What has happened to the action movie?
When I was younger, action movies were my favorite. I still remember “The Matrix” and “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” shattering my world. I couldn’t believe how cool they were. I watched those movies every day for weeks or even months.
Where are the good action movies now? “The Expendables”? A bunch of old men referencing movies they were in during the ’80s, doing things they aren’t physically capable of? I can’t remember the last time an action-movie trailer got me wanting to watch a movie.
Action movies have become as stale as the romantic-comedy genre. But there is hope. Action movies can be good again, and I have proof: the 2011 Indonesian film “The Raid.”
I’m not sure where to even begin talking about this movie; thinking about it, I get excited like a little boy seeing “The Matrix” for the first time. I’ll start with the plot.
The story couldn’t be more straightforward, more easy to follow or more awesome. “The Raid” follows a police special-response team that’s about to go after one of the biggest crime lords in the country. This crime lord resides at the top floor of an apartment complex full of his own personal soldiers. The mission for the police is simple: fight their way through the tenement until they reach the top.
It goes smoothly at first. They take out people quietly and start working their way up the complex. But, once the tenants find out the police are there, a huge firefight breaks out that takes out a lot of people, fast.
“The Raid” defies a lot of bad action-film stereotypes to make for a compelling movie. From the beginning, no one is happy about being there. No one is excited about killing bad guys. In fact, everyone is extremely nervous. They know this will be a very stressful situation and it’s treated realistically — no cheesy one-liners, just a bunch of scared people with a job to do.
“The Raid” is also full of the genuine tension so often missing from today’s action films. We honestly don’t know who is going to win, or even who is more prepared for the fight. I like to compare “The Raid” to watching a chess match. We see two players, both with pawns (easy to kill soldiers, the first to go) on both sides, and more complex pieces. Each team has a queen. On the good side is our main character; he is clearly the strongest of the team and can do the most. On the bad side is our main villain, Mad Dog Grimes, a ruthless murderer whose fighting is amazing to watch.
Then we have our kings; on the good side is the team leader in charge of the mission. On the bad side is the crime lord the team is there for. If either one dies, the mission is over. Then there are the rest of the pieces, which are the other specialty characters, like the snipers and the machete wielding tenant with the crazy eyes. Every time a piece is lost on either side we are forced as an audience to assess who is winning and what the other side can do to make up for its loss. You rarely feel that level of tension in an action movie.
“The Raid” makes you nervous because it shatters another stereotype of action films: It takes itself seriously. Action films today wink at the camera and give you lame humor to make themselves more audience friendly. “The Raid” couldn’t have been more serious, making it a tense drama.
Between intense firefights and hand-to-hand combat, the movie is full of fresh, cool ideas. The final fight with Mad Dog Grimes is the greatest fight in movie history. That’s a bold statement, but it’s one I’ve thought about a lot. Between the incredible moves, powerful emotions and some of the best action directing ever done, this fight is amazing.
“The Raid” also develops emotionally as the story goes on. It starts to become a surprisingly down-to-earth story of brotherhood and redemption. We learn our main character is there to find his brother, who became part of the gang. The way the writer chose to handle this side of the plot is genius. The emotion never feels forced. The brother relationship is a strong centerpiece for the film.
“The Raid” is an extremely gory movie, but if you love action films and that doesn’t bother you, you will love it. It’s a movie full of surprises, intense action and real emotional drama. It’s become one of my all-time favorite films, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too.
• Ryan Chang graduated from Eisenhower High School in June. He has written for the Yakima Herald-Republic’s Unleashed section and is a passionate student of film.