[Welcome to the final entry in Peter’s Kung Fu Corner: a monthly column dedicated to retrospectives on the martial arts films I grew up watching. Having run for four years, it’s time to finally say goodbye to these monthly retrospectives. If you enjoy my work, you can look forward to seeing it in some commercial releases in the future.]
I’ve struggled with figuring out which film I wanted to showcase as the final “Kung Fu Corner” column. This column has meant a lot to me, but as I described a couple of months back, I’ve begun to find work alongside retail releases of films. In 2024 so far, you’ll be able to read my musings on Arrow Video’s release of The Shaolin Plot and Vinegar Syndrome’s release of China O’Brien 1 and 2. I could have never imagined that was possible when I started writing these.
After deliberating for a bit (which is why this column is so late), I landed on The Raid. With Sony Pictures Classics having just released a brand-new 4K remaster of the film with tweaked color grading, I figured I would look back at the film that reacquainted me with martial arts action films after a period where I didn’t watch much of anything.
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Released in 2011, The Raid was almost instantly a mega-hit. Borrowing liberally from the likes of Ong-Bak and S.P.L., The Raid upped the ante when it came to violence and stripped back its plot to the most basic elements so that it could focus on action. Written, directed, and edited by Welsh director Gareth Evans, to say The Raid is one of the most economical films ever is an understatement. It came about because Evans simply did not have the funds to create his true vision, a film that would wind up being The Raid 2.
I didn’t watch The Raid until around 2013, I believe. The date is a little fuzzy, but I had fallen out of hardcore film-watching for a while. Video games are my number one passion, so the era of 2006-2013 was like heaven for me. While my favorite console generation will always be the sixth generation (PS2, GameCube, Xbox), even people who have never engaged with games will likely know how influential and important the seventh generation was (Xbox 360, Wii, PS3).
Anyway, that’s just to say that I had kept myself busy playing games with the occasional film thrown in. Since I had been spending a ton of time at my best friend’s house, his dad and I would often talk about Kung Fu movies and he’d recommend some modern films to me. The one that’s the most relevant here is Merantau, the first collaboration between Evans and martial artist Iko Uwais. That film is even more like Ong-Bak, but it came about after Evans went to Indonesia to make a documentary about the martial art Pencak Silat.
So, after watching that and liking it, my friend’s dad said I should check out The Raid: Redemption. I had balked since that subtitle was so awful, but I was willing to give the movie a shot. Merantau was cool and I found Uwais’ athleticism electrifying, so how bad could this be? As you likely know some 13 years after its release, The Raid would go on to become possibly the most influential action film of the last 15 years. Even more so than the John Wick franchise, The Raid is the blueprint from which all subsequent action films would borrow.
I’ve rewatched the film numerous times over the years and while I do prefer its sequel, one cannot deny how laser-focused The Raid is. It might be simple when it comes to narrative and there is basically zero-character development (unless you want to count Rama having a wife as having a personality), but if you watch action films to primarily see ludicrous stunts and fantastic choreography, The Raid has that in spades.
I think that is what struck me the most the first time I watched this movie. Having long praised the antics and scenarios that Hong Kong action films would casually exhibit, watching The Raid was like seeing Shaw Brothers get ripped into the modern era. There were, of course, some CGI explosions and gunshots, but the actors were all performing their own stunts and the staging for sequences was so visceral that you couldn’t help but wince in pain when watching someone get struck. There is one shot where a dude gets a knife torn through his leg that has been printed in my mind ever since I first saw it. It’s so intense and disturbing, yet like a train crash, I can’t look away.
One of my first ideas after first watching The Raid was that Iko Uwais and Tony Jaa should team up. I figured the two of them could create something magnificent if they were put together. Sadly, that didn’t come to pass as anyone who has read my review of Triple Threat will tell you, but the two have very similar styles and attributes. I still believe they can make something magical if given the right direction and choreography.
More important than even the impact left by The Raid, the film reaffirmed my love of action movies. For a short while in college, I developed this idea that enjoying action movies meant you were dumb. That’s kind of the consensus these films had from professional criticism for years anyway. If you look at reviews from that period, movies like Hero were getting heaps of praise for being visually beautiful, but then Ong-Bak was getting dogged for being mostly a stunt reel. While The Raid would mark a turning point for criticism of action films, I didn’t even care. I loved it and wanted more.
The Raid would reignite my love for martial arts films and I wound up spending nights on Netflix rewatching old Shaw Brothers films. Eventually, I’d start writing this column and then newer Blu-Ray releases would come out, etc. I’ve covered that ground a bunch of times already, but it’s easy to see how influential this particular movie was on me as not only a film enjoyer but a critic. Even while watching the film, I made a comment to my friend who was somehow present in the Roger Ebert review for The Raid. While I thoroughly disagree with Ebert here, it’s hard to deny that Rama having a wife is merely a cheap way to build audience sympathy.
Regardless of some of the complaints that could be lobbied against this film, The Raid remains one of the best pure-action films ever put to film. It’s essentially a riff on Game of Death or Die Hard, but who cares? Most things in life are derivative of other works. If you can take that idea and spin it into something unique, then where’s the harm done? If nothing else, this film will always be important to me for showing me that my love of Kung Fu films wasn’t something to be ashamed of.
If you’d like to read more of Peter’s Kung Fu Corner, you can do so by clicking here.