Gareth Evans has the Anglo name associated with the behind-the-scenes work—writing, editing, and directing—of the otherwise Indonesian film “The Raid: Redemption.” It is a contemporary kung fu movie with lots of man-on-man chopping and kicking and some machete work thrown in gratis. And for those of you who appreciate Aristotle’s Unities, “The Raid” is a kick in the head.
Almost all the action takes place one morning in a decaying seventeen-story apartment building controlled, rather than owned, by criminal king-pin Tama. Relying on his brainy advisor Andi (a man) and his diminutive enforcer Mad Dog, Tama sits atop his building, accepting rent from ordinary residents, mobsters, and at least one drug lab and providing them protection.
As the story opens, a paddy wagon load of police recruits breaks into the building, outflanking a sentry and then beginning a floor by floor clearance of the apartments. They are lead by a graying police lieutenant (whose motivations remain puzzling), veteran Jaka, and squad leader Rama (Iko Uwais). Rama is our point-of-view character. In the movie’s introduction he has told an older man, “I’ll bring him back,” a statement that remains mysterious until late in the film.
Evans’s producers haven’t spent much money on the sets, which seem to be nothing more than an indifferently reproduced apartment building hallway, a ragged apartment front room, an open stairwell, and a larger room that can figure as the drug lab and as Tama’s control room, where he sits to watch his security monitors.
What he sees, and what we see most of the time, is ragged men in their twenties and thirties rushing out to attack the cops, who allow their force to be split. Over and over again Rama or Jaka will fight a series of attackers, one after another. In the second half of the film, Rama gets to taking on two at a time. There may be five guys after him, but only two at a time will actually be trying to hit or kick him.
Early on the cops don’t want to shoot off guns for fear of warning the building’s residents. Then there is an orgy of shooting in a stairway fire fight. Then there is little shooting because almost all the ammunition has been used up. So Evans has found ways to make knife fighting and fist fighting primary despite the modern setting.
The fighting is fairly imaginative. But emphasis (sometimes gotten through the use of slow motion filming) tends to go to decisive passages of action rather than to imaginative ones. The fighters rarely seem winded. And the runs of spinning and kicking and ducking and biffing don’t seem to develop so much as they seem to link on, like a single line of Legos, different colors but all the same size and shape.
The tension, though, if pretty real. One pulls for Rama, and when he’s trapped in that long, narrow priest’s hole and the searcher is poking his long knife through the wall at random points—man, that business works.
So do the subtitles. One doesn’t really need language to get what it is the movie has to offer—action. A couple of times one picks up a little Spanish in the audible dialog. I didn’t hear anything like Dutch, which would have seemed more likely. In one astonishing speech, something that sounds like “I Ching” is translated as the Anglo-Saxon dismissive curse.
But probably I was the only one watching “The Raid: Redemption” who was paying attention to the translations. Just as I’m probably the only one who thinks the title inordinately ugly. What? Is this a sequel to another movie? Who or what gets redeemed? Ching the title writer. Everybody else associated with the project gets a pass.