Finally, then, the fulfillment of a dream. I had initially wanted to watch this film last year, when ‘The Raid’ made its Indonesian premiere at the Indonesia International Fantastic Film Festival. I had even changed my flight to gamble for a ticket to watch this elusive film, but it was a gamble that was proven to be made in vain (at least within the context of watching the film).
Nevertheless, such is life, and we moved on. Over time, as I become more excited about other films and other things in life, thoughts of ‘The Raid’ receded from my mind. Every once in a while, it would pop back up, fighting through the barrier into my consciousness, and I’d think about it a bit more, but sooner or later it would die back down.
Thus, it was against a context and background of such high expectations that I eventually watched Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais’s follow up effort to ‘Merantau’.
We follow the story of Rama (Iko Uwais), a young police officer who is a part of a special group of officers. Led by Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim), their job is to infiltrate and take out the big bad boss, Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). The only problem is, he has surrounded himself in a fortress-like, thirty-story building. The rooms houses a tenant who could be a common criminal, parang-wielding Ambonians (if one may be permitted to call those native from Ambon as such) or a junkie getting high. All of them have something in common: they are in the pockets of Tama, and it is this dormant army he activates in protecting himself against the police officers. Of course, the plan (though it wasn’t a very good one, I hasten to add; more on this below) wasn’t executed properly, and the police force find themselves being trapped. As the film’s tagline puts it: 1 ruthless crime lord. 20 elite cops. 30 floors of chaos. Which is true.
Well, mostly. The ’20 elite cops’ part should be further revised to ’20 cops who don’t know what they’re doing’. I must explain. I find this film to be interesting on several levels, primarily because my own days of conducting such raids, arresting people and taking out hostiles consisted on me and my friends playing for hours on ‘SWAT 4’. That turned out to be a good foundation for me; it helped me to understand the formal procedures that police officers are supposed to go through before they’re actually allowed to shoot someone. Of course, such virtual realities shouldn’t be considered a replica of the real reality (but then again, what is real?). Even if the cops in ‘The Raid’ is a part of a special task force, they are still bound by such rules, and it was against these rules that one of the biggest faux pas committed in the film led to the police officers being stuck in their predicament. While I understand that they are a bunch of rookies, had they actually done their duty to the letter, they wouldn’t have been in the mess.
Of course, if they did do that, then we wouldn’t have a film. It goes without saying that many of the people who did turn up for this film did not do so for logical permutations based on police video games. They did so for a film promoted as the best action film in years. To that end, and to my eyes, I did not detect a flaw. A part of that probably had something to do with the speed with which some of the punches and kicks were being thrown out. Iko’s audition to be the next Flash went well. More to the point, it was absolutely and incredibly brutal. This was a film promoted as ‘for adults only’ on the posters in the cinema, and I now have no reason to doubt that whatsoever. Many of the things done were cruelly sadistic to the core; I know that one of ‘cruelly’ and ‘sadistic’ is superfluous, but one or two of the things shown could possibly leave the less-strong members of the audience traumatised.
Which is why I laughed at some of the scenes. I don’t know whether I had a sadistic streak within me that had lain dormant all this while, but as brutal as some of the actions may have been, it may, in a way, also be translated as being patently ridiculous. I know the approach for many people is to leave the brain at the door, but I quite like having my brain with me, even when I watch this kind of film. I try, then, not to laugh at some of the (to me, at least) fairly obvious plot holes that wouldn’t matter to many, but I did truly admire the ingenuity with which some of the scenes was done. I suspect the hallway scenes will become a cult scene, much like Choi Min-sik going postal with a hammer in ‘Oldboy’. One man’s trash, and all that jazz.
Surprisingly, then, the biggest treasure I did glean from this was the performance of Yayan Ruhian. He was also in ‘Merantau’, but it was here that he comes to the fore as an incredible challenge for anyone to upstage. Challenge is the key word here, for his character craves it, and was given more than a few in this film. In one of the major battles of the film, he truly and absolutely shone like a star, and I dare say if he’s even halfway towards being commercially good looking, he’d leave Iko Uwais in his wake. He even incorporated a number of wrestling-influenced moves into his repertoire, which, sadistic as it may sound, is not entirely unpleasant.
I speak, thus far, only of the positive things, but this movie is not perfect. One reason why it falls short of my expectation is because the music wasn’t what…well, wasn’t what I expected. I had thought that with the involvement of Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese, we would be in for a more interesting ride, but in the end, it falls somewhat flat in many places. That’s not to say it’s no good, but let me put it this way: for me, one of the marks of a good soundtrack is for it to be kind of music people would listen to even after the movie is done. The music done for this film fits the experience as we watch it in the cinema, but I totally forgot what the main themes were like twenty minutes after the film’s end.
Then, of course: as the credits rolled, I noticed that the composers wasn’t Mike Shinoda or Joe Trapanese, but Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi. It was only then I realised this version was the Celluloid Nightmares edition, instead of the Sony Pictures Classic version. That version is, as it stands, on release in America now as ‘The Raid: Redemption’, so my feelings about it may not be taken as a definitive one.
This, then, is how expectations can be a dangerous thing. This movie did not quite play to my expectations, which is not necessarily a bad thing (I am not the sole target audience of the filmmakers), but it did leave me feeling somewhat empty by the film’s end. For the sake of not spoiling the experience too much, the plot holes could have been cleared up a bit more, which would guarantee a more complete…hell, a more cathartic experience.
This is a great film in its own right, with unmatched action scenes, and it will remain one of the defining films in Indonesian cinematic history.
We can only thank our lucky stars that Gareth’s parents didn’t name him Michael Bay.
Fikri thinks he might have been harsh; the title of this review, after all, was repeated pretty much through the film, interchanged at will with ‘Mashaallah’, ‘Ya ampun’, ‘Mak kau’, etc. You can read a review of the sequel here.
Featured image credit: Harvey Silikovitz / Flickr