A decade ago, global cinema audiences were growing and beginning to challenge Hollywood’s representation of the world as being some post-colonial fringe. It was during this hour that a great token of challenge arose to American exceptionalism, a challenge which went beyond representation and right into the craft of filmmaking itself.
The Raid (2012) starts as rookie officer Rama (Iko Uwais) offers his pre-dawn Fajr prayer and kisses his pregnant wife goodbye and joins a 20-man squad for a raid on an apartment building with the intent of arresting crime lord Tama. Together with his lieutenant ‘Mad Dog’ (Yayan Ruhian), Tama controls the building where criminals rent rooms under his protection. Arriving unseen, the team sweeps the first floors and subdues the enemy undetected.
Then, while entering the sixth floor, the team is spotted by kid informers. The alarm is raised. This is where The Raid becomes a horror film disguised as action, and a film which helped change the meaning of an action flick forever.
The fighters in The Raid are all practitioners of pencak silat, an Indonesian martial art that was recognised as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity from Indonesia by UNESCO.
Beholding Silat onscreen in the caresses of its master performers is an experience greater than witnessing the best of live MMA/boxing fights. And the performers in The Raid truly put themselves through a lot as they are thrown around hallways and down staircases, crashing through windows and hitting the ground. The Raid had an ambulance on standby on its sets as the camera work takes the audience very close to the experience of physical violence.
Unlike many action films that take very long to unroll, The Raid sets up the storyline with quick grace and recurrently withholds tension and expectation that unrolls like a spring, pushing story forward with adrenaline laced action sequences that that are so well structured that you keep craving more as an audience.
As the team moves through the locked-down building, they face off with an army of fighters. The movie does not stop making history for the rest of its duration with its music like action choreography that can be appreciated and beholden even without the sound.
It should be noted that The Raid uses minimal special effects to give an edge to the existing excellence of martial arts which is on display. Whereas almost every other big banner action film uses special effects to add fantasy to their simulacra. This is why The Raid is a victor and a historic trendsetter.
One should remember that action movies are good when they do not complicate things for the sake of action, and communicate the sets and spaces to the audience in a simple way. The Raid does this well as Rama (Uwais) has on him only his mind blowing Silat skills, which he uses to break through enemies across the building who are wielding weapons ranging from machetes to machine guns.
Long time film critic of the western world Roger Ebert passed away one year after The Raid was released. Roger gave The Raid 1/5 star and was annoyed by the Muslim identity of the protagonist.
Truth be told, the developing world of the non-blue eyed type is also capable of top tier confluence between arts such as Silat and cinema. This is how The Raid which was produced at a paltry budget of Rs 5 crore became the catalyst for the American John Wick franchise which tries to use Indonesian talent in the American context and yet largely fails to achieve what The Raid di.
Not just John Wick, but a plethora of American flicks has taken inspiration/birth from the conviction which is director Gareth Evan’s The Raid. The Welsh director must be thanked for helping take Silat to a cinema franchise that turned Uwais, Taslim, Ruhiyan and Rahman into overnight global stars. Uwais, the protagonist and Silat master, worked as a pizza delivery boy before The Raid.
For all its financial clout and casting opportunities, American cinema is unable to achieve the breathless audacity of The Raid that appeared like early morning light on the horizon for action lovers worldwide.
The author is a film writer based out of Mumbai.
Featured image: IMDB