As an aficionado of "barely making sense" and "exotic beatings," there's nothing I love better than a good foreign action movie. But there's just something missing from the modern ones, and I think I've finally pinpointed what that is: They're translated too well. When I got into foreign action movies as a kid in the '90s, subtitling was a job we gave to alcoholic head trauma victims to make them feel useful to society again, or else we shunted the task off to primitive AI bots that would repurpose their spam titles as dialogue. In short, if you were watching a foreign action flick back in the day, that meant spending two hours wading hip deep through impossibly shitty subtitles in order to make a few wild, vague, wholly unsubstantiated guesses as to the nature of the plot. I'm still pretty sure the John Woo classic A Better Tomorrow was a film about a Chinese man with supernatural dominion over pigeons trying to escape the sinister Anti-Sunglasses League.
But these modern films, with their precious "translators" and "understandable human grammar," take all of that magic away and curb-stomp it to death in a filthy alley. And so I have done the horrible and desperate: I have turned to the Internet. Turns out, if you want an unreasonably shitty movie experience based on utter nonsense, where all parties involved with telling you a story hate both you, personally, and the very concept of stories in general, then amateur Internet subtitlists have got your back. I knew I was in good hands when, as I was out scouting for subtitles for The Raid: Redemption, I stumbled across this sub file, with this accompanying screenshot:
And so contented that I had found the worst possible translation of anything, I downloaded the file and settled back with a fine bottle of whiskey and a vintage bag of paint to enjoy two glorious hours of watching Asians beat the shit out of each other for reasons that I have never, nor will ever, comprehend.
The Raid starts with our hero, Rama, praying fervently. The entire opening sequence is poignant, reserved, solemn and dramatic. And it was really starting to harsh my paintbuzz. And then the first line of dialogue popped up ...
... and I knew that the rest of this movie's runtime would be spent chronicling the confused and brutal rampage of the world's deadliest stroke victim.
Sometimes -- very rarely, mind you -- one will come across a subtitle file so bad that the "translator" quite obviously ran the script through BabelFish and just pasted the gibberish it spat out. Somewhat counterintuitively, it's actually pretty hard to find somebody who tries that little in this modern era of enthusiastic amateurs. But after Rama and a mysterious elderly gentleman exchange severe looks fraught with meaning, and then punctuate them with a grim:
... it became obvious that this translation was the abysmal failure of both man and machine alike. This movie was a cyborg of ineptitude, a biotech monstrosity of retardation. But like Frankenstein's monster, you can't help but love the poor, misshapen bastard -- not in spite of, but because of his horrible deformities.
The Raid, as a movie, seems like it has its action priorities straight: There are a few minutes of hasty exposition at the start to set up the conflict, just so it can get all that talky bullshit out of the way and move right on to the kicking. But explaining things is not the strong suit of our precocious Subtitling Monster, so the clearest line of setup we get is this:
Holy shit! Is this a movie about kickboxing riot cops versus Cthulhu? Because if it is, then I think we should all, as a species, chip in together and get Indonesia a nice giant box of chocolates or something as a thank you. But if it's not, then I call dibs on that shit right now and you all are witnesses. Here, look, I drew this:
Now there's prior art involved: You Hollywood fuckers can't Apple this one away from me.
Th- ... these elite police officers are going after an entrepreneurial bastard who dared to rent rooms to people? Do they really need a whole SWAT team to take out a shitty landlord? Did I get the wrong movie? That happens sometimes: People often replace relatively obscure foreign films with entirely different movies just to troll viewers. But they usually replace the films with porn, as though the type of man who hunts out back-alley DVDs of sweaty foreign lads wrestling is ever going to be disappointed by surprise pornography. Still, there's definitely some kind of raid being planned here, this could be the right film ...
Oh, nope. It's porn. Dang. Ah, well: Time to get the ol' dick out and-
Oh gross, dude. I can't masturbate to kittens slamming H -- not again. Sorry, everybody, this was my fault. I should have checked first. Time to turn the movie off-
... aaaaand I'm back on board with you, movie. I have to know what a Besni Fucking Dog Enthusiast is. I have to know or else my terrible brain will supply that answer for me -- and the shit it comes up with is always, always worse than reality.
So wait, the villain's name is Darkness, and his sidekicks are Besni Fucking Dog Enthusiast and Andi Brain Tamovog Business? Do Indonesian people name their babies by whipping dictionaries at passing helicopters and collecting whatever bits float down?
