It might not be fair, but I don't judge martial arts movies by the same standard as I do other genres. I don't need character development, brilliant acting or nuance when it comes to a new kung-fu movie. I only need exhilarating action, an under-reliance on wire work and some savage ass-kickery. The Raid: Redemption not only delivers on those three fronts, but executes them perfectly (especially the ass-kickery part). I would even go so far as to say that there hasn't been such a relentlessly action packed movie since Hard Boiled came out in 1992 and introduced Chow Yun-fat to America.
The story is simple. Iko Uwais plays Rama, a member of a 20-man SWAT team planning to assault a derelict apartment building run by a ruthless drug lord. The problem is that the drug lord is at the very top of the building, so the cops have to fight their way up 15 floors, through dozens of machete wielding thugs. That's it. The first five minutes of the film is Rama doing some pull ups and kissing his pregnant wife goodbye, then it's on to 90 minutes of full blown action cinema chaos.
The Raid is the second film from star Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans after their 2009 debut, Merantau, a character-driven martial arts film. Merantau was written to showcase Iko Uwais' special brand of ass kicking, an Indonesian martial art called Pencak Silat. Pencak Silat looks similar to Muy Thai, made famous a few years ago by Tony Jaa and his series of Onk Bak films, but without the constant use of knees and elbows. Both fighting styles are based around putting your opponent out of the fight as quickly as possible instead of being flowery and showy like certain forms of Japanese Wushu. Also, the distinct lack of wire work in The Raid (as well as in Merantau) is a refreshing break from people flying everywhere in martial arts films ever since Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
In a perfect world, Iko Uwais would be the next giant action star. He's a better actor than Jackie Chan, is much more expressive than Jet Li, and can kick more ass than Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van-Damme combined. There's an incredible five-minute knife fight between Uwais and a dozen crack-head villains. In the next scene, it's Uwais against two dozen crack-head villains! It seems that Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais don't just want the film to have a few good action scenes, they're after a constantly escalating masterwork of martial arts cinema.
I found myself giggling like a little kid at the staggering intensity of bone-breaking mayhem that fills 90 percent of The Raid. As a fanatic for martial arts films, watching The Raid is akin to watching The Godfather or Alien for the first time: I felt like I was in the presence of an instant classic that will be remembered forever as one of the finest action films of all time.
The Raid: Redemption
Starring Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsyah, Ray Sahetapy and Yayan Ruhian.
Directed by Gareth Evans.
In Indonesian with English Subtitles.