‘The Raid: Redemption’ action, choreography are brilliant8/5/2020
When it comes to non-stop action, “The Raid” does not disappoint. From the first frame of the ticking watch, it is clear that as long as this film may have been, it seems so much longer. With a color scheme that matches the hazy shades of winter, writer/director Gareth Evans creates some of the most heart-pumping action that has not been seen since the arrival of Tony Jaa and “Ong-bak.” But what that film lacked in story, “The Raid” delivers, taking the time to make the account interesting. Yes, the action and choreography are brilliant, but by the end of the film, these characters deserve more than just to die for the audience’s entertainment.
In the heart of the Jakarta’s slums, there is a colossal safe house inhabited by some of the world’s most dangerous and ruthless killers and gangsters among the junkies and peasants. The apartment is understood to house these types, but it remains untouchable to even the most courageous, albeit foolish, police officials. Rama (Iko Uwais) is a young member of the police force two months away from becoming a father. He is one of the few “good cops” still remaining in an otherwise corrupt system. In the cover of dawn’s darkness, he and 19 other members of the SWAT team approach the safe house with the intent of bringing down the crime lord living inside its walls.
Easily maneuvering their way up to the fifth level, it seems this team is better prepared than their fresh faces might imply. Their fortune quickly turns when a young spotter who manages to utter the word “Police” into an intercom before a bullet rips through his neck finds them. Soon a trap is sprung as the lights cut out and the 20 men are locked within the walls of this hell. With no way of communicating outside the complex, they are left with one option: Finish their job and find the crime lord or die trying.
From the very second this film starts until the credits finish, it’s impossible not to become invested in what’s on the screen. The first shot of a watch sitting on Rama’s nightstand means more by the end of the film than it does at the beginning for it signifies how quickly things can turn and change in a way never considered. As a police officer, things can obviously go bad in a hurry, but an entire tenement against 20 isn’t the sort of foe you’d wake up in the morning thinking about.
What makes this movie so exciting is the phenomenal fight choreography led by Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian. In the film, these two actors are pit against one another; Uwais on the side of the police force and Ruhian on the side of the crime lord. As soon as these two actors are seen on screen, it becomes clear they are the most experienced fighters of the Pencak silat fighting style. This isn’t to say the other actors on screen disappoint, because each extra performs exceptionally; these characters cause audiences to shift in their seats. Every frame featuring Uwais or Ruhian shows these two leading every fight. They seem more reactive, more willing to risk their own bodies to get the best sort of shot. The reality of their style makes it seem that they could have been easily injured after every sequence.
The interesting feature of this fighting style is how well it works to develop the story. Sometimes with the martial arts beat-’em-up story, the scenes come off contrived. This is not the case in “The Raid.” When out of ammo or lacking a knife, reliance on your own abilities becomes absolutely necessary to survive. Ultimately, this style is not one of offensive maneuvering but self-defense. Even those unfamiliar with this style of fighting or martial arts in general can take note of this, particularly when Uwais is in the scene. Though small in stature, his strength comes from using his opponents’ momentum against them. If the enemy is lunging at Uwais, rather than simply blocking, he redirects his foe into a concrete wall or, better yet, a serrated edge to end the brawl more quickly.
In the fight sequences involving Ruhian, he uses his enemy’s advances against them but he also makes sure to constantly be within inches of them. Any time there is more than a foot separation between him and an opponent, Ruhian is losing the battle. Where Uwais is small, Ruhian is tiny. From behind, one might confuse him with a child, though that would soon be regretted. By keeping so close to the adversary, Ruhian eliminates the advantage that height and reach usually provide during a fight. Add on the sheer speed of attacks, and it makes absolute sense Ruhian would be able to contend with multiple challengers simultaneously.
It has been a while since an action movie has come along that blows audiences away. More often, it seems they get described as “entertaining” but are rarely a quality movie. “The Raid” not only packs a punch but also takes the time necessary to develop the characters enough that you root for their survival rather than the next opportunity to show off their fighting chops. This is a film that not only should be seen but also ought to be seen with a friend — because you’re absolutely going to want to talk about it. ♦