OK. This is him. This is Darkness. Right there in the middle. Darkness enjoys ramen and does not enjoy sleeves. I have to assume his parents were pretty disappointed in him; you name a kid Darkness, you hope for at least some kind of Raven Cloak or throne of skulls. But no: If you had any doubt that this movie was about an elite team of superpolice trying to take out a building superintendent, here is your proof: This guy is the Indonesian equivalent of Schneider from One Day at a Time.
Ah! Here we go: Our first hit of action.
And it's a little hard to see, but that's the good guys straight up shooting a little kid in the neck. Now, that's pretty unnecessarily brutal, but stay with me: I think this is the movie's way of throwing us viewers into the lake -- getting the worst of the violence over right at the start and then easing ba-
Here's a man getting an axe buried in his shoulder, then being hoisted up by said axe ...
At which point he is comically flung around the room by his gaping axe-wound ...
And then finally gifted a consolation prize for being such a good sport about the whole axing thing (hint: It's more axe):
After he realizes a raid is underway, Darkness gets on the intercom and offers every tenant in his building free rent if they bring him a dead policeman. Because rent control is a terrifyingly different thing in Indonesia. There's our premise: A building full of murderous hopeful first-time homeowners versus child-hating policemen. Hey, if we rolled with The Hunger Games' "teenagers kill each other because it's funny" premise, we can roll with this.
We're finally introduced to a few of the central characters at this point, and it took 20 minutes to get their names, because axe-vaulting and child-murder obviously get top billing in The Raid's credits. Sergeant Mustache's name is Poke, which is as adorable as it is unlikely, and the elderly man's name is apparently Lieutenant Login.
All right, Subtitle Monster. Now you're just typing in things you see on your computer. Hopefully Lieutenant Login makes it out of this film alive, with the help of his friends Empty Recycle Bin and C:/. We meet one more important character in this scene, and his name is Bovo. Bovo's main motivation is that he really doesn't like being shot in the neck. So here he is being shot in the neck.
Astoundingly, Bovo does not die from this, but literally spends every second of face time in the movie silently screaming. I'm not kidding. Here's a screencap of him, from 20 minutes later:
But back to the action at hand. Our heroes finally defeat the first wave of murderous tenants via exploding fridge:
Only to immediately stumble right into another Asian Man Spawn Point. Seriously, there are nowhere near as many doors as there are murderous, screaming Asian men in this hallway:
The whole building is like a clown car, just packed unnaturally full of martial arts experts who hate paying their mortgage as much as they love stabbing. Actually, that goes for everybody in the movie: There's plenty of gun play, a handful of explosions and a ton of fistfights, but The Raid treats stabbing like a young boy first discovering masturbation -- it does so repeatedly, frantically and until it chafes.
For example: At one point in the movie we find our hero, Rama, trapped in a wall while the bad guys stand on the other side, looking for him. This is nowhere near tense enough, however, so one of the thugs shoves a machete in Rama's face and just walks away -- he leaves it sitting there, in his face, for two straight minutes. Apparently the Indonesians are so accustomed to wild stabbings that they don't even particularly mind when a man stores his sword in their cheek for a spell. But don't worry, because that machete thug gets what's coming to him, right after Rama decapitates one of his henchmen with a door.
Hmmm ... first the exploding fridge, and now the decap doorway. Is there some obscure offshoot martial art that revolves entirely around beating the shit out of people with household furnishings? Some form of credenza-based Krav Maga, or Ikearate?
Regardless, with all the penny-ante fights out of the way, we finally encounter the man, the myth, the legend, the lover of all canines great and small: This is Besni Fucking Dog Enthusiast.
Aw ... that's our evil badass? He's like five-foot nothin'! He better make up for his lack of stature with a whole lot of heart. Seriously: This dude better be the Rudy of dog fuckin'.
And he totally is! Here he is being swung by the leg into a dresser (more Ikearate?) by a man twice his size.
Which he shrugs off easily, and then proceeds to beat his opponent vigorously for 10 straight minutes. He really does love his work. See, that's why employers ask about your hobbies at interviews: If you're really, really into something, a lot of that dog-fucking enthusiasm can carry over into your daily work. Regrettably, Besni's opponent in that last scene -- the bag of meat he spent 15 minutes tenderizing -- was our narrator, Poke. He was the closest the movie ever came to explaining itself, so expect things to go waaayyy off the rails from here:
Word, Brain Business. Word.
