The Raid is one of, if not the, greatest action films of the 21st century. Created by the writer, producer and director, Gareth Evans, it was an adrenaline shot to the heart of the genre, a brilliantly simple tale of a SWAT team trapped in a building controlled by a violent crime-lord, who have to work their way up the floors of the building to escape. As they work their way up, their numbers get smaller and the encounters more visceral. It featured some of the best action choreography ever put on film and made a star of the hugely talented lead actor, Iko Uwais.
The genesis of the film is no-less fascinating too. Director Gareth Evans, grew up in Wales, studied Scriptwriting at the University of Glamorgan and had made one low-budget feature, the pitch black thriller, Footsteps, when his wife, part Japanese and part Indonesian, suggested he try and make films in Jakarta. Whilst shooting a documentary about the martial art Pencak Silat, Evans filmed an astonishingly talented practitioner of the art, who was also a natural in front of the camera. It was Iko Uwais and the meeting changed both of their lives forever.
Their first film together was 2008's Merantau. It's a serviceable action film that only sporadically features the jaw-dropping choreography evidenced in The Raid and The Raid 2. Uwais hadn't yet developed his magnetic screen presence but it's well worth seeking out to see how the actor-director pair have developed over their three films together.
What's key though is it allowed the pair to learn their craft and make their mistakes outside of the harsh spotlight of the UK or US film industry. Now that all eyes are on them, they've delivered a genuinely jaw-dropping sequel in The Raid 2 that contains some of the most intricately staged combat scenes ever seen on film.
Anyone familiar with the first film will be expecting brutal, balletic action scenes and Evans, along with choreographers Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, have not so much raised the bar but removed it and bludgeoned any pretenders to a bloody pulp. I was lucky enough to see the pair perform a Pencak Silat demonstration on stage at BAFTA at a recent screening of the film for DCM Tuesdays, DCM's monthly film club and I made sure to stand well back.
The scale of The Raid 2 is much larger than the first, with a sprawling, fitfully successful crime saga plot introduced, involving rival Japanese and Indonesian gangs. The plot merely provides moments to compose yourself between the carnage, and what carnage. The action this time involves more broken limbs, more puncturing of skin, more moments to wince at, as soft skin meets pointy end or rock hard surface time and time again. It's visceral, gruesome and undeniably thrilling, if you have the stomach for it.
However, what often gets missed amongst the carnage is the quality of the performances. Uwais is a revelatory martial artist but he's also able to convey real feeling with a soulful look. The rest of the cast are strong too, with the various miscreants played with slimy authenticity by a range of actors. The film has placed Evans right at the very top of the list of action directors working today and it's hugely exciting to see where he goes from here.
The Raid 3 is on the way but apparently Evans has two more projects, one US based and one set in the UK that he wants to shoot first. Whatever happens, he's one to watch very closely indeed.