Critiquing martial arts films is just like critiquing films in any other genre, or the actual practice of martial arts itself -do it for long enough and you start to recognize patterns, styles, and artistic choices. We lovers of action and adventure can certainly point to countless martial arts films that have made a lasting impact on the genre, but there’s one in recent years that continues to serve as a beacon of influence for action directors around the world to this day. Of course, I’m talking about “The Raid”.
Arriving on cinema screens in 2012, “The Raid” took no prisoners and became an instant classic, with many critics declaring it the best martial arts action thriller in years. Two years later, “The Raid 2” arrived to raise the action bar even further, now the world eagerly awaits the arrival of the third instalment, said to be landing in 2018 or 2019. There’s no denying that Gareth Evans and his dynamic trio of Silat masters, Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, and Cecep Arif Rahman, have created two outstanding films which (looking back on again decades from now) will still likely be remembered as among the foremost, pioneering and best martial arts films of the times.
Of course, I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know. However, what hasn’t been discussed to nearly as great an extent is how much “The Raid” and its sequel have become the definitive influence on contemporary fight choreography, specifically in three key ways. So fasten your seatbelts dear readers and let’s storm through the different ways in which “The Raid” became THE fight movie game changer!
1. It made fast, brutal and savage action the new norm:
Now, fight sequences where the audience feels the impact of each hit and wince as heavy, powerful strikes land is nothing new. It goes all the way back to the days of “Enter the Dragon”, and if that’s the reaction you’re getting, it’s a sure sign that your movie is connecting with the viewer on a visceral level. However, “The Raid” took that long-running approach and added something new to the mix-it re-stylized the action taking place onscreen into something more akin to a horror movie!
In those clips from the film above, you’ll notice that Gareth Evans has specifically designed the film to carry an aura of dread, foreboding and spine-tingling fear straight out of either a haunted house or a zombie movie, things that numerous critics likened the film to.
From the moment the action kicks into high gear, you’re genuinely worried about what sort of horrible death or bodily mutilation the film is going to assault your eyes with. It’s rare for any character’s demise, or even any non-lethal punishment they endure to be anything less than shockingly gruesome. If that sounds an awful lot like last year’s “Redeemer”, that’s because Marko Zaror and director Ernesto Diaz Espinoza clearly had “The Raid” at the fore of their minds.
Take a look at that clip, and you’ll quickly notice how much “Redeemer” is on par with “The Raid” for dispatching enemies in a manner that would make Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees feel like he’s not trying hard enough! That leads straight into something that plays into this very point -namely, that “The Raid” reintroduced knife fighting into mainstream martial arts cinema (no pun intended!).
We see knives and police batons put to work as the melee weapons of choice throughout the film, and lo and behold, last year’s “SPL 2: A Time for Consequences” would do the very same thing. While it’s also an homage to a similar fight between Wu Jing and Donnie Yen in the original “SPL”, take a look at how it plays out in the sequel and it becomes clear that “The Raid” was the star they were shooting for.
Of course with all that being said, no one’s quite yet attempted anything with knives on the level of the incredible kitchen battle in “The Raid 2”, which probably remains the best knife fight ever put to film, so far that is. Give it time though and of course that’s bound to happen.
2. It made the scenario and the environment more dramatic:
As Michael Jai White has observed, fight scenes are at their most compelling when they tell a story that gels. I’ve always found that one of the most effective ways to achieve that is having your characters placed in situations where there’s some kind of secondary challenge or obstacle beyond merely the opponents they’re fighting at the time.
One of my favourite examples of this is in the “Indiana Jones” movies, which constantly forced Indy to battle with opponents while simultaneously juggling something else threatening to put an end to him. Like say, spinning propeller blades or a conveyor belt leading straight into a rock grinder.
In the case of “The Raid”, Gareth Evans took the horror movie approach and applied it to fight choreography, with our heroes forced to navigate the tenement building they’re invading without raising the attention of the hundreds of psychos and killers that call the place home. And of course that means that when they fail to stay under the radar, they have to dispatch their foe as quickly as possible before more enemies arrive to take them down.
“The Raid 2” would further expand upon this idea by placing Rama (played by IkoUwais) in situations such as having to battle a swarm of foes in the narrow confines of a bathroom stall, or having to protect another inmate besides himself during a prison riot where all combatants are ankle deep in mud.
