Director: Ching Siu Tung, Tsui Hark
Writer: Tsui Hark, Yuen Kai-Chi
Cast: Dean Shek Tien, Fennie Yuen, Jacky Cheung, Tony Leung, Joyce Godenzi, Paul Chu Kong, Corey Yuen, Lau Siu Ming, Kei Gwong Hung, Chiu Man Yan, Liu Fan, Shut Mei Yee
Running Time: 100 min.
By Kyle Warner
Beyond a title that may confuse less-informed film fans interested in Asian cinema, The Raid has absolutely nothing in common with the Gareth Evans films of the same name. So, let’s get that out of the way right now. Instead, Tsui Hark’s The Raid has more in common with Hark’s most recent adventure, The Taking of Tiger Mountain. Like that film, The Raid is based on popular source material written in 1950s (a comic book, in this case), revolutionary soldiers are the good guys, Tony Leung Ka-fai plays an outrageously evil villain, big set pieces are the name of the game, and it skirts politics in favor of adventurous thrills at nearly every turn.
It’s a time of oppression in Manchuria during the 1930s, and Emperor Pu Yi has aligned himself with the cruel Japanese Commander Masa (Tony Leung Ka-fai) and Yoshiko Kawashima (Joyce Godenzi) to create weapons that will shake the world. One such weapon is a poison gas, which they intend to use to wipe out their opposition. Dr. Choy (Dean Shek), a retired soldier who now works as a village doctor, learns about the poison gas and tries to join the revolutionary soldiers in their attempts to locate and destroy Commander Masa’s weapons factory. Dr. Choy is told he’s too old, though, and is turned away. Driven by patriotism and annoyance at the younger generations, Dr. Choy goes off on his own, soon proving himself to be a hero of the resistance.
Along the way, Dr. Choy runs into a colorful assortment of characters, including idiotic gangsters Bobo Bear (Jacky Cheung) and Brother Big Nose (Corey Yuen). Shifting alliances and knowing who stands with whom is a big part of The Raid, but the film goes for humor in these situations instead of paranoia and dramatic tension. The comedy is actually funny, too, often based around elaborate misunderstandings. While things are kept light in the dialogue scenes, the action is often surprisingly violent and bloody. This shift of tone may throw some viewers, however those familiar with Hong Kong cinema’s particular styles and indulgences should feel right at home.
The Raid marks the final screen appearance of actor and producer Dean Shek (A Better Tomorrow II), who would retire after this film at the age of 42. Shek is really good here, acting as the story’s backbone. He’s assisted by a strong cast, with each performer giving amusing and charming performances. Jacky Cheung and Corey Yuen are especially likable as a pair of morally ambiguous thugs caught in the middle of the revolution.
As mentioned earlier, The Raid is based on a popular comic book from the 1950s. If you didn’t know that going in, you’ll figure it out pretty quickly as the film can’t help but remind you every 15 minutes. The film’s opening credits are done in an animated comic book style, which is cool, but I think the filmmakers kept it going a bit too long. Scene transitions frequently include the flipping of the page, like we’re going to the next chapter of the comic. Some of these transitions replace the actors with animated versions of themselves for a brief moment. The effect is reminiscent of an 80’s music video. It’s stylish but ultimately unnecessary and maybe a little bit much.
The Raid is co-directed by Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-tung (Duel to the Death) but this feels like a Tsui Hark film all the way. For fans of Hark, almost every scene reminds you of why you love the guy. For Hark’s detractors, The Raid isn’t going to help change your mind about the director. Tsui Hark’s stylish visuals, coupled with a goofy screenplay (attributed to Hark and Yuen Kai-chi) and some messy subtitles on the Well Go USA DVD make for an occasionally dizzying film experience.
The film is available on DVD in the US thanks to Well Go USA. While the print has some dirt on it, I thought that the picture quality was really good. For audio we get 5.1 and 2.0 Cantonese tracks. Sadly the subtitles could use some work, as they’re full of typos, which I think is rare for a Well Go USA release. The only special features are trailers.
The Raid is a crowd-pleasing adventure, one that’s funny and exciting in almost equal measure. It’s not particularly deep but it’s a whole lot of fun. Fans of Tsui Hark that missed the movie before are in for a treat.
Kyle Warner’s Rating: 8/10