You’ll get a kick out of The Raid: Redemption…and a machete to the neck, a lightbulb to the eye, and a bullet through the head. This is a movie that credits 21 “Drug Labs Guards,” 18 “Carrying Bowo Fighters,” 18 “Special Forces Members,” eight “Hole Drop Attackers,” five “AK-47 Attackers,” five “15th Floor Attackers,” and a “Panic Man” and a “Tortured Man,” though I was hard-pressed to tell the difference between them. No matter. What this says is, “We mean business. We are not fucking around here. Eat me, Katniss.”
Then again The Raid: Redemption, opening on Friday, is a movie of few words. The setup is video game simple. There’s an apartment complex in Jakarta that is a hive of villainy, crawling with the worst scum of Indonesia–drug dealers, junkies, thieves, killers, and expat Santorum supporters (I kid). At the center of this hellhole is the drug lord, Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who employs all those guards…and has a fair amount of the city’s cops and politicians in his hip pocket. But not the valiant Rama (Iko Uwais, pictured), who one eventful day kisses his pregnant wife goodbye, then joins his heavily armored SWAT team for a last-ditch raid on Tama and his forces, which, given snitches and corruption, gets plenty ugly pretty quickly. Adding to Rama’s problems is a fateful rendezvous with one of Tama’s henchmen. Fortunately for him and his outnumbered, outgunned squad he is a master of silat, the indigenous martial arts that, according to Wiki, “focus either on strikes, joint manipulation, throws, bladed weaponry, or some combination thereof”–the combinations here including assault weapons, light fixtures, and a very large refrigerator.
Needless to say we’re an arms cache away from the family-friendly, Buster Keaton-inspired antics of prime Jackie Chan. By coincidence I happened to catch on Showtime this month Merantau (2009), the first pairing of Iko with Welch-born writer, director, and, perhaps most importantly, editor Gareth Huw Evans. Here Iko (a would-be soccer star who was driving a truck when the filmmaker discovered him while making a documentary about silat) is a naive farmboy whose way with his fists and feet gets sex slaves in the big city out of a jam. It’s very much a rough draft, slow to start and clumsy in places, and styled rather shakily after the harder-edged films of Thai sensation Tony Jaa (Ong Bak). The Raid: Redemption strips away everything, leaving only the tense, claustrophobic situation (closer in spirit to Walter Hill’s Trespass than Die Hard), a plot twist or two, and a hell of a lot of floor-to-floor fighting.
Evans and DP Matt Flannery clearly got into the mosh pit with the star, the drug lab guards, and all those attackers. While the images could have used something peppier than a droning, industrial score to accompany them they are spectacular, minus CGI frou-frou, and Evans edits the field of play extremely well; he honors the combatants by not cutting their fights into a million little bits. (You know that the–sigh–planned American remake, cast with the hunk of the month, will be Ginsu-ed into submission, with 3D added for faux punch.) The only outstanding flaw is that there are a million fights; even martial arts movie junkies (and I love this stuff) may be crying uncle after about an hour, and casual fans unaccustomed to non-stop brutality may want to stick with the PG-13 blockbusters elsewhere in the multiplex. I will, however, re-up for the two sequels that are in the works. The Redemption was added to the title by Sony Pictures Classics; it does have some connection to the storyline, but the movie’s real redemption is applying defibrillators to the tired action movie market and giving it a jolt.