Iko Uwais in Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption

The blazing Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid: Redemption from Welshman Gareth Evans (Merantau) burst onto the scene to breathless reviews at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011. All too often, however, genre pictures that are endlessly hyped on the festival circuit wind up disappointing when they finally make their way to theaters. Not so in this case. The Raid delivers completely on its promise over the course of a relentless 100 minutes and in the end asserts itself as the most viscerally entertaining and simply refreshing action pictures to come down the pipeline in quite a while.

Conceived of as the first in a planned trilogy of films, The Raid stars charismatic Indonesian martial artist Iko Uwais as a young Jakartan policeman (and husband to a pregnant wife) fighting the good fight between the vicious criminal underworld on one hand and a corrupt police force on the other. The mission is simple: a team of elite cops are sent to infiltrate a 30-story apartment complex that serves as the fortress of a ruthless drug kingpin. Get in, get the guy, get out. Simple, right? Wrong. From the very start something seems wrong. Naturally things quickly go haywire and devolve into fusillades of bullets and fountains of blood. Before long, hopes of capturing the drug lord turn simply to getting the survivors back out alive.

To keep this fairly direct story interesting, at least two people aren’t exactly what they seem. Yes, this is par for the course for this type of movie, but it provides just enough mystery to carry the picture from one spectacularly choreographed and photographed fight sequence to the next. Make no mistake: it’s the blistering, almost non-stop action you’ll be talking about as you leave the theater, not the perfectly serviceable plot.

There are gun battles, there are knife fights and there are multiple ass kickings featuring at least two distinct forms of martial arts. Men are hacked with machetes, beaten with hammers, thrown against walls and down staircases, ejected from 15th story windows, riddled with bullets and pummeled senseless by fists, elbows, heads and feet. None of this would really matter if the fight scenes were poorly choreographed and edited to within an inch of their lives, but Evans films each sequence carefully and the geography is always refreshingly clear. Rather than inducing seizures and disguising the lack of the actors’ technical proficiency, the editing is a bit slower so that move, contact and consequence feel fluid, organic and real.

Key also to the fight scenes are the talented actors. The aforementioned star of the film Iko Uwais and his nemesis Yayan Ruhian are both highly trained in the Indonesian martial art Silat and they both also choreographed the wonderful fight scenes. Ruhian makes up for his smaller stature with a uniquely psychotic menace. Uwais meanwhile combines his athleticism with a certain handsomeness and a charisma that isn’t quite as magnetic as Bruce Lee, but certainly approaches the same neighborhood. You know the film is going to build to a climactic fight between these two men and you will not be disappointed.

While it doesn’t necessarily change the game when it comes to action movies, this is a film that refines what we like about them and then condenses those elements into a gritty, lethal thrill ride the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. Brutally violent, relentlessly paced and littered with just enough dark humor to relieve some of the tension, The Raid: Redemption is a spectacular cinematic kick to the face to which you’ll say, “Thank you. May I have another?”

Check out LiC interviews with director Gareth Huw Evans and co-composer Joseph Trapanese.

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