Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Movie Review - The Raid: Redemption

Iko Uwais in
"The Raid: Redemption"
I've heard about this film ever since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. It got rave reviews. It even played in Salisbury, Maryland, a one-theater town with a multiplex that never gets foreign-language films. The reason it came to Salisbury is because The Raid: Redemption is pure violence, and, like sex, violence certainly sells. I got the impression that that's what it was, so I avoided it for nearly a year, but it was recently nominated for a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding International Motion Picture, and I wanted to know why.

The Raid: Redemption is basically martial arts porn. If sex doesn't get you off but instead dudes punching, kicking and stabbing each other, then this movie will require a lot of Kleenex for your pants. There's a one-on-one scene. There's a threesome. There's one or two orgies, and don't worry. A lot of people go down and a lot of bodily fluids get shot.

Because the movie is essentially pornographic, I don't see the point of judging it under the same standards as I judge other films. I would never judge a XXX film the same way as I judge a studio film from Disney or 20th Century Fox. The Raid: Redemption is just a platform to showcase the martial arts style from Indonesia known as Silat and give a vehicle to see a ton of guys get killed.

The story, such that it is, revolves around a young, Indonesian police officer named Rama, played by Iko Uwais. He's assigned to an unit that's going to invade a high-rise building in a bad part of town. The building has tenants who traffic drugs, and it's all controlled by a drug lord. The leader of the police unit gets his marching orders from a white-haired lieutenant whose name escapes me, but who wants to take down that drug lord. What happens is that the police unit walks into that building and also walks into a trap of which they have to shoot, fight, jump and axe their way out.

All the stuff with the police and the trap as well as possible corruption doesn't matter. All that does matter is the shooting, the fighting, the jumping and the axing. One nameless guy after another is killed in very, very brutal methods. It's fierce. It's dirty, and it's in your face. What the movie loves is depicting people getting shot in the head with the camera as close to the screen as possible, so close that the lens can catch the blood splatter.

Being that the lens never does, it's a wonder if all the blood was CGI. Yet, the movie also loves depicting people getting stabbed in the face and neck. There are also some intense and vicious chest wounds, but all the fights usually end with a guy getting mortally-wounded with a violent stab to the neck. It's done too many times to be anything but gratuitous. It's also done in close-up too many times to be anything but tasteless.

In porn, those neck stabbings would be considered the money shots. One of my complaints is that the fight scenes go on too long. After a while, I got bored with what I was seeing. I ask the question if porn can go on too long. If you're watching a XXX porn scene, I don't think the complaint is that it should be shorter. The scenes become endurance tests for Iko Uwais, the actor in the center. If they are tests, I would say that Uwais passes.

Gareth Evans is the writer and director of The Raid: Redemption. Evans was born in Wales where he grew up and went to film school. His first short film was in Japanese and featured Tokyo exchange students, so Evans clearly has an interest in Asian culture. Evans then went to Indonesia in 2007 to shoot a documentary about the martial arts of Silat. Evans discovered Iko Uwais who was a National Champion in the fighting sport. Evans asked Uwais to be in a movie as well as help choreograph the fight scenes. Uwais agreed and The Raid: Redemption is their second film together.

Yayan Ruhian who plays Mad Dog in this film is co-choreographer. Mad Dog is a pure hand-to-hand fighter. He doesn't like guns or knives. He likes to kill with his hands, usually snapping the neck after he's worn his opponent down. As such, his raw style is very strong, but this movie is a spotlight on Uwais who represents sheer, new talent in martial arts cinema that might not be the best but certainly is exciting.

This film is a good entry or introduction of Iko Uwais to American audiences. He has a long road before he's on the level of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Stephen Chow, or even Tony Jaa from Thailand. There are other up-and-coming Hong Kong martial artists/actors like Donnie Yen who American audiences won't recognize. Uwais has to compete with guys like Yen, but he certainly has the goods, the fighting skills, the handsomeness and some acting chops.

Aside from the brutal shootings and neck stabbings, the choreography of Uwais' fights aren't that innovative or entertaining. It's not entertaining or fun in the way Jackie Chan or Tony Jaa's fight scenes are. Its tone is slightly darker. Uwais' fights are almost desperate and scrappy. Uwais seems like he genuinely is desperate to survive in each of his scenes. Uwais as an actor is more convincing that way. He makes the blood, sweat and tears feel real.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated R for brutal bloody violence throughout and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 40 mins.

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