by James Killough
When a movie you’ve never heard of—starring actors you’ve never heard of, either, whose names suggest they might be speaking a language many time zones removed from English—is playing on four screens at the Arclight Hollywood, the best movie theater in the world, damn it, then it gets my attention.
When this same film, The Raid: Redemption, has an eight-point-five rating on the IMDb and a whopping ninety-four percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, then it is time to book my favorite seat, C 22, in the middle of the handicapped section without reading another word about it, not even a synopsis.
It’s just as well I got the extra legroom because I needed it to squirm and thrash properly. I know I said “whoa!” a couple of times, uttered “holy shit,” “wow,” “awesome!” at least one time each, and bellowed “bravo!” at the end of the climatic fight sequence as I joined the rest of the audience in thunderous mid-movie applause. And I never talk during a film, unless it’s to tell someone else to shut up.
Indonesian isn’t the most pleasant-sounding language in the world, and it’s a little comical for a martial-arts film, which is better suited to the swooshing lyrical tones of Chinese and Japanese, or the gruff manic machismo of Korean. It sounds like coconuts being turned into popcorn. Given that you need a while to get used to the language and take its speakers seriously— and this is an extremely earnest good-vs-evil film—it’s just as well that The Raid takes its time to buildup before it explodes into a shit storm in the second act.
In the opening, we follow the morning routine of a pious rookie cop, Rama (Iko Uwais) as he rises at dawn to say his prayers, practices on the punching bag, says good-bye to the pregnant wife, and then mounts an armored vehicle to join his colleagues for an assault on the fortress of a sadistic, omnipotent crime lord located in a fifteen-story tenement high rise.
From then the plot carries on much the way you would expect it to, with as many surprises, betrayals and impossible situations as a well-designed video game. The violence is extreme, but never unpleasant, as if balancing on the edge of one of the multitude of razor-sharp machetes that whir and slice through the blaze of action.
As Rain Li once said to me when I suggested we prepare an Indian and Chinese meal together, “I hate fusion.” And that’s the first thing that came to my mind when watching The Raid: this isn’t an Asian perspective. If it is, it’s a fused, highly westernized one, like Ang Lee’s. Indeed, once I scurried home to look up the credits and more about Gareth Evans, the film’s writer-director-editor, it appears that the twenty-seven-year-old was born and raised in Wales, but now calls Indonesia home. In this case, the marriage of east and west is one of the films strengths.
Even if you aren’t into martial arts films, you should see The Raid. It is an epic, vicious ballet like nothing I have seen before. This is not just because of the way it is filmed and paced, or because of the staggeringly innovative ways of killing and maiming, but because it is a breathtaking demonstration of a particular form of Southeast Asian martial arts, silat. It’s akin to seeing krumping for the first time when all you’ve ever known is normal hip hop dancing.
Speaking of dancing, the music by Joseph Trapanese deserves special mention: badass industrial thrash something; I have no idea what I’m talking about. All I know is it almost puts Trent Reznor’s for Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to shame.
If Evans isn’t being courted by every major studio right now, I’ll not only be a monkey’s uncle, I’ll don a frock and be his aunt, too. The man has a unique vision, a natural gift for cinematic language, framing, lighting, pathos, tension, and exacts utterly believable performances from non-actors—he discovered Iko Uwais, a telecom worker, while making a documentary about silat in 2007. I would be sick with envy for Evans’ talent if I weren’t already glowing with admiration. He has the potential to make blockbusters that are not only commercially successful, but not at all crap. Evans reminds me of Guillermo del Toro, and I believe he will have a similar career path.
This is hands-down the most exciting film I’ve seen all year. For Evan’s manifest love of detail, his precocious skills, the film’s singular vision, and its fresh take on a tired genre, I give it a:
But, James, you ask while you load stereotypes into your playlist and set them to repeat. How can a Ghey be into martial arts?
In truth, I loved martial arts as a kid. There were many characters I became when I walked the dogs at night, each of them a world-saving messianic type who was a misunderstood loner kid by day, but who just had to utter a word when a crisis erupted and he was transformed into these powerful forces of good, one of which was a sort of living Swiss Army knife of all possible martial arts, from kendo to kung fu. In other words, I was just a regular boy like my straight counterparts.
