When Colin Geddes - TIFF programmer and one time originator of Toronto film-geek institution Kung Fu Fridays - selected an Asian martial arts film to open the Midnight Madness programme this year, clever heads took note. For the past few years Geddes has programmed either raucous Canadiana like 2010's opener Fubar 2 or huge-profile films like Borat or Jennifer's Body. So when that coveted slot is given over to a film that's square in his personal geek-out wheelhouse, you know you're likely gonna get something special.
Thankfully, Welshman Gareth Huw Evans' Indonesian action epic The Raid is that something special. It's a gnarly, frantic freakout launched on the flimsiest of premises - a team of SWAT-types (including star Iko Uwais) try and storm the castle of a local crimelord, who resides on the 15th floor of a decrepit building filled with assorted bad dudes and rude crudes itching to gain their boss' favour by delivering him a cop's head. There's fighting. A lot of it.
What makes the film work is the combination of the native Indonesian martial art (silat, which seems to have been designed to brutally answer questions like "why do kung fu guys flap around so much when they could just pick a dude up and smash his dome on the ground nine times?") frenetically and liberally applied by a talented performer, and a director who knows not only how to stage his intricate action pieces, but how to cut them together, as well.
It's delightfully old-fashioned, seeming to come from a distant much-loved time before the Jason Bourne movies turned the beloved genre institution of two dudes wailing on each other in a room into the confusing, nauseating shaky-cam action sequences that fill up too many mainstream action movies recently.
The film is divided into a series of discrete battles - my screening partner and I both individually were reminded of the Nintendo classic "Double Dragon" - each staged in a space whose dimensions are clear - no wobbly asymmetrical battlefields here.
The action is fast, furious, breath-taking and designed to be entertaining, to be the point, as it were, rather than stylish, confusing chaos. Which is a complicated way of not quite managing to say it's hilariously violent, fast and furious and innovative as hell in the ways that dudes get to dispatching each other. If you've ever liked a kung fu movie, you'll like this. As if my recommendation was worth a tenth of the maestro Geddes'.
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