by Craig Thomas
Indonesian films do not usually get much coverage in the UK. So it was with some surprise that I noticed The Raid: Redemption seemed to feature prominently on a variety of shows. Not only was it reviewed by the film critics, but it also appeared in features on general interest TV and even the news. The level of coverage for a non-English speaking film was somewhat perplexing. As a nation, we are not great consumers of the subtitled. So what was all the fuss about? Well, there was a lot of praise both for the film and it’s writer/director, the distinctly un-Indonesian Gareth Evans. The coverage was not so much about the film, but rather the story of a boy from Wales (For those who might not know, it’s a country next to England. Birthplace of Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey, Anthony Hopkins and technically, Christian Bale) who grew up, studied Scriptwriting in university, moved to Indonesia and made a successful movie full of non-stop action and horrendous violence. A proper kid done good story. And if there’s one thing we Brits like more than revelling in the failures of others, it’s undeservedly basking in their glory.
So what of the film? Well, it’s non-stop action in the truest sense. There’s two minutes of back-story for one of the characters, then five minutes of exposition in the form of a mission-briefing to a truckload of heavily-armed police officers, which can be summarized thusly; a very bad man owns a building and rents out the rooms to other very bad men. The police are going in to get the very bad man, but to do so have to go through all the other very bad men.
The next 90 minutes is a full-on assault of violence that would make Tarantino blush. People are shot, stabbed, garrotted, exploded, hacked, and subjected to non-stop barrages of the Indonesian martial art, pencak silat. That is pretty much the whole film, except it’s not. There’s a number of sub-plots that keep the momentum going and turn it into something a bit more interesting than people just beating each other up. I won’t go into these as it doesn’t add anything to the review and might detract from the film, but there are numerous twists and turns to give the violence some context.
It is always difficult to judge the quality of dialogue in a subtitled film, but it seemed well-written. Each line served a purpose, but also seemed natural, not just an attempt to shoe-horn in a plot point. There were also more than a couple of moments of black humour. It is very much a post-Reservoir Dogs action film, in that the juxtaposition of comedy and violence derives from the predicaments the characters find themselves in and is used to lighten the mood momentarily before plunging you back into the horror of the situation. This contrasts strongly with the action movies of the 1980s, which are seemingly (some might say unfortunately) making a comeback now, where throw-away quips are used to detract from, and almost legitimize, the extreme violence on display.
The script, like the film in general, is very lean. There is nothing here that is unnecessary or causes it to feel bloated. The editing is very quick and the camera movement means that the fight scenes do no blur into one another, and that the longer ones do not become a chore. This brings me to the most obvious thing about this film, namely the choreography. In a word, it is excellent. Making up the bulk of the movie, these scenes are expertly crafted and never feel stale nor repetitive and part of that is down to the good writing. There is a great deal of variety, without it drifting into the totally preposterous. As the tension increases, the weapons decrease (from machine guns, to hand guns, to knives, to whatever’s at hand, to bare hands) and the action becomes more elaborate, but somehow avoids becoming a farce. I can’t imagine the physical strain performing all those routines must have had on the actors, all of whom were perfectly cast and who make the characters compelling, even though there is virtually no back-story presented to the audience.
This is a very enjoyable film and manages to sustain the high-octane pace for the duration without outstaying its welcome. Visually, it is very impressive and the fight scenes are immense. Yet there are also a number of themes bubbling under the surface it which prevent it from becoming one-dimensional. This is a great action film with some brilliant fight scenes. That it was made by a fellow Welshman makes it doubly sweet.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I can confirm there will be both an English remake and an Indonesian sequel.
The Raid: Redemption is available on Blu-ray and DVD.