battles and blood. It reverently homages the early careers of Asian action talent like John Woo and Chow Yun Fat where the dialogue was clunky, the story paper thin, the sense of motion kinetic and the violence as strong as anything you can see in a horror movie from the Western world.
You want story? Okay, a SWAT team tries to quietly infiltrate a high-rise apartment block slum in Jakarta early one morning to capture the gleefully scary mobster who runs it. But thanks to the urban militia at his command, the desperate cops are soon outgunned, outmanned and fighting to stay alive inside.
He uses the building’s PA system to put a price on the cops’ heads, so along with his two lieutenants, a cadre of underling thugs and gangs of armed opportunists, he forms the apex of a video-game structure where the well-intentioned police are left fighting through levels of villains, each more dangerous than the last (right up to the guy who holds off two opponents even with a snapped-off fluorescent bulb stabbed into his neck).
As directors chasing PG ratings know, it’s entirely possible to portray action with little or no bloodshed. The Raid’s UK-born director Gareth Evans goes the other way – every impact of a bullet, fist, foot, door, wall or light fitting does the maximum damage we can imagine and blood, brains and bone shower everywhere.
The constant barrage will sound to many like a recipe for boredom but even without dramatic subtlety to bring balance, every minute of ”The Raid” keeps you on the edge of your seat. Maybe the sheer ferociousness and audacity of the violence grips makes you wonder just how much bloodier it can get.
Evans keeps things level and the film never devolves into camp. Even though it will elicit plenty of laughs simply because of how far he’s willing to take the carnage, it doesn’t contain any jokes and takes itself seriously – even when the fight scenes go on long enough and the characters endure enough injury to surpass other movies, let alone reality.
”The Raid” is certainly one way to get Hollywood’s attention (and the inevitable US remake is already in planning), and while Evans might have had a hard time getting a gig directing a period drama or rom-com, he’s taken a classic style and made it all his own.