Sony Pictures Classics Moves from Arthouse to Grindhouse With ‘The Raid’

“The Raid: Redemption,” an Indonesian martial arts flick, is business as usual, insists Sony Pictures Classics, a company known for artier fare

Sony Pictures Classics, the company that in recent years has released "Midnight in Paris," "A Separation," "An Education," "Inside Job," "The Lives of Others" and many more, has a new movie for you.

It's "The Raid: Redemption," a ferocious Indonesian action flick with flying fists, flying bullets, a high body count and a nonstop barrage of blood and brutality.

The Raid: RedemptionBut isn't Sony Classics the home of class, not crunch? Manners, not mayhem? 

"The Raid," which opens on Friday in limited release, seems an odd fit for a company best-known for artier fare, for foreign films that win Oscars and for gentler indie offerings.

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The company's ads for "The Raid" try to dispel that notion right off the bat, describing the film as coming from "the company that brought you 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and 'Kung Fu Hustle.'"

And while those two martial arts films, the first from 2000 and the second from 2004, are indeed part of SPC's slate, company co-president Tom Bernard insists that there are lots of other reasons why "The Raid" is a true Sony Classics movie.

"We are an auteur-driven company that tries to bring good movies from around the world," Bernard told TheWrap this week. "We're always trying to find good movies, and trying to keep up with what is new and different.

Gareth Huw Evans"And the filmmaking in 'The Raid' is unbelievable."

The film was directed by Gareth Huw Evans, who was born in Wales but is now based in Indonesia. A taut, streamlined story about a squad of police who go into a high-rise apartment building controlled by a drug kingpin and then have to fight their way out, it is a showcase for the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat.   

"The guy made the movie in a boxcar," said Bernard, who first saw footage from the film at last year's Cannes Film Festival. "They built a boxcar-sized room and used that as a studio to shoot everything."

In the same way that "Crouching Tiger," SPC's highest grossing film, was a hybrid made by a Taiwanese-born but American-educated director Ang Lee, Bernard said "The Raid" was "an odd hybrid" as well, with a Welsh director taking on an Indonesian form.

"It's not a traditional Asian action movie," he said. "The culture is different, and we felt that we could bring a lot to the table if we distributed it."

The film was brought to Bernard and SPC co-chief Michael Barker by Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions, which bought the rights out of Cannes. It won the Midnight Madness prize at Toronto, and then SPC submitted it to Sundance and South by Southwest, where it won raves.

"I think there would have been a huge bidding war at Sundance if we hadn't come in with it," said Bernard.

"We just got a five star review in Time Out, which I don’t think we've ever gotten before. The critical reaction is off the charts."

"The Raid" currently stands at 96 percent positive on Rotten Tomatoes, where the praise (most of it from genre sites) is exuberant: "a hardcore bloke fest" (Luke Buckmaster, Crikey), "a relentlessly brutal and endlessly enjoyable flick that never runs out of inventive ways to kill people" (Simon Miraudo, Quickflix), "an unrelenting, action-packed can of whoop-ass that delivers one of the most fun moviegoing experiences of the past decade" (Jason Zingale, Bullz-Eye.com), "an expertly crafted explosion of good old fashioned hand-to-hand-to-machete-to-fish-to-head-to-wall brilliance" (Neil Miller, Film School Rejects).

The Raid: RedemptionThe marketing and distribution plan, Bernard said, is itself a hybrid: The film opens on Friday in 10 cities around the country, in a limited release geared to an audience that reads reviews and follows internet film sites.

"We're starting in theaters where people go see specialized movies, not exploitation movies," he said. "We think the smarter audience can find this movie early on – and once we brand it with them, we think we can spill into the mainstream action crowd."

To that end, he said, Sony plans to expand the film into more traditional action theaters – "the grindhouses" – a couple of weeks after its opening, with a second round of ads geared to that audience.

The company plans to expand the release into additional cities, and follow the same pattern in those cities.

Sony Classics has also tried to capitalize on the fact that the film features a new score co-written by Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda. The company has tried to capture that band's 40 million Facebook fans by posting links to an interview with Shinoda and Evans on the band's page. 

"There are a lot of ways to promote a movie like this," he said. "It's not a case of going into 2,000 theaters, playing for two weeks, then hitting a button and going to video. If we did that, it would not be a Sony Classic release.

"We feel we can grind this one into the culture, and grow it into an iconic movie as much as 'Run Lola Run,'" he added, referring to the 1998 German film.

"That probably didn’t look like Sony Classics on the surface, either."