This is the first Indonesian movie I’ve ever seen, and I’m curious how it found its way into American theaters. Director Gareth Evans is a Welshman who has directed at least two previous feature films, one in Wales and another in Indonesia. He has a deft touch for action, that’s for sure. The Raid: Redemption (“Redemption” was added to the title because of a conflict with the title of another movie) is a cruise missile of a movie. It takes a few minutes to set up the basic premise, and then it’s basically one long, grueling action sequence for the rest of the film.
The set up? A police SWAT team invades a Jakarta tenement that’s controlled by a gangster named Tama and his army of thugs. The cops become trapped inside the building and embroiled in a bloody war of attrition with the gangsters. As the battle proceeds, we slowly come to understand how the SWAT invasion came to be, and the death toll slowly reveals who the protagonists of the story are.
This is an extremely violent and fairly bloody movie. Parts of it feel like John Woo’s Hardboiled (1992), with bloody gun battles at close quarters in the corridors and rooms of a cramped building. After a while it starts to feel more like a kung fu film, with hand-to-hand martial arts battles dominating the second half of the film.
Wikipedia says the film shows an Indonesian martial arts called Pencak Silat, but you certainly could’ve fooled me. It looks like kung fu to my uninitiated eye — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say it looks like the kind of martial arts practiced in Hong Kong movies. Two of the stars, Iko Uwais as the rookie cop, Rama, and Yayan Ruhian as the kick-ass bad guy, Mad Dog, are apparently real martial artists. Rama gets perhaps the best sequence in the film when he defends a wounded comrade from a steady stream of attackers in a corridor. Mad Dog gets the two major one-on-one fights (actually one-on-two in the climactic fight), and they are very impressive as well, although slightly repetitive.
I can definitely recommend this to fans of hardcore martial arts movies. The fighting and stuntwork are absolutely topnotch. Beyond that, however, the film is also very deft at visual story-telling, and it has some political depth to it. At the core, it’s about corruption, and actually the word “redemption” in the title highlights the ambiguous take on corruption the movie offers. The denouement resolves most plot threads in a kind of justice, but the final shots of a grinning bad guy and an anxious good guy imply more struggle to come. Wikipedia says Gareth Evans is planning a trilogy around these characters, and the success of this film means he’ll have a bigger budget on the next one.
Meanwhile Hollywood is apparently going to remake The Raid: Redemption, with Gareth Evans as producer. Wonder how that theme of corruption will play out …