I can’t recommend The Raid: Redemption.  It’s an Indonesian action movie that has won some acclaim internationally.  I watched it because I’d seen Merantau, by the same director (Gareth Evans) and starring the same actor (Iko Uwais).  Merantau wasn’t bad if you are a martial arts fan: the production quality was high and the pencak silat was great.  Silat is the Nusantara’s indigenous martial art and it draws on Islam for its spiritual discipline in the same way that the more famous martial arts of Northeast Asia do with Buddhism.  Merantau has several memorable fight scenes including an extended duel in an elevator that shows off silat’s close, compact fighting style well. The crowded alleys of Jakarta and the hillside kampongs made good backdrops too.  The plot was predictable and the acting strictly average but you could forgive it that if you came for the silat.

So when I heard The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan Maut) was even better I gave it a chance, hoping they’d stepped up the plot and the acting. They … went in a different direction. The plot was a 30-second contrivance to set up an hour and a half of grisly non-stop murder and mayhem inside a broken-down Jakarta tenement.   It was truly gruesome, with a lot of the open hand stuff replaced with gun, knife and machete slaughter.  Even my 14-year-old boy was disgusted, though I confess we both sat it through to the end.

What struck me though were the subtitles.  The sergeant says “Diam!” and the subtitles read “Shut the %&$* up!”  Diam just means quiet, nothing more. The hero calls the villain “Anjing!” and the subtitles read “%&$* you, you #*%!”  Anjing just means dog, the same word for dog you’d see in a see-the-dog-run children’s book.  And it was just relentless: the subtitles were inserting all this vile English profanity that just wasn’t there in the Indonesian.  Here was the goriest, most brainless bloodbath of a movie, and no one uttered a four-letter word.

Maybe I missed a few, since the movie was in rapid-fire Indonesian.  But the more I thought about it, I realized, in the nearly ten years I’ve been here, I’ve never heard a single word of profanity uttered in Bahasa Malaysia.  I’ve seen people get angry, get frustrated, suffer an injury, but I’ve never heard them curse.  I know the words exist, I know what they are, but I’ve never heard them used.  I know, I know: I’m a boring middle-aged homebody with religious proclivities.  I’m sure if I hung out with glue-sniffing teenagers under the bridge it would be different.  But I think it is fair to say that vulgarity and profanity are simply not as pervasive and accepted as they are back in the States. 

But so yeah, I can’t recommend The Raid.  If martial arts aren’t your thing but you want to try some Indonesian cinema, 9 Naga (Nine Dragons) was good.  Watch that instead.  Of course, I'm not really very knowledgable about local films.  Next up for me is Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa.  Any good? If you have recommendations for Malaysian or Indonesian cinema, I’d like to hear them.

Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

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  1. As a foul-mouthed American, I must say I didn't even notice that there were profanities.  I think subtitlers take a lot of liberties with swearing in general – German movies tend to use a context-appropriate word in lieu of the single swear word that Germans seem to use for almost everything.  On Deadwood the writers specifically used modern profanity so that, even if it wasn't period appropriate, it would have similar connotations.  I think the goal is usually less faithfulness than it is cultural appropriateness for the target audience.
    Mostly, I was just pleased to see silat used in a film (Merantau's the only other film I've seen that used it).  And the film was openly attempting to make a film in the style of early John Carpenter, so I didn't have too much to complain about.
    Also, I seem to recall you being a participant in a gruesome cinematic Jarts murder yourself…

  2. Hiya Padgett!  Everything good?

    You're totally right, and I wasn't criticizing the translator so much as marvelling more at how much more profanity is needed to hit the same emotional pitch in English. 

    Silat is an awesome martial art – to me what sets it apart at least visually is all that knee-work.  Everything is at this very low bent-knee stance.  The Malays call it kuda-kuda – "horse stance".  Hopefully the Raid's success will bring more attention to it and to local cinema in general. 

  3. Yep, everything's good here.  Though, reading that you have a 14 year old boy makes me feel very, very old.
    And, yes.  We are a violent and profane people.  I happened to read an article recently about the difference between American and English swearing.  It made the point that the English tend to use swearing as an opportunity to be very creative and descriptive, but for Americans, all swearing has the threat of forthcoming violence.
    Anyway, yes, silat seems to have a lot of focus on elbow and knee work, even more than muay thai.  As an old man whose knees complain after a few flights of stairs, it looks incredibly painful.  Maybe at some point we'll get an international release of a silat film that isn't made by a Welsh carpetbagger.

  4. I haven't seen The Raid yet. The trailer left me both impressed (great fight choreography, looks very realistic) and disturbed (so damn violent, and again very realistic). Despite my not-so-sure-I-want-to-see-that-level-of-violence feeling, I'm probably going to be less disappointed than you were, because I already know it's basically a 90-minute battle (there's a plot?).
    As for silat, yeah it's pretty impressive in some ways. But when I watch that elevator scene in Merantau I can't help but think (coming from a judo background) that both of those guys wasted a lot of energy and a lot of opportunities. 

  5. He watches some pretty violent stuff for a kid his age (well, Power Rangers and Ultraman anyway), but I don't think I'll let him watch this. I'm ALREADY parrying blows to the head, haha. And you should see his flying armbar!

  6. Bingregory, I am a native Indonesian speaker and I’ve been in English schools for 8 years. Depending on the intonation, “diam” can be as profane as shut the f*** up. and yes, “anjing” literally means dog. but it is often used to insult people too, VERY PROFANE depending on the context and intonation. I’m just saying 🙂

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