Add my voice to the chorus of praise for THE RAID: REDEMPTION, the Gareth Evens-Iko Uwais collaboration that opened in Boston last week. I’ve seen it twice already, and my respect for what they’ve accomplished here has grown with each viewing. The story is mythic, the execution both primal and layered. If this is the first martial arts film you ever see, you’ll be blown away. If it’s the 5,000th, you’ll appreciate all the references and tweaks on genre tropes, and you’ll also be blown away.
I have to confess that I’ve always been one of those snobs who says, “The only people who really know how to shoot and edit a fight scene are the old school Hong Kong guys!” So Evans has proved me wrong. I don’t know if he ever practiced any of the arts, but he does what I previously have only seen the best Hong Kong people do, that is, make the camerawork and the action a seamless whole. He brings you inside the fights. Most of the action footage is handheld, tightly framed on the combatants and staying with them. The scenes have the immediacy of a Youtube video, but one composed with a painterly eye. Periodically the camera locks down for one of the jaw-dropping money shots, the bodies lit like a Renaissance masterpiece. Light and darkness battle in the Jakarta slum, and from the shadows, the camera’s eye picks out the gleam of sweat and blood and metal, highlights sparking off chains and gun barrels and blades.
Reviewers who have complained about the violence are missing the point. This is a hero story. What makes a hero, in Gareth Evans’ world? Faith, discipline, devotion to family and friends, and a determination to do his job. These are the qualities we see in the young cop Rama, played by Uwais. His enemies are characterized by faithlessness and paranoia. Martial arts films traditionally emphasize the righteousness of the hero, so then the question is, how badass does someone have to be to get the hero to cut loose? The answer is, very, very badass. Only in the most dire circumstances can the hero show the full extent of his ability. Of course the violence is exaggerated. Think of it as a metaphor, an allegory about slaying inner demons.
Yayan Ruhian (left) and Joe Taslim in THE RAID: REDEMPTION.
The cast is uniformly excellent. Joe Taslim (Jaka) plays Rama’s team commander, a mentor and role model for the young rookie. Tegar Satrya (Bowo) is the comic sidekick. Pierre Gruno (Wahyu) is a weasel, and Ray Sahetapy (Tama) and Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog) are the most prominently featured psychopaths. Taslim, Ruhian, Doni Alamsyah (who plays cold-blooded Andi), and Uwais are the standout martial artists, but the whole stunt crew deserves a big round of applause. I’m not familiar with silat – what we see here is fast and brutal.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION has been compared to video games and zombie movies, but only focusing on the action shortchanges the story. It’s about digging deep and getting the job done, even when the shitstorm is flying around you. We’ve all had days like that. Rama is an ordinary hero, just ramped up a few levels. He outsmarts as well as outfights the bad guys. And he ends up making the good guys look really, really good. That’s not a bad message to take home after the mayhem comes to an end.
I’m so pumped about this movie, I asked my friend and kung fu brother Mike Nuell to contribute his thoughts on the film:
“Action stripped down to it’s absolute core. This is the RESERVOIR DOGS of the genre. Don’t miss THE RAID: REDEMPTION in theaters— you’re going to want to see it more than once. Handsdown the best action flick since Die Hard 1. Gareth Evans is the John Woo of his generation. See this film. Spread the word.”
So there you have it. Two longtime fans, two raves. And THE RAID: REDEMPTION, against huge odds (it’s in Indonesian, with no name stars), is finding its audience in the US. The release bumped up to 176 theaters this past weekend, and it’s now #11 on the charts. Watch for a position in the top ten next week. This movie is on fire.
Update 4/11: THE RAID: REDEMPTION is now listed at #14 for last weekend, but it’s about to open in a bunch of new theaters on Friday. I still think it will make the top ten sometime soon. I added a Youtube video below suggested by phrygian – it’s an amazing live demo by a very young Iko Uwais and his team.
THE RAID: REDEMPTION trailer:
Iko Uwais and his team in 2006:
Check out Iko Uwais’ silat form in this video:
Gareth Evens • Iko Uwais