The Raid: Redemption (2011)
My first introduction to Gareth Evans was his short film Safe Haven, which was included on the horror compilation V/H/S/2. I had heard of The Raid at this point since the movie Dredd was heavily compared to it, but found out after watching V/H/S/2 that the guy who directed this movie also co-directed that segment. This led to a little confusion, since when I saw the name Gareth Huw Evans show up, my first thought was, "Is this a remake? That is definitely not an Indonesian name, and I know the movie I'm looking for is Indonesian.".
Calling it The Raid: Redemption for U.S. audiences didn't help with the confusion. I had make sure I was not watching a sequel, since I knew one existed, but turns out this was definitely the movie I was meant to see. Thank goodness not a sequel and definitely not a bad Hollywood remake, although they have been threatening us with one for a number of years (and, honestly, Dredd is pretty close in action and tone, and was a great movie on its own). Yes, I know it seems a bit obsessive, but I had heard so much about The Raid that I was at least aware of what I had missed by not seeing it.
Turns out Gareth Huw Evans is a Welsh director who originally went to Indonesia to film a documentary on their indigenous martial art fighting style called Pencak Silat. While there, he met Iko Uwais, a practitioner of the style that was at the time working as a delivery boy. Along with another Pencak Silat expert, Yayan Ruhian, the trio made an action drama called Merantau, which received some moderate success in Indonesia and some critical praise. For their next production Evans decided he wanted to do an action movie based in a prison, but soon realized that the budget was way beyond what he could do. So, instead, the production was scaled back to an attack on an apartment block.
Rama (Uwais) wakes up and prepares for the upcoming raid, being part of a party led by Jaka (Joe Taslim). The target is the crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapay), who is guarded by his lieutenants Mad Dog (Ruhian) and Andi (Donny Alamsyah). Tama is ensconced in the 15th floor of a dilapidated high-rise apartment block, and in addition to his cohorts most of the block's inhabitants, a motley array of petty criminals and junkies, are under his protection and control. The pre-dawn attack has been planned by Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), Jaka's superior.
Everything seems to be going their way for a time until a spotter alerts the rest of the block to the police presence. Tama quickly reacts, promising free lodging for life for those who help kill the team. In addition, their guards and their transportation are quickly done away with and Jaka finds out from Wahyu that the raid itself wasn't exactly official - meaning there will be no backup. Over the course of the next few hours what began as an attempt to arrest a wanted criminal turns into an attempt to survive and escape the building, as the team of police are slowly divided and conquered, and Wahyu's reasons for the mission become apparent. However, Rama may have found rescue in and unforeseen benefactor.
The plot of The Raid: Redemption is quite thin, but it is by necessity, as it is largely a vehicle to showcase one action sequence after the other. There are a couple of surprising, and not-so-surprising, twists as we go along, but the movie by necessity is on rails, with the threats increasing the further into the building the police go. There is a wonderful build-up of tension at the beginning as it appears things are going to easily and, when things fall apart, they do so in spectacular fashion. In addition to playing one of the main bad guys, Yayan Ruhian also choreographed many of the fight scenes, and it is one of the few times when watching martial arts battles that I don't feel like I'm watching a violent dance style. At least with the narrow corridors and small rooms there is an excuse why they may be dealing with one or two people at a time, although there is the usual exaggeration of skill when it comes to the heroes and bosses.
Surprisingly the progression of the action seems to be backward from most films, beginning with guns and explosives, devolving into more physical confrontations with knives and machetes and then, finally, into hand-to-hand combat toward the end. As for Pencak Silat, not being an expert on martial arts, I had never heard of it and, to my knowledge, seen it used in a movie before. I remember a lot of concerns about Bruce Lee in his films was that he often moved too fast for the camera to capture; Evans seems to have no worries about this, and is more interested on realistically portraying how the fighting style is used (as far as it can be within the context of an action film), and the speed at which the fighting occurs is definitely a different feel than watching a Shaw Brothers or Jackie Chan film. Thankfully, it is also nowhere near what Hollywood considers "martial arts" either.
To film the action Evans had to get inventive, with lighting rigs often attached to the digital cameras themselves so there could be a 360 view of what was happening without the danger of the production crew suddenly becoming stars of the film. The only real compromise made is that all shots of gunfire are digital, as Evans found it easier to use Airsoft replicas rather than go through the expense (legal and otherwise) of using real versions of the firearms for props. Everything goes by so quickly it doesn't detract anything from the scenes, and, other than the opening sequences, guns aren't the focus of the movie anyway.
After hearing so much about this movie I was glad to see it lived up to what it was supposed to be. The action scenes are inventive, and for such a simple movie it doesn't ever get a feeling of "wash, rinse, repeat." If I have one major complaint it's that the ending in anti-climactic, and telegraphed way too earlier in the film. After everything that comes before it, especially the final two-on-one fight with Mad Dog, the final stand-off gives one the feeling of, "Wait? That's it?" Otherwise, this is one of those times where those big, bold quotations praising it for being the best action movie of the decade, while overly hyperbolic, at least comes close (Mad Max: Fury Road and, in truth, The Raid 2 were still down the road - it was early in the decade, after all).
The Raid: Redemption (2011)
Time: 101 minutes
Starring: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapay, Yayan Ruhian, Donny Alamsyah
Director: Gareth Huw Evans