Although it’s easy to forget, what with my love of Glee, musical theater, and more feminine venues of artistic expression, I am a man. And occasionally, I need visceral, testosterone-fueled outlets for my more masculine urges. That’s likely why I can enjoy stylized, hyper-violent video games. Something in me as a man inherently appreciates a chance to vent that sort of aggression that evolution instilled in me somewhere but that society has more or less made unnecessary. It’s the same with how I can enjoy professional wrestling (and yes I know it’s fake) and also like Terrence Malick or Federico Fellini at the same time. It’s nice to see displays of masculine athleticism. And the visual poetry of well-choreographed martial arts explains why legions of men have loved “kung fu” movies (even when it’s a different school of martial arts) for decades now. It’s machismo with actual talent.
Long-time readers know my love of the burgeoning martial arts scene coming from Southeast Asia over the last decade or so, particularly the film’s involving Thailand’s muay thai master Tony Jaa (Ong Bak). I took martial arts lessons for a long time when I was younger (although I was pretty terrible at it), and I’ve always loved watching bad-ass men prove how athletic and talented they are destruction with just their fists and feet. I’m not sure if it’s possible to watch a well-choreographed martial arts film and not at least get an adrenaline rush from the skill these guys show with their body. It’s a true mastery of mind and body, and it’s a talent that should be celebrated. 2011’s The Raid: Redemption starts out and worries viewers by making you think that it’s just another guns-blazing action film, but when everyone finally runs out of ammo, the movie becomes a martial arts extravaganza that’s a feast for the eyes.
An elite swat team has orders to infiltrate a heavily guarded tenement building in the slums of Indonesia. The building is the home of the operations (and soldiers) of one of Indonesia’s most feared and brutal drug lords. Led by the honorable Jaka (Joe Taslim) and the sketchy/scheming Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), the team of 20 or so rookie swat members storm the drug den unaware of the hell they are walking into. When 75% of the force is wiped out after the group fails to kill a child who is a scout for the drug dealers, it’s up to the four remaining members of the team to fight their way out of the building. And most of the duty for escape falls on the shoulders of rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) whose martial arts skills prove to be the only thing that’s keeping him and his squadmates alive.
The characters in the film are paper thing and almost without definition beyond their ability to be weapons of mass destruction with just their fists. And the story doesn’t provide any twists that you didn’t see coming besides a minor plot point about Rama being the brother of one of the drug lord’s top lieutenants. The acting isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t anything to write home about. But, when you’re watching The Raid: Redemption, you don’t care about any of these things. The sheer spectacle of the film as the silat fighting style is shown off like never before is enough to keep you glued to your seat for the entire running time. Whether Rama is fighting off 30 thugs with just a nightstick and knife or he and his brother attempt to fight against just one superhumanly athletic man, The Raid will serve as a future lesson on how to do gorgeous fight choreography.
I’ll keep this review short. It’s an action film and if you don’t like martial arts movies, you’re not going to like this one. But for anybody who is a fan of the theatrics of martial arts wizardry, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a film more bad-ass than The Raid: Redemption. The film seemed a little disappointing at the beginning when everyone was still using their guns, but that’s because gunplay is almost never as gorgeous as fists of fury. But, when the fighting becomes more brutal and in-your-face, The Raid becomes a literal non-stop fight for survival that displays some of the most innovative and adrenaline-pumping martial arts action this side of Tony Jaa. Watch it now.
Final Score: B