“The Raid: Redemption” will be the most single-minded and simple-minded action flick of this year. Until it finally arrives at its ending, the movie relentlessly and ruthlessly pushes its minimalistic premise to the extreme with its sole purpose – killing the bad guys as many as possible and making it exciting as much as possible. I must confess that I was frequently thrilled by the real tough actions of the real human bodies presented in hyper-kinetic style, but I also have to say that I was also increasingly bothered by the viciousness behind this no-hold-barred exercise of violent action.
Its simple premise does not seem to make sense much at the beginning. An Indonesian SWAT team is dispatched to one of the most dangerous places in the city. It is a shabby 30-story building somewhere in the slum area, and we are informed that this is the headquarter of a notorious drug lord named Tama(Ray Sahetapy), who lives on the 15th floor while filling the building with his violent gangs as the landlord. I do not know why he chooses the 15th floor, but I know the movie would be longer if he lived on the 30th floor.
And I do not understand why there are not more policemen to surround or infiltrate into this building. If they know that the building is not an easy place to attack at all, then why are only around 20 members of SWAT team sent to this place with only one riot van? Can’t they accomplish their mission in a far safer way with more supports? The movie later reveals a hidden motive behind this mission, but I am rather amazed that the people incidentally not shown in the movie cannot think of a quieter way of taking care of their private problem with a far less body count.
But never mind, folks, because the movie is all about actions to be generated from this barebone premise, not the plausibility of the plot. Under the command of the team leader(Joe Taslim), the SWAT team members quickly go inside the building and move upward carefully while not being noticed. Everything seems to go smoothly at first, but the building has many eyes including the cameras in the hallways and little boys, so they are eventually exposed and all hells break loose upon them instantly. Tama shuts down the entire building along with the communication line(my god, doesn’t any of SWAT team member have a cellular phone just in case?) and then announces the killing time for his guys in the building.
Once the first shooting starts inside the building, the movie hurls the characters into the series of frantic actions with no mercy. Besides the guns, the characters in the movie also use big knives and other objects available around them, and there are lots, lots, and lots of fights and killings happening here and there in the building. Out of curiosity, I checked my wristwatch, and I found at least more than 20 guys were already killed or injured during the first 30 minutes. And that was just a tip of iceberg; there were a lot more violence awaiting for me and the audiences during the rest of the running time, and I already felt numb with this continuing savageness when I watched in disbelief one character who kept fighting with two dudes while a piece of broken fluorescent light bulb was stuck in his neck. Ugh.
I was impressed by the rapid and ferocious energy pulsating inside the fight sequences in the film. Most of SWAT team members are quickly killed by thugs, and the rest of them, including the team leader and a rookie member named Rama(Iko Uwais), try to escape from the building by any means necessary. As our hero, Rama fights with the bad guys many times for saving himself and others, and, choreographed by the Indonesian martial art experts Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian(he played Tama’s fearsome top lieutenant in the movie), these fights sequences feel real, electrifying, and sometimes scary. We can see that the actors on the screen are really fighting while using their body parts in spite of frantic camera movement, and, when the end credit was rolled, I was rather relieved to know that the movie hired 14 doctors and paramedics during the production.
Yes, I worried to some degrees about the actors rapidly going through these dangerous actions, but what about the characters played by them? Well, I have to say there is not much of characterization in the shallow plot which barely supports the actions in the movie. Rama is given some background at the start, but it is not so important to the plot except giving us the reason why we want him to survive through his plight. His wife is pregnant, so we do not want to see a baby without his killing machine dad in the photo, right?
It goes without saying that the other characters besides Rama are more or less than cardboards to be shot or stabbed or slashed or smashed or slaughtered or whatever. There is some melodrama element from the hidden bond between two characters in the plot, but there is no surprise in that. The dialogues are mostly perfunctory amid or between the sound and fury in the soundtrack, and the most memorable line in the movie will be “Ahhhhhhhhhhh!” or “Arrrrrrrrgh!”. I was particularly amused by the cast list, which mostly consists of the nameless characters like “Special Force #16”, “Carrying Bowo Fighter #18”, “Drug’s Lab Guard #21”, “Hole Drop Attacker #8”, and so on. Suppose you appear in the movie – can you boast to your friends about appearing as, uh, “AK-47 shooter #3”?
Should I evaluate the movie as a ruthless but exhilarating ballet of martial arts, or a well-made but pointless rampage of brutal action? My feeling remain ambivalent due to its inherent weak points, but the director/writer/editor Gareth Evans made a competent action movie, and Iko Uwais is fully functional and professional as its action hero. His character is thin, but at least we can see how he uses his brain as well as his body in the chaotic circumstances, and I liked his actions more than, say, “Transformers 3”. However, I also remember what Roger Ebert wrote in his review for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragoon”(2000): “The best martial arts movies have nothing to do with fighting and everything to do with personal excellence.”
By the way, the title of the movie was originally “The Raid”, but it was changed to “The Raid: Redemption” when it was released in US, and then it is changed again to “Raid: First Attack” when it is introduced to the South Korean audiences on this weekend. Considering that at least two sequels will be made in future, we can say the movie is now more honest about what it is than before. I sincerely hope they will be able to provide a better story along with good characters for the second attack.
Reading this is half as good as seeing the flick. It’s not only about the number of killings but also the quality!
SC: I hope they will care about the latter more.