Friday 25 May 2012

Raid Redemption Reviewed

Is this the best action movie ever as people keep saying?? Click for my spoiler free review.

Is this a good action movie? This answer is a big yes! Is this the best action movie in decades as many critics have been lauding? Possibly!!

This is Welsh born film director Gareth Evans’ second feature length movie to feature Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat and protagonist Iko Uwais.  Evans moved out to Indonesia and began several projects filming documentaries around 2006/7 and found himself fascinated by the Indonesian martial art.  This in turn led him to discover Iko Uwais in one of the Silat schools.  At the time Iko was working as a driver for a telcom company.  Evans recognized his physical prowess, charisma and screen presence and soon signed up the young fighter to a 5-year contract with his very own production house ‘Merantau Films’.

The first offering of this collaboration was the coming of age / martial arts combo movie titled Merantau in 2009.  I managed to catch Merantau with fellow podcaster Yaw shortly before I moved out to Singapore and we both agreed that it was impressively underwhelming.  Asian martial arts movies are a dime a dozen and I’m still not sure how this movie managed to gather so much hype and online momentum.  In the end I couldn’t really see what all the fuss was about.  Iko seemed very mediocre at best.  His moves seemed to lack the power and confidence that other martial arts actors such as Tony Jaa seem to be able to show on screen.  When Tony lands a punch you can feel the power, everyone in a five-mile radius usually dies and you actually feel like you may have sustained a broken rib or two just by watching his movies!  Iko never came across that way in Merantau.

So, understandably, I went to see The Raid Redemption with less than stellar expectations – but nonetheless I was pleasantly surprised.  Despite a cinema glitch whereby the subtitles were cut off for the first 10 minutes of the movie (thank you Cathay Cinema Downtown East), The Raid proved to be a much better movie than Merantau in every way.  The plot is paper thin and summed up in its entirety in the poster – 1 ruthless crime lord, 20 elite cops and 30 floors of chaos.  They try on occasion to throw in a small twist or plot device here and there but they only serve to distract from the main spectacle which is the action. 

Now I’m not sure if it’s Iko who has found his footing as a martial arts actor or whether Evans just has a better feel for action direction – perhaps it’s the combination of the two.  Whatever the reason, the action in this is everything it wasn’t in Merantau.  Hard, fast, bloody, very bloody and unashamedly brutal.  The camera never flinches or cuts to another scene as someone is about to be shot in the head.  Most movies would typically leave it to your imagination to fill in the blanks, instead in The Raid you literally see the guy getting his face blown off!  

Iko’s fighting also seems a lot more dangerous now, finally he comes across as someone not to be messed with.  His moves now have power and finesse; impacts feel hard and real and come fast and furious.  A significant improvement over Merantau.  This is first and foremost a martial arts movie so those of you expecting John Woo style poetic gun play in the vein of Hard Boiled or The Killer will be left shortchanged. 

Action direction and cinematography are also worthy of mention.  Iko did a lot of the fight choreography himself and has done a great job.  However, I do have to say that I really don’t see anything special about Pencak Silat as a martial art.  In this day of MMA, Silat offers nothing new or that we haven’t seen before.  It’s simply on the back of Iko’s physical performance that we enjoy this movie and the fighting we see.

Every scene is grey, dark, dirty and humid – the perfect aesthetic choice and it significantly adds to the atmosphere of the film, as does the aggressive sound design. 

Behind the scenes features show the significant amount of planning and preparation that was needed to bring this movie to the screen – arguably this movie would not have been possible in the West / US.  One moment involving desperate cops trying to escape from one level to another as hoards of almost zombie like thugs come chasing after them is a particular joy to watch and an example of a scene showing considerable technical skill.

So what separates this from the likes of Die Hard and Hard Boiled?  For me it’s simply that the movie is a one trick pony.  Wait – let me explain!  For me a great action movie will usually never be straight all out action, it rarely works.  Great action movies like The Rock, Face/Off, Die Hard, Hard Boiled, The Killer, Bad Boys etc etc all have one thing in common – they mix a certain level of humour and humanity to the action to create a connection with the viewer.  The Raid doesn't really do that, we never really care that much about what’s happening with the accessory characters and the sub-plots, for some this may ultimately stop The Raid from being on par with the elite of the action movies genre.  However, the fact that anyone is even making these comparisons is praise indeed for this movie.

In The Raid we just want to see our hero kicking ass! And that’s where the movie truly excels. 

The Bottom Line:

In the mood for some prime time ass kicking – then definitely check out The Raid Redemption, you won't regret it.

Update 6/1/2013:  After multiple viewings this movie has definitely gone up in my estimation to secure itself firmly as member of the 'best action movies' family.  The non-stop fighting just doesn't get any better and for pure unrelenting martial arts awesomeness this movie has no rival!

A must watch action movie!!

Revised rating 4 Flaming Skulls out of 5.


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