Part of growing up, for those of us who want to get more out of life, is to broaden your horizons. One will fine oneself reading complex philosophy, partaking in existential debate, or simply watching Jodorowsky films and pretending whatever the hell that was meant something profound.
In contrast, a more pervasive aspect of growing up is giving up. Yes, friendos; surrendering to your base instincts only gets harder as you grow older. You’ll occasionally reach points in life where all you want to see is unkempt hedonism, pure disregard for anything wholesome or (god forbid) smart, and most of all: butt-clenching gratuitous violence. This is essentially what The Raid: Redemption has to offer.
What Is The Raid: Redemption?
The Raid: Redemption is a 2011 Indonesian action thriller made by a guy you never heard of (Gareth Evans) and starring folks you should respect (Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian). It’s essentially a violent love letter to Indonesia’s most practiced (and traditional) martial art: Pencak Silat.
I can’t begin to explain Silat, seeing as the only form of fighting I know is “Grab Something and Run It Through Somebody’s Head.” But suffice it to say that Silat basically makes you really, really scary. The film is 101 minutes, yet only 10 of those minutes include dialogue. You get the picture.
What’s The Premise?
There’s a really bad man called Tama hiding in the top floor of a high-rise slum in Jakarta. In that 15-story slum are untold numbers of murderers, rapists, addicts, sadists, and all manner of human garbage. Our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) is new recruit in some form of Indonesian SWAT force sent in to neutralise whoever’s in there and capture Tama. That’s it.
That’s the entire plot. Sure, there are a few entirely predictable twists here and there, but you’ll enjoy the film a lot more if you just watch it all unfold in the moment. Just remember that this isn’t a narrative-driven psychological drama; you’re watching people beat the hepatitis out of each other in more ways than they should. Expect nothing else.
What Makes It So Special?
To start, the budget: it’s only $1.1 million, which I’m assuming is a whole lot of Indonesian Baht. But when you spend that little money, and get what can easily be considered the best martial arts film of the 21st century so far, eventually raking in $9.14 million, you’re doing something incredibly right. Not even the guns in this film are real, which upset me a bit seeing as I appreciate proper firearm portrayal. But to most, it’s a non-issue; the after effects are pretty strong, and since most people in the film straight up throw away their guns because they’d rather kick our protagonist in the teeth, it’s even more of a non-issue. TL;DR: tiny budget, massive production quality.
The fights in The Raid stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of choreography, shock value, and pure impact. Iko Uwais – the guy who plays Rama – and Yayan Ruhian – the film’s infamous Mad Dog – are both highly-trained, superbly experienced Silat practitioners. They directed the entire film’s fight choreography, and even decided to act in the film for lack of actors who can realise their vision.
Before The Raid, there was never a film where I would hope peoples’ guns would run out or jam. That meant somebody was going to get elbowed in the jaw, or cut lengthwise down the leg with a karambit. These are fights that you can feel in your own body. Fights that are more about biting your nails hoping the main character actually lives after each altercation. Imagine the long corridor fight from Oldboy, but stretched over an entire film; tense, loud, angry showdowns where nobody cares for their own safety. All they care about is seeing the other guy stop moving. What is supposed to be Indonesian dudes throwing each other through closed doors ends up looking like a gorgeously shot dance number, except with more blood and discarded knives.
Like I said, there’s all of 10 to 15 minutes of actual dialogue or things that aren’t people dying in this film. So the “script” is rather short and to the point. Don’t expect any of the SWAT members save for Rama and maybe another dude to live for too long. But what The Raid lacks in conversation, its actors more than make up for in choreography, and general aesthetic. They all look like something you’d find in a shitty alleyway, and they act accordingly, sometimes even smarter than usual. They fit the bill, and that’s all that matters.
It’s also worth mentioning that the score for The Raid was made entirely by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda, and Straight Outta Compton’s Joseph Trapanese. It’s mostly electronic, instrumental, and brutally efficient at accentuating the kind of combat and set pieces The Raid is famous for. There were only two tracks with any semblance of singing – the most memorable of which stars Deftones frontman Chino Moreno.
It is honestly doubtful that you’ll divert any attention away from the action and into botched details. But for those of you that do this regularly, this film has its fair share of flaws:
- Even though the production value is impressive for only $1.1 million, you can clearly see cracks in its foundation. The effects aren’t all that great, and there are a few odd choices of scenery here and there.
- Seeing as this is a film that mostly plays out like a video game, it also has an annoying yet necessary drawback from that realm: bad guys attack mostly one at a time. If I were in a fight against one dude, and I had two other guys helping me, we would absolutely pounce on the guy at once. Not go in one at a time while the rest watches. Fights don’t work like that.
- Nobody is going to wait for you to take a proper combat stance before killing you.
- Silat is great. It’s an excellent method of self defence, as well as honing your mind in chaos. It does not, however, encourage folks to fight barehanded when there are clearly many things one can grab and use as weapons. Most martial arts train and encourage you to use a weapon whenever necessary. But again, this is an action film.
Why the Hell would I watch this?
Good question. Profound question. To which I will simultaneously ask you another question, and hearken back to the point of the introduction. Have you ever had times in this modern, sensible, and philosophical 21st century of ours where you just wanted to be… dumb? I think it was Roger Ebert’s (R.I.P) one-star review that summed up why most would want to watch this film.
There’s obviously an audience for the film, probably a large one. They are content, even eager, to sit in a theater and watch one action figure after another pound and blast one another to death. They require no dialogue, no plot, no characters, no humanity. Have you noticed how cats and dogs will look at a TV screen on which there are things jumping around? It is to that level of the brain’s reptilian complex that the film appeals.
Exactly, Bob. I, much like you, am a person of complex thought patterns, constant paranoia with regards to the norm, and I ponder why anything is anything 90% of the time I’m alive. So when films like The Raid manage to stuff all that in a closet somewhere and leave me with my mouth wide open as I watch a frankly short Indonesian man creatively mop the ceiling with many other Indonesian men. Sometimes, you just need the simpler things in life.