The premise of the Indonesian martial arts film The Raid (given the subtitle Redemption for its U.S. release by Sony) is ridiculously simple: a SWAT team hits an apartment block ruled by a drug kingpin in order to capture and bring him in. But in that premise, Welsh director Gareth Evans' film finds room to create a complicated symphony of violence set to the hard packing sounds of kicks and punches to the torso and the splash of blood on a grimy tenement floor.
It's not precisely about anything except for the tension of fresh violence and the horrible things one motivated can do to another's body, but in its own way, The Raid is a piece of fine art among modern kicking and punching movies.
The film stars Merantau Iko Uwais, or more properly, his fists and feet, which should get second and third billing. Uwais plays Rama, one of the members of the team hitting cold-blooded drug kingpin Tama's (Ray Sahetapy) headquarters, but then Rama has another agenda hinted at by the film's opening (and if you've seen Merantau, you know where that's going).
After making their way into the building, Tama turns the tables on the cops, promising the machete-wielding junkies that live in the building a rent-free life if they kill a police officer. A traitor in the cops' midst and Rama's hidden agenda provide the barest extra bits of story where long stretches can go without any dialog, and the only sounds you'll hear are Rama just destroying a collection of gang members and drug addict tenants.
If it sounds like I'm knocking the story, I'm not really: the story here is just an engine that helps get the action going. I think a better way of thinking of The Raid and its story is pared-down or spare--there's something ruthlessly efficient about how Evan's script introduces and then immediately ramps up the danger for its characters. Evans also has a keen mind for setting up tense scenarios, like the one where Rama and a squadmate hide in a hollowed-out wall. I dare you not to cringe when one of Tama's goons jams his machete through the wall. It also helps that Uwais is such an easily charismatic actor, with boyish face and big ears, he exudes simple decency (which is completely demolished by his proficiency at doling out pain onscreen).
I keep trying to come up with clever ways to talk about the fights in the movie, which employ the Silat technique which emphasizes more close-quarters combat. Most of the fights are Uwais' Rama against multiple opponents, and I love the kinetics of them: Rama comes into contact with an opponent and hit or get hit he heads into a collision course with another until they're all on the ground. Any complaints about the film mirroring a video game's structure are kind of apt, even down to the need for co-op to take down the final boss.
In spite of (or maybe because of) its sparseness, I was impressed with The Raid. Evans has proven that he has a great eye for choreographing action--now let's see if he can inject some heart into his next film.
Sony's disc contains plenty of audio option, but the ones you might want to check out are the two Malay tracks with alternate audio tracks. The first is from the original release while the other includes audio from Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda. Visually, the disc is a little harder to get excited about--The Raid was a fairly low-budget production and the video quality is variable, with some sharp texture and detail in the skin mixed with soft colors and inconsistent blacks. It's likely the best we'll get given the source material.
Besides including the original music track, there's a lot on this disc to keep you occupied after the movie is over, including a moderated conversation between Gareth Evans and composer Mike Shinoda after a screening of the film (clocking in at around 40 minutes); six video blogs breaking down some of the film's fights (these are pretty short and sweet); the film's theatrical trailer as well as two mock trailers, one done in a mid-90's cartoon style, the other made entirely of clay cats; a behind-the-scenes doc about the music featuring Mike Shinoda and Joe Trapanese (11 minutes); a two minute "Anatomy of a Scene" piece on the hole drop sequence; a trailer for the movie's score; four short conversations with Evans breaking down his work on the film.
The Raid is available on DVD and Blu-ray now from Sony Home Pictures Entertainment. Mondo has just debuted a new poster for the film which you can check out on the Movies Blog.