It is because of this that I appreciated The Raid so much, and didn’t appreciate Carson Daly’s rather puerile imagined scenario the other day on TMZ. Daly said he was glad the JetBlue flight, on which pilot Clayton Osbon had a psychotic break, was headed to a security industry conference in Las Vegas and wasn’t full of Gheys en route to San Francisco for Pride. Listen to this:
At first I thought, if I were on air all the time, both on TMZ and as host of The Voice, I’d probably make some goofy comment like that, and get away with it because I’ve fellated and sodomized enough men in my life that I could easily tell the Swish Inquisition, a.k.a. GLAAD, to go stuff it and not apologize as profusely as Daly did afterwards. But then I reconsidered: No, I wouldn’t ever say something because it’s not the way I perceive my brothers and sisters of the Rainbow Tribe, much less myself, so it just wouldn’t come to mind. It’s inexcusable, apology not accepted, Carson.
In fact, as every Ghey knows, the queenier you are, the tougher and more courageous you behave when threatened. If you survived the bullying and the bashing, both physical and mental, into adulthood then you’re not going to be afraid to bitch slap an hysterical straight pilot to his senses.
Another thing that immediately sprang to mind was, of course, Mark Bingham, the gay muscle bear onboard Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, who led the charge again the terrorists. In response to the Daly scandal, Bingham’s mother wrote in a letter to TMZ, “No one among his pick-up team of fellow passengers was asking, ‘Are you straight? Are you gay?’”
I couldn’t help but click on a Gawker story entitled “Self-Driving Car Gives Blind Man Freedom of Travel, Cruelly Takes Him to Taco Bell.” You can tell the median age at Gawker when they describe Steve Mahan as “a soft-spoken old man rocking an adorable newsboy cap.” Regardless, he’s quite spritely for being both blind and elderly.
Maybe it’s my own years catching up with me, but I found this video to be quite moving, forgive the pun:
Everyone in my life I can think of is looking forward to the day that I get a self-driving car. The person who taught me to drive, my mother, calls me Toadie, after the reckless speed demon Toad of Toad Hall from Wind in the Willows. Nowadays I’m more like Mr. Magoo with the bald head and daffy humor.
In more ageist news, Madonna, who is now reinvented as the more Twitter-ish MDNA, did something at Miami’s Ultra Music Festival she would have easily gotten away with twenty years ago, but it appears the times have become more puritanical and decidedly un-cool. When introducing the DJ Avicii, she yelled to the audience, “How many of you have seen Molly tonight?” The Molly she was referring to is a common code name for Ecstasy and its parent drug MDMA, which gives her new Twitter-ish moniker something of a knowing wink.
DJ Paul van Dyk, who is no spring chicken himself seeing as he was spinning when I was rolling on E at raves as far back as the end of last century (his reported age is forty-one), lashed out at Madonna. “I don’t think she was thinking much, ” van Dyk said. “The only thing she was probably thinking was, ‘I need to connect with a young crowd,’ and she made the biggest mistake of her career.”
Oh fucking please, Paul. The biggest mistake of her career? Now who’s the one on drugs? If only we all made so many successful ‘mistakes.’ And your entire genre of music is built on drugs. You sound like Bob Marley coming out against smoking pot.
Van Dyk’s fellow electronic dance music producer, the equally sanctimonious Deadmau5, had previously called Madonna a “fucking idiot,” and then later clarified in a blog post that she had simply behaved irresponsibly. MDMA herself replied to him on Twitter that she was just referring to a friend’s song called ‘Molly,’ but unfortunately the song is also about E, so I guess it’s more of the same old hypocrites versus liars game, which nobody ever wins.
The best candidate for Schizo of the Week was an enormous black woman or tranny (I couldn’t tell) on the corner of Santa Monica and Highland a couple of days ago. She was dressed like a garish Tim Burton-esque citizen of The Capitol in The Hunger Games and was bellowing songs at the top of her lungs while perched improbably on a fire hydrant. Her brightly striped thighs, each the thickness of my torso, flopped over the sides as she waved her candy-cane curved-nail hands in the air conducting herself. I couldn’t get off my bike and take a picture at that moment, but Lady Schizo Frenia, I salute you.
She shares this week’s award with the liberal Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, who was fired today from Al Gore’s Current TV, apparently for being a general feral cunt nobody could tolerate any more. Keith doesn’t seem to get it, however, and despite having been fired three times already in equally dramatic fashion, is going to sue Gore & Company.
For someone who is so articulate on TV, seemingly so knowledgeable, I have to say that of all the Twitter feeds I follow, Olbermann’s is the least comprehensible. I thought it was just me, but now that I think about it, his tweets are an example of thought disorder, a primary “positive” symptom of schizophrenia. His behavior over the years indicates he’s also pretty delusional, another primary symptom. So, all kidding aside, if the guy has a third symptom—say, hallucinations—he’s the real deal. I’m calling him at least schizotypal even without knowing if he has his own imaginary friend.
Olbermann is to be replaced by my sweetheart and hero, Eliot Spitzer. I shall watch the program now.