Brain Business may or may not be our hero, Rama's, brother. He may also be a criminal, or just kind of a mildly stoned slacker who wandered into the scene in his pajamas. It's anybody's guess, really. Explaining the who/what/when/where/why of things is not the subtitles' strong suit; their expertise lies more in creative swearing and inexplicable umlaut placement. If we viewers are going to figure this out, we'll need plenty of time to watch the two build a rapport before we can be certain of their relationship ... which is too bad, because Darkness discovers ol' Double-B's betrayal in the very next scene. And he does so the way Darkness does everything: with sober dignity and class.
Man, Brain Business, I want to be sympathetic to your plight, but this is totally your fault for rooming with a guy named Darkness. It's right there in the name: If somebody asks you if you wanna move into an apartment owned by Darkness, you say "No, thanks -- I'll just chip in and share a motel room with The Nothing." You don't lease a boat from Baron Fuckdestruction, you don't buy a used car from Azazel, King of the Void, and you do not "crash" with Darkness itself.
Let's check back in with our other group of policemen. What are they up to now? Ah, you know. Same old, same old:
Swingin' some dudes around by the leg.
Killing men with filing cabinets ...
And then more leg-swinging.
I get this terrible feeling that I'm being ignorant for mocking this practice. Is this a cultural thing? Is this like using your left hand in Muslim countries? Do Indonesians believe that arms are fundamentally unclean somehow, so they have to limit their grappling to ankles and use armchairs as violence proxies? That must be it. There is just way too much leg-swinging in The Raid to be anything but the result of a cultural stigma or some kind of strange limb/fulcrum fetish.
Here, let's flash forward to the big fight scene. You don't need to know much setup: It's a Canine Rape Aficionado versus two men who might be brothers, or else just like to hang sometimes. As usual, Fucking Dog Enthusiast is overcoming adversity to beat the very souls out of everybody in the room, but that's OK. We all know there's that moment in every martial arts fight where the tide turns toward the good guys. This is that moment in The Raid:
The most epic leg swing in history, followed immediately by two more leg swings in the next two seconds.
Then Fucking Dog Enthusiast gets stabbed in the neck with a fluorescent light bulb. That's three -- count 'em, three -- leg swings and one instance of Ikearate to win the fateful battle. It was bloody and brutal and hard to watch, but finally, assaulted pooches the world over can breathe a little easier knowing th-
Oh holy shit! Besni is still up and whippin' ass with a light bulb in the neck! Man, it's true what they say: You just can't keep a good Dog Fucking Enthusiast down.
Eventually, however, our heroes prevail, and stumble wearily upstairs to find that Lieutenant Login was the real traitor all along. There's ... probably a reason why he betrayed everybody? I have no idea if that's the case, or if he just did it because treachery makes him hard, because the movie lapses into unfathomable BabelFish tongues for the entire climax. There is only one sentence in Darkness' revelatory speech -- the dramatic monologue that explains what the whole point of the movie was -- that looks anything like English, and that is thus:
And you know what? I'm not going to question the translation here. I believe that is 100 percent accurate dialogue. Look at Lieutenant Login's face: That is a man who just found out somebody has been fucking a pillow over his face while he sleeps. That is exactly what my face would look like, if I were to receive that same information: Shock, shame, a little disbelief, some confusion as you try to figure out the logistics of it -- do they fuck the pillow first and then put it over your face? Or do they put the pillow down and kind of leverage their legs against the bed frame to -- no; no, it's better not to know.
Faced with the realization that his whole life has been a lie based on secret frottage, Lieutenant Login does the only rational thing: He shoots Darkness in the head and then tries to log himself out of life. But his gun is empty. Our heroes take him hostage and exit the building safely. Then the title card runs:
There was an entry fee for this movie. That entry fee was Redemption. Please pay all Redemption to your nearest Fucking Dog Enthusiast.
So there you go. If I had to fathom a guess, I would say The Raid: Redemption was about an elderly police lieutenant driven mad after being repeatedly face-raped in his sleep by his landlord. So in retaliation, he stormed an apartment building, where he and his men swung everybody by the leg until they were dead, dead, dead.
As is the customary process for filing tenant grievances in the dark and lawless zone that is Indonesia.
If any of you have seen this magnificent film in a way that made any sense at all, then please, you have to promise me: You can never, ever, ever tell me what was happening. I do not want to know what was the fuck. My life is better never understanding the fuck, or what it was here to do. I wanted only to be close to the fuck, for its brief time here on Earth, and am content to let it pass on with dignity and grace.
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook.
For more from Brockway, check out The Most Insanely Violent Cartoon Ever (Is About the Bible) and The 5 Most Mind-Blowing Moments from Indian Action Movies.