The Raid is the single best movie about an expert fighting for his life in very threatening surroundings.
Art can be commended for being thematically-focused and for authenticity. In this case, we're talking about movies. For example, praise can be heaped upon a movie because of a lead in a biopic performing flawless mimicry. It feels authentic. It might be the movie's biggest strength, perhaps it's only strength. Movies where authenticity are their main strengths can overpower other potential shortcomings, so when a movie is about a place, or when a movie is about ideology, or about traveling, about being on the run, about emotion, and fear, and love -- even if the rest of it is vacant, that one authentic trait can make it rise up because viewers will walk out of it and say, "That was a movie about [SUBJECT]. Finally, somebody made a great movie about [SUBJECT]."
Just as Saving Private Ryan is a movie about World War II's complexities, The Raid is a movie about punching and kicking's complexities. It is so good at engaging the audience with the punching and kicking that's on display.
The Fountain is a movie about finding immortality in the people we care about. The Raid is a movie about a cop in an Indonesian apartment-block fighting so that he will not die. In fact, his main concern is that he might die, making his counter-argument quite simple. Fight back. His response is physical. His response is elegant. The men fighting him mean to kill him. He must kill them first, or die.
Sucker Punch is a movie about computerized breezes and soapy video cameras following drunk chicks on Halloween. It sounds bad when described like that, rightfully so. The Raid is a movie about killing many murders with guns and combat knives. Its style is exactly one style-unit. In a fight to the death you won't care if somebody is disappointed you don't look good doing it. Know what looks good? Killing many attackers, and fast, looks good. Surviving looks good, man. It's a sub-minimalist film-strip running at 120 frames per second. No moments in the fights are compressed with slow-motion for emphasis -- there is brutal reality in the fights. For emphasis.
The Prestige is a movie about arrogant smart people looking for complex answers. The Raid is a movie about being in many consecutive fights. Each fight influences the next fight. After the bullets are spent, the fighters move to machetes. When the machetes are lost, knives come out. When there's no time to even pick up your knife off the floor, bare hands begin breaking bones. The hero is dead-exhausted by the end of each encounter, perhaps the most unreal thing is that he's able to keep going despite his fatigue. Good stories embrace the real consequences the characters are burdened with. In more common movies, these are usually things like break-ups, or car accidents, or walking on broken glass without shoes. In The Raid, the protagonist's burdens just happen to be fights, their consequences permeating every subsequent event.
Princess Mononoke is a movie about traveling into a deep, vast land fraught with ancient danger. The Raid spends about two actual hours in a building. If it were any longer, nobody would write reviews for it. They would have dry-heaved themselves to death after the hero pins down his final opponent, and drags open his jugular with a fluorescent light-shard as if he were a farmer plowing a stony field during a 7.0 earthquake.
The Raid is violent, but not absurdly so -- it is accurately so. It's emphatic, driving forward because the scenario demands it, not because it intends to be appealing. The stunning fight-work does not give off a choreographed scent. No, the smell is desperation. The protagonist's intent is to inflict as much pain and damage onto his attackers as quickly as possible. There are many of them and only one of him. He must do this, no matter how startling it may appear. You'll be in awe as you watch, choking amazement becoming a knot in your stomach, becoming actual, physical weariness. Then it ends at precisely the right moment.
This kind of movie could not have been made in America.* It's too real. It's not too realistic, American movies are good at making things look realistic, no, The Raid is too real. There is too much full-speed stunt-work, reminding us how much slow-motion is leaned upon to make something look like what somebody imagines it looks like, rather than veil what a real punch to the face looks like. This is the single best movie about an expert fighting for his life in very threatening surroundings. It's a professional doing his job and having a very bad day.
* Apparently there is an American remake in the works.
-- @Alex Crumb (originally published 8/29/13)