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Toronto 2011: 'The Raid' Starts Midnight Madness on a Butt-Kicking Note

This movie is a whole mess of bone-crunching, face-pummeling, throat-slicing and fist-pounding awesomeness. The midnight screening had people cheering, wincing and shaking their heads in disbelief.

The Raid Still
Toronto Film Festival

Wow, what a kick-off. Literally and figuratively.

The Raid opened the Midnight Madness portion of the Toronto International Film Festival early Friday, and if you love action movies, you cannot miss this movie.

The film comes from Indonesia and tells the story of a SWAT team that becomes trapped in a tenement run by a ruthless mobster, armed with two highly violent martial arts killers and an army of machete-swinging, machine gun-toting dealers and thugs.

That simple logline betrays all the amazing and inventive sequences using the Indonesian fighting form called silat that were put into this by writer-director Gareth Huw Evans, who’s not even Asian. He’s a Welsh filmmaker that married a woman of Indonesian-Japanese descent and found himself immersed in the Indonesian film scene.

Quite simply, this movie is a whole mess of bone-crunching, face-pummeling, throat-slicing and fist-pounding awesomeness. The midnight screening had people cheering, wincing and shaking their heads in disbelief.

The Toronto event attracted agents and managers scoping out the movie out and Evans, who during the Q&A said his writing process consisted of penning the script in English, having it translated, getting actors to do a read-through, revising it to incorporate Indonesian lingo, then letting actors finding their comfort level with his words.

Fights took two to three months to choreograph and days to shoot. A climactic throw-down between three men in one room took six minutes of screen time but eight days to film. Another sequence, a blood-rushing hallway fight featuring batons and knives and machetes, took a full three days to shoot.

Yells of “Action!” then “Cut!” were sometimes followed by the cry “Medic!” although most injuries were small-scale (though by no means pain-free).

Evans made the Asian action movie Merantau as his first film and many of the team carried over into Raid. Iko Uwais, who speaks no English, starred in both. Yayan Ruhian was a fight choreographer in Merantau but in Raid plays the memorable martial arts maven Mad Dog. One new face, Joe Taslim, was a member of the Indonesdian Judo national team who contacted the director via facebook and wanted to be in a movie.

The audience during the Q&A praised the movie for not having fights be one-sided, or having the good guys come out unscathed, as happens in many other Asian action movies.

And one even praised the filmmakers for making the main character a Muslim action hero. Uwais’ character is shown in the beginning making his prayers but Evans said “there was no political intent. It’s just part of Iko’s culture and part of Indonesia. And it just shows how he mentally prepared for the mission.”

Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions preemptively picked up the domestic rights to the movie but has not yet revealed a release plan.

Email: Borys.Kit@thr.com

Twitter: @Borys_Kit