Taking another look at “SPL 2” we see that “The Raid 2” clearly inspired it in this aspect as well by both placing the first major fight sequence in tight confines and setting another major action sequence right in the middle of a chaotic prison riot.
But wait a minute -a disadvantaged hero having to navigate multiple opponents within narrow confines? That also sounds an awful lot like the incredible one-shot hallway fight in the first season of the acclaimed Marvel Netflix series “Daredevil”, does it not?
Joking aside, it’s impossible to deny the influence that “The Raid” had on that amazing fight sequence, in which The Man Without Fear must face down half a dozen opponents while nursing three cracked ribs and a knife wound, and all the more so because showrunner Steven DeKnight explicitly identifies it as such!
In fact, one of the more unexpected influences of “The Raid” is how much it’s impacted fight choreography in superhero films, but we’ll get to that in a moment. There’s also something else to consider here; namely that Gareth Evans’ approach to designing fight sequences is that the environment the characters inhabit is itself a weapon.
Remember that poor sap who gets his throat slashed wide open on the jagged edge of the broken doorway? Or the guy Rama uses as a human mattress to survive his dive out of the window? In addition, who can forget the gentleman who gets his head smashed into the wall over and over like a watermelon? Virtually every film influenced by “The Raid” in its fight choreography pulls this trick of characters turning the very world around them into a bludgeoning weapon. This is something you can also clearly spot in the trailer for the Bollywood martial arts thriller “Baaghi”, (just released late last month) check out the trailer below if you want further proof.
3. It turned the idea of “raiding” into a great premise:
The premise of “The Raid” is simplicity itself – an Indonesian SWAT team invades a tenement house lorded over by one of Jakarta’s major crime bosses and when their cover is blown, they find themselves in a battle for their very own lives against hundreds of criminals, psychos and killers that call the building home.
The idea of one or more heroes battling their way through multiple levels of enemies had its seed planted in Bruce Lee’s “Game of Death”, but Gareth Evans and co. set out to finish what Bruce started and gave it some serious polish. It’s that simplicity which made the film such a rollercoaster ride for action lovers around the globe and also what lends the film to being such an influence on action directors in its wake.
This premise is something that could easily be implemented into both a singular action sequence as well as being the nucleus of an entire film. That’s exactly how the finale of “SPL 2” plays out -our two heroes “raiding” the bad guy’s HQ to get to the big boss at the top. As a bonus, the end fight turns out as a two-on-one duel against an unrelenting, oriental terminator-beast of martial arts, but you can make that side-by-side comparison for yourself.
Here’s where the impact “The Raid” has had on superhero fights really becomes apparent. The hallway fight in the first season of “Daredevil” is a clear example but if you’ve seen season two, you already know that it did exactly that once again. The intriguing reversal being that this time it’s the bad guys doing the raiding while the hero has to stand his ground.
However, Marvel isn’t alone in looking to “The Raid” as a source of inspiration for superhero action. DC clearly holds it in the same high regard, as any regular viewers of “Arrow” can attest. The fight choreography of the show as a whole is clearly taking its cue from “The Raid” films, but the hallway fight in season one’s episode “The Undertaking” is where that’s simply undeniable.
The superhero genre would also see another fight sequence in the vein of “The Raid” emerge in Batman’s warehouse fight in the recent “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”.
Anyone who’s ever wanted to see the Dark Knight’s fighting style in the “Batman: Arkham Asylum” games brought to life on the big screen certainly had their wish granted here, but it’s also impossible to deny that this fight sequence was akin to seeing Batman in “The Raid”. No wonder then that it’s by far Batman’s best fight scene to date -and Zack Snyder says there will be even more to it in the upcoming director’s cut. Let’s just hope Batman’s appearance in “Suicide Squad” unleashes a similar (or even surpassing) epic, heavyweight superhero duel!
So there you have it, the three key ways in which “The Raid” films have completely changed how martial arts fights are done on the big screen. Will “The Raid 3” make the impact the series has had even greater? Time will tell, but it’s a pretty safe bet that we can predict that to be in the affirmative -assuredly some (ahem) scorching combat sequences are simmering under the lid right about now!