For weeks we'd been planning this event: during the October holidays, myself, the two Michaels, Connor, Nick and Chris would romp along to Chris' house in order to eat pizza and marathon the Star Wars original trilogy (do three films count as a marathon? No, almost certainly not, but hopefully no one will notice). However, as it usually goes, these great nights rarely go as planned. Michael H ended up in St Andrews, unable to make it down in time. What with their recently found jobs, Connor and Nick could only make it along after nine, and Haile Gebrselassie himself wouldn't have the endurance to watch nothing but Star Wars until after three in the morning. My parents had made it clear that I was walking home, too, so the 'cannae be arsed' factor also came into play.
And so it came to be that we were sitting on Chris' sofa at half past nine, scrolling through Netflix to find a possibly accompaniment for the pizza we'd just ordered. We scrolled past a low-budget British movie named Tower Block, with Sheridan Smith and Russell Tovey in it, amongst others. I stopped Chris there, saying I had heard it was 'like a British version of The Raid'. Everyone liked the sound of this, so we watched it for a good ten minutes before we realised that The actual Raid was also on Netflix. We stopped wasting our time and switched on the genuine product.
The Raid is an Indonesian film, set in Jakarta and directed by Welsh-born-but-currently-Indonesian Gareth Evans. Both Connor and Chris had come across it on Netflix before, and both said it was one of the best action films they had ever seen, a sentiment agreed with by Empire magazine. This is the basic premise: a SWAT team have to muscle their way to the top of a Jakarta tower block in order to find and arrest the notorious drug baron who lives on the final floor. If you're hoping for much more than that, you'll probably be disappointed. Aside from a couple of neat twists towards the end, your main draw is the violence: violence that I have never seen more beautifully and graphically co-ordinated in a film.
Honestly, if you're not too squeamish, these fights are awe-inspiring. There are moments where I couldn't understand how the shots were filmed without actually killing actors. Axes are slammed into people's shoulders as they run; bullets are fired through their heads as their eyes are still darting back and forth. It's CGI, sure, but it's CGI so convincing you can't help wincing when a man is decapitated by a door frame. One sequence in particular, set in the corridors of the seventh floor, is directed by Evans as if he was conducting a symphony. As each new assailant attacks Iko Uwais' Rama, the tempo shifts and the camera spins to showcase the incredibly impressive martial arts skills the man actually possesses. As unlikely as it is that his moves would actually stop and disarm a madman with a machete, you let it pass because it's so bloody cool. The Raid has style.
What with this and Kil, the Malaysian film I watched and loved at the start of the summer, I really believe that South-East Asia is a gold mine for stylish, modern independent movies. The Raid both pays homage to and is a part of the martial arts film culture that originally put the area on the cinema map, the sort that never really pushes its premise story-wise, but captivates you with action until you come round during the credits and have to pick your jaw up from the floor. This is the type of movie that reminds people why world cinema is worth having a look at.
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