When you walk into the light of day after seeing the Indonesian action flick “The Raid: Redemption,” you feel like you’ve been pummeled by a two-by-four, flung off a fifth story balcony, and slammed into a concrete wall. In a good way.
You’ve pretty much been holding your breath for 90 minutes, watching some of the craziest and most intense action scenes to hit theaters in a long time. It’s the kind of experience you swear you'd never want to go through again, but once the last wave of adrenaline leaves your system, you’re ready to go back for a second helping.
Welsh director Gareth Evans lived in Jakarta for a few years and discovered silat – Indonesia’s martial art that has its root in ancient Sumatra. According to one legend, a Sumatran woman invented silat centuries ago by watching the movements of animals as they fought.
“The Raid: Redemption” is Evans's second movie based on silat -- the first was "Merantau" -- and it showcases the raw brutality and speed of silat. And it never holds back. The moves are so lightning fast and deadly it makes karate look gentle (which it’s not, except maybe when Will Smith’s kid is doing it).
But even though the mano-a-mano combat in “The Raid" gives the movie its visceral punch, its the story that sucks you in from the first shot.
Rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) starts his day cranking out crunches and pull-ups before kissing his pregnant wife goodbye. He’s a good dude – he just has that kind of face. Rama and the rest of the SWAT team suit up and pile into an armored van, where they’re briefed by the ranking officer, Jaka. Their mission is clear: break into a decrepit, thirty story building run by a ruthless drug lord (Ray Sahetapy), take out his guards and anyone who gets in their way, get the drug lord (dead or alive), and get the hell out.
The tension starts the second Rama's unit busts out of the van and relentlessly builds until the bloody end. The drug lord is a guy who enjoys killing, laying in wait on the top floor.
The SWAT team soon finds out they’re in deep as their men are slaughtered like pigs running straight into a meat grinder. Rama eventually understands the suicide nature of the mission and adopts a new goal: get out alive -- not easy when crazed drug addicts are hunting you with machetes and hate in their eyes.
Even though Rama is a rookie, he forgoes the weapons, stays true to his morals, and bulldozes his way through the building with his incredible silat skills and his quicksilver thinking. Rama doesn’t wait for guys to come at him. When he’s alone and cornered in a hallway by a dozen rabid thugs wielding weapons, he takes a single breath, braces himself, and charges straight at them – empty-handed. It’s insane to watch, and like the rest of the film, it feels almost too real.
Evans, the director, throws in some good twists to keep you on edge, and the drug lord’s henchman Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) is to this film what the Joker was to "The Dark Night" – demonic, depraved, scary as hell. Ruhian is a real-life silat master, and he choreographed much of the fighting in the film.
Evans has a sequel in development starring Uwais, and there’s also an English-language remake in the works. Makes sense. You might have been too busy flinching at each brutal bone crush and skull slam to really see it all. So you want more.