Sitges 2011: THE RAID Review

A couple of years ago, Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais - director and actor respectively - introduced a breath of fresh air to the world of martial arts cinema with Merantau, showing off the art of Indonesian Silat in the process. After the spectacular downfall of Tony Jaa it wasn't clear if someone would step up to occupy the seat as the new Asian action superstar. But now Iko Uwais, once again under the direction of Evans seems to pick up the challenge. The result of this new collaboration is The Raid, one of the best and most brutal action films I've seen in a long time.

In one of Jakarta's poorest neighborhoods there is is a building where even the police don't dare to go. Ruled by a powerful and feared crime lord, the building has become some kind of refuge for the most dangerous criminals in Indonesia. But an elite special force group has now received the order to end all this, to infiltrate the complex and bring down its ruler. As you can imagine the operation doesn't go according to the plan and suddenly all hell breaks lose. The police wind up trapped inside the building, with no possible way out and surrounded by killers and gangsters. There seems to be only one option: to fight all the way the top.

The film's setup is pretty straightforward. There are no unnecessary explanations nor does the director has any pretensions of overdressing the package. Gareth Evans knows very well what he wants to deliver and how he wants to do it. It's a simple plot, it features a wonderful setting for an action film and delivers just the necessary dramatic weight for the audience to care for the characters without getting ridiculous nor burdening the action.

And action there is, I can assure you. The film's got firefights, one on one fights, one on many fights, jawdropping stunts, you name it. One thing I found lacking in Merantau's fights was that they didn't feel as physical and raw as the likes of Ong Bak. That's not the case in The Raid: you'll feel every blow, thanks to the stunning choreography work and the good work of Evans capturing it on film. Iko Uwais has definitely stepped up to a new level, moving from young promise to consolidated star.

Being a martial arts flicks fan for a long time, it's been quite some time since I experienced something like this in a movie theater. Let's just hope this is only one more step in the career of this tandem, as I'm already eager for more. Tony Jaa may come to his feet once again soon, but for the time being I'm not worried. It's  pretty clear that the action superstar seat is solidly covered.

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