Apparently, Indonesia has a somewhat credible film industry, pumping out a dozen or so B-grade horror and action films each year. But even for a dedicated Asian film lover such as myself, The Raid crosses uncharted territory. The Raid is, in fact, the first film from Indonesia to get widespread release in America. Aside from the appearance of a brief Islamic prayer (Indonesia is 87 percent Muslim), most viewers would be hard-pressed to identify the country of origin. Are they speaking Thai? Is that guy Filipino? Is this set in Korea? Taiwan? Singapore? Ah, who cares, people are punching each other now.
Of course, it’s probably The Raid’s easy accessibility and multicultural appeal that secured the film a stateside release. The story is simple, direct, light on the dialogue and doesn’t waste a lot of time before jumping into the action. A group of two-dozen well-armed SWAT officers has been drafted into an early-morning raid on a derelict apartment building in the heart of Jakarta’s slums. The 20-story complex is the stronghold of criminal kingpin Tama Riyandi (Ray Sahetapy). All the team has to do is get to the top floor and arrest him.
In very short order, blood is literally painting the walls. This action tsunami is exhausting, exhilarating and unapologetically violent. Fans of impressively realistic cinematic gore will have as much to ogle as fans of brutally balletic martial arts combat. Our overwhelmed police officers are whittled down one by one—
Uwais may not be as punishing as Thailand’s muay thai movie star Tony Jaa (The Protector, Ong-Bak) or as inventive as Hong Kong’s Jackie Chan (Drunken Master, Police Story, Project A) in his heyday. But he’s an undeniable martial arts whirlwind. Uwais is skilled in the Indonesian martial art known as penchak silat, a discipline that doesn’t look all that different from your basic Chinese kung fu, but does feature a lot of supersonic stick and knife combat. That diversity of offensive weaponry serves our hero well. Once he’s done emptying endless clips of ammo into people’s faces, he’s called upon to beat, stab, punch, kick and otherwise mutilate his way to the top with whatever’s at hand.
Remember that scene in Die Hard where Bruce Willis and Alexander Gudunov beat the living tar out of one another for, like, 10 minutes? Multiply that by 10 and you’ve got a basic understanding of what The Raid has got in store for you. If your sole point of reference for action cinema is comedy-heavy PG-13 films starring The Rock, The Raid: Redemption is not going to be your cup of ultraviolence. Prowl video stores and midnight movie screenings in search of the next cult obsession? The Raid will sate your bloodlust and then some.
No, there isn’t a lot of subtlety to the script. Odds are you won’t remember anything but the punishing action after the final credits roll. But there are enough twists and turns in the narrative to keep audiences riding this roller coaster on the edge of their seats. The action scenes rarely slack off for more than a couple of minutes at a time. As soon as our man Rama has caught his breath, it’s on to defeat the next dozen opponents. Honestly, this could have felt repetitive, but the film buzzes along masterfully, creating its own contact adrenaline high as it goes.
Welsh-born, Indonesian-loving filmmaker Gareth Huw Evans (Footsteps, Merantau) shows a real affinity for the martial arts genre here. His camera is constantly dipping, zooming, soaring and moving, keeping up with the rapid-fire moves of its quietly charismatic young star. The editing doesn’t favor too many cuts or close-ups, allowing the incredible stunts to speak for themselves. If somebody doesn’t beg Evans to come to Hollywood and direct a Mission: Impossible film (or something equivalent) in the next couple of years, somebody’s asleep at the wheel.
Pile it all up in the middle of the room—the punishing action, the fluid fight choreography, the sharp camerawork, the just-clever-enough story—and The Raid: Redemption amounts to the best balls-out action film since ... um. ... Still thinking.