With some movies, the title pretty much says it all, and this is most definitely the case with The Raid: Redemption.
Set in the drab slums of an Indonesian tenement, the film follows a SWAT team in their harrowing attempt to arrest a drug kingpin and his associates who occupy one of the upper floors. Filled with psychotic drug attics and a seemingly endless supply of “soldiers”, all of whom seem fairly well-versed in martial arts, the SWAT team quickly finds themselves in the thick of an urban war zone. As they ascend their way up the hellish nightmare, the situation deteriorates and as the body count rises, the team’s numbers rapidly dwindle.
To spice things up, the film’s plot throws a few wrenches into the equation. There are unexpected revelations about the connection between one of the SWAT team members, Rama (Iko Uwais, who effectively serves as the film’s hero), and one of the kingpin’s closest associates, the SWAT team’s leader is not all he appears to be, and we learn the reasoning behind the raid may not be as civic-minded as it first appeared.
Of course, in a martial arts-heavy action flick such as The Raid: Redemption, the plot is mostly a secondary concern. The beauty of films in this genre lies in the choreography: the choreography of the fights, the choreography of the camera, the choreography of lighting, and how they all interact together to form one seamless performance. I am happy to report then, in the case of The Raid: Redemption, we’re looking at Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire level work.
The fight scenes in the movie (or more accurately, the fight scenes that are the movie) are absolutely stunning, and this goes beyond mere skill. While the level of precision and technique are marvelous to behold, what really sets the film apart from a martial arts demonstration and elevates it into the realm art is the creativity behind the choreography, in particular the creativity in the deaths.
For anyone who considers themself an aficionado of violent cinematic deaths, this film is an absolutely must-see. There were multiple kills in the movie that made me laugh out loud, but not in the “what a cheesy B-movie” sense, but rather in the “Holy crap! Did that just happen?” vein. Only in the films of Quentin Tarantino do I remember smiling so much at the fantastically violent demise of human beings.
The film also has a cool progression (or digression depending on your point of view) of weaponry. The first third of the film consists of mostly firefights, guns versus guns. After enough nobodies are punctured with bullet holes, they ditch the guns and move on to knife fights. Finally, when all but the principle characters have been knocked off, they get down to the real order of business, hand to hand combat. This unique mirroring of the story’s progress with a change in combat is a very creative idea that works to the film’s advantage.
(For the record, my personal favorite were the knife fights. Something about the plunging of knives into bodies is extremely visceral.)
Another strength of the film is the atmosphere. Under the direction of Gareth Evans (who oddly enough is Welsh, even though the film is in Indonesian), the world of this tenement is a fully realized one. Narrow dilapidated corridors, grim desaturated coloring, pale fluorescent lighting, dank, peeling wallpaper, and other signs of urban decay… you can pretty much taste the stale air, and it all creates a perfect setting for a martial arts showdown.
My one major complaint against the film is its run time. At 101 minutes, it’s not a very long movie, but with a film that is basically one fight scene leading into the next, about 10-15 minutes shorter would have done nicely. As amazing as the choreographed fights are, I have to admit that by the end my eyes were starting to glaze over as I became numb to the effects of the combative ballet. As anyone who has gone on a candy spree knows, sugar rushes are meant be short.
While, full disclosure, I am a relative newbie in the martial arts genre (Bruce Lee and Tony Jaa are only nominally familiar to me), The Raid: Redemption easily approaches the top of the genre from my (very) limited experience. Between this film and Attack the Block, action films in project tenements appears to be a new sub-genre, and if this sub-genre does take off, I can’t imagine a film besting the pure intensity and fun of The Raid: Redemption.