It Just Keeps Coming at You

In my last post, I mentioned “The Raid: Redemption,” a truly excellent Indonesian action flick. I wasn’t going to write about it specifically, but after watching it again I changed my mind.

If I had to pick one word to describe this movie, it would be this: AWESOME. This is one of the most streamlined, badass, highly entertaining action movies I have probably ever seen. Simply put, it is nirvana for action fans.

The setup is simple: a notorious gangster has set up shop in a rundown apartment building which has become a haven for killers, gangsters and drug addicts. A team of 20 elite cops is sent in to the building, with one very simple objective: take out the gang leader.

And so it begins. As expected by anyone watching the movie, things do not go as planned. The SWAT team’s cover is promptly blown when they encounter spotters soon after entering the building, and they become trapped, pinned down, and hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned.

That’s the gist of the plot. Like Expendables 2, it’s pretty simple, but The Raid manages a few interesting twists along the way, which I’m not going to spoil because seriously, you really need to see this movie. And, like Expendables, The Raid is all about action, and man oh man does it deliver.

This movie is packed with some of the most well-choreographed and incredibly brutal fight scenes I’ve ever seen. The actors performing these fights are clearly very good at the different kinds of martial arts employed, and the fights are unexaggerated and completely convincing. I know nothing whatsoever about martial arts, all I know is that the fighting style used in The Raid is called pencak silat, and it’s an Indonesian martial art.

The fights in this movie really are pretty amazing to behold. The remarkable thing about them is that they are believable and come across as realistic. The viewer gets the impression that these men really are capable of fighting like that. Suspension of disbelief isn’t really necessary since it’s obvious that the actors performing the fight scenes are very good at them.

The Raid was directed by a Welshman named Gareth Evans. I’m not really sure how a Welsh director came to be directing in Indonesia, but whatever. He clearly establishes himself as a director to watch. He edits the fights in a way that makes them easy to follow, so the viewer isn’t confused by it and doesn’t find it difficult to follow what’s happening onscreen. The action is as smoothly edited as it is well-choreographed.

I’ve heard a lot of complaints about how action scenes in modern movies are often edited so quickly that it can be hard to follow what’s going on. This is a criticism frequently directed at Paul Greengrass’ two “Bourne” movies, The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum. I’m a bit tired of hearing this complaint honestly, since the kind of editing employed in those films has never really bothered me. I think it actually serves those films pretty well, as, to me anyway, it enhances the intensity of the action.

But at the same time, I can see why people would find it off-putting. I did too, the first time I saw The Bourne Supremacy in the second row of the theater (my sister and I hadn’t anticipated that there would be so many people at the theater that night). Those kinds of people should be able to follow the action in The Raid with little difficulty.

Another great thing about this movie is that the fights don’t get boring. A movie with as many fight scenes as this one has runs the risk of becoming repetitive, but Evans is clearly aware of this and he varies the camera angles during the fights so that each one feels different. He also varies the setup for each fight: one where the protagonist takes on a hallway of bad guys with a nightstick and a combat knife, one where he fights a gang of thugs with machetes, a couple of one-on-one fights, and a two-on-one fight where the one is very evenly matched against the two.

This last one in particular is a marvel to behold: it lasts for about seven minutes straight and easily tops anything Michael Bay has ever done. The two protagonists battle the aptly-named Mad Dog, who can’t be much taller than five-foot-six or –seven but more than makes up for it, as he thrashes the protagonists and nearly beats both of them.

Ultimately he doesn’t, of course, because he’s a bad guy. His inevitable death is bloody and brutal, but the great thing is that since the viewer has already seen him take so much punishment, you’re half-expecting him to get up again. And Evans clearly knows this, since the camera lingers on Mad Dog’s bloody corpse as the protagonists leave the room, and the viewer is almost expecting him to get right back up and start handing out beatdowns again.

As you may have gathered, The Raid is not for the faint of heart. It’s brutal, bloody and relentless, and like Mad Dog, it just keeps coming at you. But it is also AWESOME, and is more entertaining and inventive than most Hollywood movies.

Gareth Evans for Expendables 3, anyone?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a movie to watch.

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