Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Terminal Review: The Raid

Ah, what could that smell be? No seriously, I can't smell anything because of the f'ing pollen. But as my mucus chambers swell shut during the one month stretch that separates winter from summer in south Texas, my spirits soar. 

It's blockbuster season. 

Thankfully, much of the stress of the second semester has been released to the point where I get a chance to write about stuff that many people love to geek about. Not to say that I don't have the free time to maintain blog content, but honestly when your churning out shit like THIS, the last thing you want to do is sit in front of a computer and think about words. It would really have to take a monumental piece of cinema to break me out of my blog-less stupor.

Or perhaps a once in a generation martial arts action movie?
Yes, that my friends is The Raid. Sure in the States it has inexplicably been affixed the extra subtitle Redemption,  for which I have no earthly clue. I mean, unless redemption means killing spree in whatever language they speak in Indonesia. There have been a mountain of accolades and praise that have been heaped on this film since its premier in Cannes, most of which comprises some impressive hyperbole (for a quick perusal, here are a couple of my favorite geek sites: Badass Digest, AIC), like Die Hard, and Hard Boiled

Congrats: You just defeated the building level!

Personally, after seeing The Raid twice now, the Die Hard comparisons are limited to strictly the fact that yes, it is about a police guy fucking up a building full of baddies. Yet I would argue that the tone and brutality suggest more Black Hawk Down meets the sheer martial arts impact of the first Ong Bak. The Raid is about an Indonesian SWAT team that assaults a criminal enclave, only to realize too late that they have been set up. Much of the films critics have taken issue with the thin plot that bookends the movie, and some of them do have a point. The film's plot is essentially a series of narrative devices to explain how this SWAT team gets isolated, with the added confusion of the smaller character moments which seem to suggest that we are missing about 30 minutes of backstory...but I would be lying if I told you I even noticed the story the first time around. No, it really is difficult to read subtitles when you are being distracted by your massive "gore-boner."

You think you have seen action movies, but you have never seen a movie that furiously escalates like The Raid - it is one of the most taut  cinema experiences ever crafted. After the first 15 minutes when the SWAT team finally storm the seedy citadel of automatic weapon and machete-wielding thieves, murderers, and drug-runners, it is one none-stop rise to martial arts perfection. It is a unique experience, something so viscerally entertaining and impressive that its the first time in my theater-going experience where dispatching a foe elicited cheers and golf-claps from the audience. Don't believe me? Watch this and then realize that, when I mean escalation, this scene takes place in the first half of the movie:

Indeed, The Raid does narrow its focus down to one cop, Rama (whose backstory becomes even murkier by the end of the film), played by Iko Uwais. Rama's fighting style in the film isn't as bone-crunching as Tony Jaa's was in Ong Bak, yet there is something more authentically practical - something more brutally efficient in the way that he really pulls the viewer into caring about his character more. The interplay between Iko's knife work and martial arts really sells the sense that Rama is alone, fighting rabidly for his life; it's that Black Hawk Down tone I mentioned earlier, that overall claustrophobia that he could be attacked at any point from all sides.

And then there is Mad Dog, the main baddy's second in command and enforcer. Fact: He is pocket-sized. Fact: He might also be a terminator.  I can't really talk about any of his best scenes without giving too much away, but GODDAMN does he have one of the best deaths in any action movie - period.

Mad Dog: Destroyer of Worlds

This is one that I can't wait to own, for nothing more than to show to other people. It's in limited release now, so hopefully those who want to can see it on the big screen with a real audience. One can never be certain about these things, but I hope The Raid is the next step in international martial arts cinema. A film that brutally escalates in a near perfect way and punctuated with varying degrees of action badassery, but also feels grounded in a reality that sells the effects of the violence. Bolstered by a score from Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame, and you simply have an action movie that you could watch endlessly solo, or introduce to your friends for the pure joy of watching their reactions.

This is the start to what should be a legendary summer for film geeks.


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