Sometimes I hear of a film, being whispered about by other film fanatics. A film so hard hitting, so full of testosterone, that I need to see this film as soon as I possibly can. Then I start hearing and reading all these tweets about a film, agreeing with those first whispers I heard back in September. An action film that doesn’t let up? One where you will grimace because you will feel the pain that these stuntmen on screen go through? An action film that will make you say, “Tony Wha?” Gareth Evans’ second film, The Raid: Redemption, is such a film. Did it live up to the expectations heaped upon it by my fellow film critics?
I’ll backtrack a bit before I let you know what I thought about the film. I became aware of Gareth Evans when I was asked to do a review for his first film Merantau, starring newcomer Iko Uwais, for the VCinema podcast. I had heard that the film was ‘non-stop action’ and that I’d love the intensity of the fight scenes. That was very true, because I fell in love with the film, which I looked as an Indonesian Ong Bak. A fish out of water tale, of a warrior who just wants to do the right thing, attempting to become a man and battling evil because it has to be done, no matter the cost. I also took to Uwais’ boyish charm, his naivety with the role of Yuda and the quickness with which he would battle, yet still getting his butt kicked as well made him a likable ‘hero’. Then I heard of a reuniting of this duo was going to come about and that was all.
Flash forward a few years later, a teaser popped up and a plot synopsis. I was intrigued because this time around, Iko Uwais was part of an Indonesian task force (a SWAT team if you will) who are infiltrating a drug kingpin’s lair, an intimidating apartment complex fortress, very much like a run down building in the projects, and will have to battle drug users, violent criminals and whoever else gets in their way. That’s all I knew about the film and I was hooked by the premise. After having seen the film, I felt like I had been in a battle with the film (in a good way of course). It’s one of those action movies that makes you go ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ every few minutes, sometimes multiple times in rapid succession, making your body move back and forth, in enjoyment and cringing a bit from some of the violence depicted on screen. Like older Indonesian and Filipino action films, you wonder how some of these stuntmen walked away from the violence depicted for us all.
And going into this film, I wasn’t expecting it to be centered around a serious and complex story and ultimately it wasn’t. It knows what it wants to do, which is to showcase the strengths of these performers and plenty of them are stuntmen, so you will get fights by the boatload, and it gives it this video game aesthetic. And I mean that in a positive way, mainly because it doesn’t let up. Yes, we have dialogue scenes to further the plot, a twist or two, character beats and a completely insane underling, but they are cut-scenes to a game that you can’t wait to get to the next onslaught. You don’t fast forward, though, because out of respect for those who made it, you want to maybe understand some of these character’s motivations.
Iko Uwais as Rama is again that likable and above all else a perfect guy (family man who has a child on the way), who is a rookie in this elite force, like many of his fellow officers. You see his honor right from the get go, when they are about to make their way into the building, he calmly speaks to a resident who isn’t an actual criminal while another officer is a bit too forceful in his dialogue. Once they go in and a spotter sees them, all hell breaks loose and that’s when the proverbial shit hits the fan but even then, Rama is a force to be reckoned with. First with a gun, then with two toyaks (I believe that’s what they’re called), then with a blade, and ultimately using hand to hand silat learned martial arts. It’s a very blunt and full bodied fighting style, one that looks fantastic on screen and Evans takes full advantage of it and it might be because he is an outsider who appreciates the style. His eye for action is perfect for this style and his finding of Uwais would be, for a religious person, a god-send.
Yayan Ruhian as Mad Dog is also one of those characters who looks a little bit like Al Jeong (from Die Hard, Big Trouble in Little China and every other action movie from the 80’s and 90’s) and you think with a name like that, he’s just going to be stark raving mad. But his insanity and violence have a purpose, at least for him, and he is calculating in his fighting, first when he confronts and has a battle with the SWAT team leader and then in a battle between Rama and an ally we kind of see coming from a mile away. I have to say it’s one of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in quite some time (probably since the one on two fight in Merantau or the end battle sequence in the Thai actioner Chocolate) and a fight scene that is well choreographed will make you second and triple guess what the outcome will be.
I’d also like to point out the soundtrack for the film, done by Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame. When I had heard the original soundtrack had been pushed aside for a bigger name to come in to view the film and give his take, I was skeptical at first. Not a Linkin Park fan and I only knew this guy as the ‘rapping one’. Luckily grandpa here fell in love with the soundtrack (which I’ve downloaded from iTunes) and really can’t see the film without it. I wonder what the original score for the film was but don’t feel like it takes away from the film. Of course it isn’t a Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross production, but it fits the action and builds upon certain scenes and is quite reserved during scenes that need the ‘silence’.
Our very own Joshua Brunsting wrote a fantastic review to this film only a short time ago when he got to check it out at SXSW. You should read that one too. The Raid: Redemption is what everyone has been saying it is, a non-stop rollercoaster action ride, where the hits don’t stop coming up until the end of the film. Is there any true redemption? It’s not important to the movie one bit. What is important is that if you are an action fan and after last year’s action resurgence with Fast Five, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Hanna and Elite Squad: The Enemy Within, this year has a lot to live up to. But with the action duo of Evans and Uwais, they’ve upped the ante in the action genre and I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves next*.
*Mind you, I know they have announced a trilogy of films, which I can’t wait to see. And also how they’ll top what they’ve presented to us already.