Action films often play like a parade of clichés. Surprises are few and far between, as even the best genre offerings contain relatively few of them. After all, how many ways can one present a shootout, car chase, or fist fight? If Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans has anything to say about it, the variations on such genre staples are endless. While other filmmakers keep the volume at a moderate level during their jam sessions, Evans prefers turning it up until the knob twists off the receiver. How do I know this? I just watched the insane trailer for his new film The Raid, which is playing at the Toronto international Film Festival this year. The images I saw make me fearful to view the film in its entirety. The sheer action junkie nirvana it induces might be too much for my nervous system to handle.
The story goes something like this: A crime lord turns an apartment building into his own personal fort. He resides on the top floor, and has every square inch of the structure beneath him under tight surveillance. Petty crooks and drug addicts alike are offered asylum within its walls. In return, they act as a collective defense unit. They swarm upon anyone or anything that wanders into their hive with designs on harming the boss. A battalion of 20 SWAT team members attempts to infiltrate this urban fortress and apprehend the man who lords over it. Once they are inside, their simple mission becomes all-out war as the buildings inhabitants take up arms against them.
The premise strings together different plot elements from Die Hard, Hard Boiled, Game of Death and New Jack City. That seemingly contrived combination is right out of the high concept filmmaking playbook. High concept films can be super entertaining if done right, and The Raid looks to be just that. The opening moments of the trailer look like something out of any number of modern urban action thrillers. The milieu is suitably gritty and slummy. Up until the 43 second mark, it’s all fairly standard (though admittedly well done) stuff.
It is at that moment that the building turns the table on the insurgents. Likewise, the trailer also turns on the viewer. Insanity ensues as characters are sprayed with automatic gunfire up close. A SWAT team member claps someone’s dome at point blank range. Various fight scenes are glimpsed that offer a plethora of fighting styles and martial disciplines. Heads are smashed into wall tiles. Squibs pop and burst fireworks. It’s an orgy of action choreography in which all the participants climax at the exact same time and maintain their group orgasm until the film’s title appears onscreen. It unfolds before the viewer like a flurry of stiff punches.
American audiences have been lulled into a deep sleep over the past twenty years by overpriced product that has been refined to the point of impotency. By comparison, The Raid looks like a massive hit of a very powerful drug. This level of purity just might cause those who’ve never had a hit of the real stuff to overdose. If that’s the case, a lot of action fans just might be checking out of this cruel world with a big smile on their faces. Action films, in all of their fury and vitality, are the cinematic equivalent of a controlled substance. Gareth Evans appears to have some real Superfly shit on his hands.