The martial arts showcase movie, completely pure and unapologetic, has become a lost genre it seems. If nothing else, director Gareth Evans uses “The Raid: Redemption” to bring pencak silat to audiences all over the world in this manner, but he also manages to create an action movie that satisfyingly merges B-movie violence with a true physical art form.
The story of “The Raid” is neatly packed and delivered in a way that puts the emphasis on the characters and the action. A SWAT team is ordered to take out a crime/drug lord (Ray Sahetapy) in his 15-plus story building filled with dangerous and skilled men who are fiercely loyal to him. When they become trapped on the seventh floor, it becomes a fight for survival. One rookie cop in particular (Iko Uwais) must try to escape to return home to his wife and unborn child.
Some twists reveal themselves along the way, but because of the contained nature of this story, they’re pleasant surprises rather than forced and obvious. Boiled down, “The Raid” is a glorified arcade game premise. The finished product turns out to be bloody mayhem on screen.
Evans somehow manages to strike a balance between fearful realism and over-the-top video- game violence. Larger action sequences take the shape of the latter, but the film takes numerous occasions to slow down and work the suspense so that the bigger, ultra- choreographed action feels like a culmination or climax. A scene where our hero, Rama, hides with his injured comrade in an apartment wall is of particular note on the more suspenseful side of things. The script recognizes that too much of one kind of action will kill the effectiveness of the entire product.
The fight scenes are more creative toward the front of the film and sort of unravel into pure pencak silat choreography toward the end, namely because all the weapons have run out of ammo and all the knives buried into peoples’ chests, necks, knees, etc. Perpetuating the video game analogy, much of the fights feel like stages/missions as well as mini-bosses, etc. If you enjoy that structure in gaming, “The Raid” will hit that same spot in a satisfying way.
But what really makes “The Raid” work, or at least go beyond a lifeless and gory demonstration of Indonesian martial arts, is how the script works in subplots. Some characters are given moral ambiguity, some pure motivation … basically, effort was taken with the writing to up the stakes of the mayhem. It might not be great writing or even that original, but it will motivate most people to root for Rama and against a myriad of thugs and other characters.
It might be tough for Evans to replicate the success of the film with future outings now that pencak silat has more exposure and will consequently feel less novel, but “The Raid” offers a pleasant martial arts throwback mixed with a more contemporary violent action style that will work for anyone who identifies as an old-school action purist.
The Raid: Redemption
Written and Directed by Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy