I attended a screening of the insanely awesome new gonzo-action epic, The Raid: Redemption at The Cinefamily here in Los Angeles (pronounced like Angelica Huston in The Grifters) this past Thursday night and I’m still trying to come down from the massive geek high. The movie has been heavily hyped by virtually everyone who’s seen it, so as I waited with a packed house of over 200 anxious nerds for the film to begin, I said a quiet little prayer to the great action Gods that this would not disappoint me. I must say that with the occasional exception of a truly fantastic Asian import like this one, action films have really sucked over the last decade. Back in the 80’s and 90’s you couldn’t shake your dick without slapping a new one on the chin, but in recent times the action genre has been replaced by the super-hero genre and the good old fashioned shoot ’em ups have been reduced to CGI saturated shit like The Losers, The A-Team and Ninja Assassin, with the last Rambo film being one of the few exceptions. I like seeing real fucking stunts and real fucking explosions and I want to feel the action like it’s happening in front of me, not like it was obviously painted across the screen on somebody’s computer.
I think every five years or so a new martial arts film comes out that shows Hollywood how bad it has become at making these types of movies. The most recent being Ong Bok and Chocolate, which introduced us to the Muay Thai style of fighting and gave us some of the most outrageously kinetic and painful looking action sequences I’ve ever seen. Well, now we have the incredible Indonesian style of Pencak Silat to freak out over. It’s a really brutal technique that involves a lot of punching, kicking, leg sweeping, throwing into walls and body slams that will make you grab your back in emphatic shock. The stunt guys who perform these moves really take a vicious beating and it shows in every bone-crunching blow. This is an action film where you can feel every punch, stab and bullet wound and how the holy fuck it’s getting an a R rating can only be explained by a rapid fire editing style that doesn’t linger on the rivers of blood that are constantly flowing freely.
The story is like a beautiful hybrid of Assault on Precinct 13 and Die Hard. An elite SWAT team made up of 20 of the baddest ass motherfuckers to ever strap on a vest barrel their way through the streets of some unknown Indonesian city with the intention of raiding a 15-story tenement complex controlled by a vicious crime lord named Tama (Ray Sahetapy). The big problem being that the building is heavily fortified and has become a sanctuary to the most dangerous array of killers, gangsters and thieves in all of Indonesia. There is already a bit of tension generated when the rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) questions the veteran Jaka (Joe Taslim) as to the validity of who gave this extremely dangerous order and put together this particular group of men. The feeling is echoed from Jaka when they arrive at the building and he meets up with the suspicious Lieutenant who orders the men in. This is where we enter the Walter Hill/John Carpenter zone, when shortly after entry the twitchy Lieutenant shoots a 12-year-old “spotter” through the neck and the war begins. The building is completely shut down, communications are jammed and snipers quickly dispatch the outside unit while their SWAT truck is riddled with machine gun fire. Tama issues an offer to the building’s residents via loudspeaker of free rent and protection to whomever can kill the most SWAT members still left inside. Gulp!
From this point it’s one amazing action set piece after another. At first, there is a great deal of some of the most incredible close range shootouts I’ve ever seen with uber-violent moments including a dude getting shot point blank in the head not one, but three rapid fire times! Many of the SWAT guys get wasted and before long the group is down to a sparse few and is forced to split up. Once the ammo is all used up the boys start moving from floor to floor, fighting with their batons and knives as an endless wave of machete wielding maniacs assaults them. There’s an incredible knife fighting sequence that takes place down a long winding corridor as multiple assailants attack our hero, that rivals Oldboy in terms of pure visceral brutality combined with cinematic wet-your-pants awesomeness. Finally, when we get closer to the top floor where our main bad guy resides over a bank of surveillance cameras that watch the survivor’s every move, we get down to some good old fashioned martial arts. This is beautifully illustrated in an amazing scene in which Tama’s main enforcer, a pint-sized yet deadly terror named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), gets the drop on an unarmed Jaka with his gun, but instead of plugging the cop, he unloads his weapon and chooses to fight with his hands and feet because he takes greater pleasure in killing that way. It’s majorly fucking cool! This runt is so savage it takes two men to fight him in the end and even when he gets a fluorescent light bulb jammed in his jugular, it just makes him angrier! The fighting in this film is the most gritty, violent and entertaining stuff I’ve ever seen and big props go to the fight choreographers and stars – Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian.
You would think that the director would be some local Indonesian film brat who somehow got his hands on a little cash and knocked this baby out of the park, because it is from start to finish pure Asian action at its very finest in every way. But no, this film was written, edited and directed by a big white Brit from Wales named Gareth Evans, who grew up with a huge love for late 80’s, early 90’s Hong Kong action. He started making movies In Indonesia when his wife got him a gig doing a documentary there and he has now become the number one Indonesian martial arts filmmaker. Isn’t this an awesome world? The guy brings so many great influences and jams them all together in this wonderfully simple plot that’s just filled with some of the most intricate and well staged action ever filmed. He even adds elements of survival horror touches here and there to elevate the already high level of suspense that exists from almost the very moment it begins. Overall, The Raid: Redemption is a genre explosion that will appeal to geeks everywhere because it gives us everything we’ve already seen and love and presents in a fresh and very well crafted way from a variety of unlikely sources.
The music for the U.S. release is an omnipresent, pulsating score by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Joseph Trapanese of Daft Punk that brings to mind the kind of atmosphere and tension building stuff of vintage Tangerine Dream and John Carpenter, but with that fresh new sound all the kids are crazy about. Both musicians were on hand for the Q & A after the screening along with director, Gareth Evans who told us that he’s getting ready to start filming the sequel to The Raid in January of next year in Indonesia and that he’s also executive producing the obligatory American remake that’s currently in pre-production. He thinks it will be good as long as they give a talented director the chance to do something cool and fresh with the material, which for cinematic purposes is really universal and can take place anywhere in any city. The fight choreography team of Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian will be involved with the remake we were told, so at the very least the fight scenes should be off the fucking chain.
The Raid: Redemption opens on March 23rd in select cities and I highly recommend if you are in the slightest bit a fan of great action or just bad ass cinema in general, you fucking run as fast as you can to see this! It’s a bone-crushing, nose-splintering, leg-snapping, brain-splattering, axe-caving, guts-slicing, face-smashing, back-cracking good time at the movies!
Out of a Possible 5 Stars