There are everyday martial arts films and those from which you walk away convinced that at least one combatant suffered permanently debilitating injuries. Movies like The Raid: Redemption sure as hell don’t come along every day, but oh, what a glorious rush it would be if they did.
Welsh writer / director Gareth Huw Evans’s breakout film is a relentless, fist-pumping triumph of pure, unadulterated hand-to-hand combat. The movie tops itself in bone-crunching bombast every 10 minutes, using a unique Indonesian martial art you must see here before it’s diluted in a planned American remake.
Known as pencak silat, this discipline combines the tried-and-true foot-fist way with joint manipulation, throwing and bladed weapons. After directing a pencak silat documentary, Evans’s infatuation led to 2009’s fictional Merantau, which, despite a pokey narrative, introduced his flair for filming furious fights as well as charismatic actor Iko Uwais, a pencak silat enthusiast who joined creative forces with Evans.
Those two, along with Yayan Ruhian — who also stars as the unforgettably savage Mad Dog — choreographed the fights in The Raid: Redemption. And after a relatively calm setup of 10 minutes, their harrowing handiwork takes over. They understand the story is wafer-thin, but they also know, inside and out, their selling point: Watch scrappy Jakarta SWAT cops, depleted of ammo, take on floors and scores of criminals with feet, fists, heads and knives. Boy howdy, you’ll be buying.
Rama (Uwais) is a rookie cop with a baby on the way and a spot on a SWAT raid on a highrise to hell — a 30-floor slum overseen by crime boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy), who rents to the city’s most violent criminals and, it seems, hands out a free machete with every lease.
As the well-armed team silently swoops in with zip ties, garrotes and duct tape, they offer only the right to habeas corpse-us. But with tactical might comes overconfidence and a lack of vigilance. When a runner spots the team, the plan spirals sideways, and from his control room, Tama issues a mandate: Anyone who kills a cop can live rent-free in perpetuity, adding, “And please, enjoy yourselves.”
Floor after floor, Tama’s well-armed cockroaches spill forth and reduce the ranks of the SWAT team down to a handful — including Rama, team leader Jaka (Joe Taslim) and suspiciously tight-lipped Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno). With such aggressive violence, The Raid: Redemption addresses the problem of most martial-arts lackeys who get kicked once, then remain prostrate. Here, they get back up until Rama, Jaka and Wahyu put them down permanently.
But these machete-wielding loons are nothing next to Tama’s right-hand combo of brains and brawn. The aforementioned Mad Dog is a doctor of pain who takes victims’ pulses in the most violent ways possible; “pulling a trigger,” he says, “is like ordering takeout.” Cut from the same cloth as Karl from Die Hard, Mad Dog seems supernaturally unstoppable and a three-man battle royale featuring him becomes a slugfest for the ages.
The Raid: Redemption never lets up until its closing credits, which would seem to amuse with credits like “Hole Drop Attacker #7” and “Drug Lab’s Guard #21.” But as the nameless bad guys accumulate, it’s just a reminder of the unmatched adrenaline rush The Raid: Redemption provides. A sequel in two years? Um, could it be here in two months?
The film arrives on an unrated Blu-ray with a digital copy. Save a few undetectably added blood spurts, isn’t appreciably different from the theatrical R-rated cut.
The disc also offers the option of the original Indonesian / Bahasa DTS-HD Master Audio or English-dubbed audio, as well as the choice of its original music score or one from Mike Shinoda (of Linkin Park) and Joseph Trapanese (TRON: Legacy). (The Indonesian / Shinoda & Trapenese combo, with subtitles, mirrors the film’s U.S. theatrical presentation.)
Visually, this transfer lacks crisp definition — flattening many of the images with a silver/purple tint. On the audio side, bullets from the initial firefight thunder and zing around the room (complete with one shotgun blast that will test the extremities of any subwoofer). Once the ammo runs out, the dynamics die down, with low-end whomps reserved for the most destructive body blows.
Evans offers a feature-length commentary, and other extras include: several making-of featurettes, including a look at the film’s centerpiece battle; a Q&A with Evans, Shinoda and Trapanese; a music featurette with Shinoda and Trapanese; a scene-specific look at the “hole drop” attack; and two amusing sidebars — a “remake” of the film with Claymation cats and a throwback animated ad for the film.