by Coop Cooper
Martial arts films usually fall in and out of favor with the public as often as the styles that showcase them. Bruce Lee caused a worldwide Kung Fu sensation in the 1970’s. In the past few decades, Karate, Kendo, Ninjitsu, Muay Thai, Kempo, MMA and even Brazilian Capoeira have all had their cinematic moment in the sun. UK director Gareth Evans is banking that the dangerous Indonesian martial art ‘Silat’ is the next big thing and has made two films in order to prove it. The first was 2009’s “Merantau” and now Evans has created an indie sensation with his latest “The Raid: Redemption.”
In the slums of Jakarta, a 20-man SWAT team deploys to raid the 15-story lair of a ruthless crime boss. When inside, the team finds themselves locked in and surrounded. They soon learn that their raid was not officially sanctioned and no backup can be authorized. Also, the complex is a black-market haven for every violent criminal in the city. The crime boss offers free sanctuary and rewards to anyone who brings him the corpse of a cop. With their numbers quickly dwindling, rookie officer Rama (Iko Uwais), a Silat expert, must defend his remaining men against the crime boss, a horde of murderous thugs and a psychopathic Silat master.
“The Raid” features some of the best fight choreography I’ve ever seen in any martial arts/action film. It is apparent Evans studied the films of John Woo who took shoot-em-up films in the 80’s and 90’s to outrageous new levels. As Woo’s “Hard Boiled” once topped “Die Hard” with its jaw-dropping hospital shoot-out scene, “The Raid” attempts to top them all with its intensity and gutsy approach to its action sequences. Every single hit, punch, kick and stab in this film looks hyper-real and extremely painful. If no stunt men were permanently injured, it would be a miracle.
The trick which seems to make “The Raid” so effective – along with the stunts – is a competent mixture of computer generated effects to enhance the action in the scenes. CGI effects have come a long way since Hollywood tried to use it a decade ago to create incredibly lousy fake blood spurts in action and horror films. It appears as if the technique has been improved as the technology in “The Raid” is also used to enhance the knife fights, blunt injury and machine gun fire within the film. Quick editing also helps hide the illusion, but it was very difficult to spot ‘fake’ effects in the film. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear a stunt actor got his back broken in half during the film… that’s how expertly the effects are executed.
The story also gets a lot of credit. It seems like such a simple action formula, but Evans adds some surprise layers to the plot, changing the dynamic of the story as it goes along. At first it’s a shoot-em-up action film, until everyone’s ammo runs out. Then it becomes a hide-and-seek thriller, until there is no place left to hide. Then it becomes like “The Departed” as double-crosses and unlikely alliances begin to form. Finally the gloves come off and brutal hand-to-hand violence becomes the only option for the desperate survivors.
I’m impressed by the martial art of Silat. It’s quick, punishing, disorienting to watch and lends for some crowd-pleasing moments. Time will tell if its popularity continues on to appear in many more martial arts/action films. With “The Raid: Redemption” causing such a stir overseas and in the festival circuit, it might have a few years of hype left.
If you’re an action fan, don’t miss “The Raid: Redemption” (still in limited theatrical circulation) when it eventually releases on video. It’s a must-see.
Rating: 4 out of 5