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The Raid: Redemption

April 21, 2012
The Raid: Redemption

The days of the great American action movie may be behind us, drowned in a flood of computer-generated effects and million-dollar explosions. Thankfully, Asia’s strategic action reserve is thriving, as we see in the breakout Indonesian hit, The Raid: Redemption. Stripped-down and raw, it forgoes fancy effects, hackneyed social commentary, and even plot in service of an impact made more visceral by, well, the sheer number of viscera that make on-screen appearances.

The premise is simple: a team of police carry out a full-on assault against the fifteen-story building in the slums of Jakarta owned and run as a headquarters by the crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Tama is defended primarily by his lieutenants, Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) and Andi (Donny Alamsyah), but more generally by the army of criminals to whom he rents apartments in exchange for loyalty. More than one rival has been broken on the rocks of Tama’s building, but the team has it in their minds to do the job right this time.

The first five floors go smoothly enough; the team are armed with riot armor, shotguns, automatic rifles, and enough zip ties to immobilize half of Jakarta, and they quickly immobilize everyone they come across. That is, until one spotter manages to raise an alarm that brings the massed forces of the building down upon the hapless team of rookies.

It’s not clear how many police went into the building, but they’re quickly reduced to a handful in two separate clusters. The leading sergeant, Jaka (Joe Taslim) and the lieutenant who ordered the assault, Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) hole up on the fourth floor with Dagu (Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia). Meanwhile, the rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) helps the injured Bowo (Tegar Satrya) to shelter up on the seventh floor before trying to figure out how to escape the building. Whatever way they decide to proceed, it’s sure to be a knock-down, drag-out fight.

And I do mean “knock-down, drag-out” literally; this is far from the swift, elegant style that martial arts stars from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan have demonstrated. No, this is brutal, street-brawl combat, with lots of close-in grappling and elbows and knees thrown in wherever there’s a chance. There are also plenty of body slams, some of which seem surely to be wire-assisted; it’s almost unbelievable that a body would stay that rigid as it’s swung through the air and into a floor, wall, table, filing cabinet, or conveniently-placed fluorescent light fixture.

Rama, luckily, is just the man to have in your corner when you find out that you’ve brought an assault rifle to a machete fight. Before he takes off we have a scene which efficiently tells us all the characterization we need to now, and pretty much all we’ll ever get: he’s fast, efficient, devoted to excellence, and driven by the twin thoughts of returning safely to his wife and of making the city safe for his unborn son.

Great cinema this is not. Writer/director Gareth Evans wanted to show off the little-known Indonesian martial art of Silat, and that’s pretty much what he’s done. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of bandrek, but those looking for a straight shot of action will find it here.

Worth It: if you’re into martial arts or action movies it is.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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