Monday, April 2, 2012

More (cross-cultural) thoughts on "The Raid"

Just a couple of things I wanted to add to my previous review of Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid.

* Read the subtitles of this film, and it's not shy on swear words. There are plenty of f-words, and at least one c-word. But if you happen to speak Indonesian as well, you'll notice that there's no such thing actually spoken - I didn't make out any Indonesian words that were actually that dirty. Indonesian has swear words, of course, but you don't often see them in movies. A lot of the flavour of Bahasa Indonesia is in the tone and expressiveness of those whose speak it, rather than the words themselves, and so the English translation tries to capture those emotions in words, rather than letting the tone do the work.

So when a character says "Step back!" sternly to his subordinate, the subtitle reads "Step the fuck back!" and so on.

The rudest Indonesian words I noticed were bangsat (bastard), which was translated as the c-bomb by the subtitlers, and anjing (dog), which seemed to take on several different meanings, including "fuck you!"

* By contrast to a lot of the reviews going around which are hailing this as one of the greatest action movies of recent years, respected US critic Roger Ebert panned it and gave it one star in this review.
Now, opinions are opinions; I have a lot of respect for Ebert and can't complain if something is not to his taste. What did interest me though were a few lines in the review that puzzled me and seem to show a US-centric perspective on the world. That's interesting to me because so much of how we evaluate things is due to our upbringing, culture and vantage point. He says:

"What country are we in? The movie never tells us. (It was filmed in Indonesia.) Establishing Rama as a Muslim seems pointless, except as a cheap fakeout in character development."

What country are we in? It's interesting that a reviewer would write such a thing, because consider this: do most American movies need to state that they take place in the USA? Sometimes they might state the city, but certainly not always. So why must a movie that is made in Indonesia, and in which the characters are clearly Indonesian and speak Indonesian, point out that it is taking place in Indonesia?

The Muslim thing is also odd. Given that 90% of Indonesians are Muslim, and it's widely known as the world's most populous Islamic-majority country, why wouldn't it show that the main character is a Muslim? Given that the opening sequence shows Rama, up before dawn, preparing himself for the gruelling day ahead, what is odd about seeing him praying? If anything, it just shows him as a spiritual man of good character, who as any religious person would, seeks divine strength for the risky business that awaits him.

That praying scene can be read in another way, though. While it shows the main protagonist as a devout Muslim, it is a minor detail overall. Yet in the current global climate, is writer-director making a statement by having Western audiences cheer for a Muslim hero? I'm reminded of the brilliant series The Wire, in which perhaps its most beloved character is Omar, a fearless stick-up guy who just happens to be gay. His sexuality is just a minor background detail, as you could argue Rama's religion is in The Raid, as if to remind us that people are so much more than whatever category they belong to.


  1. I 100% agree with you about Roger Ebert review for this movie

  2. hahaahahha. I haven't seen the movie. I only just heard about it yesterday, but I totally agree with you too about it being set in Indonesia - duh.

    As for the opening scene with prayer...isn't that similar to how American movies often start with the characters rushing through Starbucks? i.e. a standard morning ritual that people do in their respective countries. duh (again).

  3. Totally agree about the review!!