By Joshua Price
Given that March 1st is St. David’s Day, it seemed fitting to have some kind of Welsh theme running through this month’s movie selection. Sadly, though, there are only so many things one can say about How Green Was My Valley and most of those are related to why it did not deserve to win Best Picture against Citizen Kane. But, as far as modern Welsh filmmakers go, there is one name that springs to mind – one who has introduced the world to an entire sub-genre of films and has brought forward two of the finest action films in recent memory.
In 2011, Gareth Evans burst onto the mainstream scene with his Indonesian action film, The Raid. I can safely say that if you want deep characters or a complex story then The Raid will not deliver on that front – but that is one of the films strengths. It cuts past the standard, formulaic clichés in favour of the action, which is superbly done. In fact, it is difficult to emphasise in words how amazing Evans’ direction is – how he shoots and how he composes his action scenes.
Instead of numbing the scene with shaky cams and fast edits, Evans employs long, sweeping shots, wide angles and real martial artists often performing in a single take. Not only does it give the action a grounded and visceral sense but it injects an air of unspoken tension to the scene and the movie as a whole. Nothing about the action is suggestive, either. Evans displays a mastery of visual storytelling as he conveys every detail of the action seamlessly in a violent but breath-taking display. With all his actors fully trained, the choreography behind every fight scene is stunning to behold.
The lack of characterisation actually ends up playing to the films strengths (when it comes to the immediacy of each fight scene). For the majority of the film, you don’t know whether or not the character you are watching is expendable. It is an action film where the viewer can not only become invested within each burst of excitement, but feel a genuine sense of ongoing tension because the characters in question have a good chance of not making it out alive.
The sequel, with the higher budget and bigger scope, is even better. Once again, Evans directs and though The Raid 2 is not quite as grounded or contained as the first, it is infinitely more ambitious. The fact that Evans is able to handle such a wide array of action scenes set in such a wild variety of environments while still maintaining that excellent directorial skill is truly impressive.
As with the first, the action scene choreography is brilliantly executed. The vast improvement comes from the camera movement in the sequel, which is on an entirely different level. The shots are all composed with precision, scope and stunning clarity. Each moment of action has a striking impact but is never difficult to follow; it has a pulsating rhythm which is constantly on the move, due to the frantic energy of the camera.
The sequel does attempt to inject a bit of drama into proceedings. It is for this reason that The Raid 2 is less of an adrenaline rush than the first and more of a carefully constructed piece of filmmaking – at least until the action kicks in. From that point on, The Raid 2 is filled with all of the adrenaline fuelled mayhem of the first. The main difference? With a bigger budget and higher ambitions Evans let his imagination run wild, spawning inventive scenarios and memorable characters.
If you are tired of tensionless action and films that have little or no edge, then The Raid series may be the perfect cure. They are visceral, masterful and quite simply exhilarating on every level.