Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Raid: Redemption

Alternate Title:  Ass Kicking, The Game: The Movie

One sentence synopsis:  An Indonesian SWAT officer must fight his way through an apartment complex filled with the minions of an evil drug lord.

Things Havoc liked:  There is a part of me that appreciates the premise of a movie like this. One man is required for arbitrary reasons to beat the hell out of an entire army of bad guys using only his guns, melee weapons, and martial art fighting skills. A movie that has no pretensions of being anything except precisely what it is: a showcase for violence in the most cinematic style conceivable. There is a place in my heart for this sort of film, and I went into it expecting to see awesomeness.

The Raid is an Indonesian production, designed to showcase the panoply of indigenous martial arts known as Pencak Silat, a catch-all term for a series of martial arts practiced throughout the Indonesian islands. I can't say that I can tell the difference between Silat and other south-east-asian martial arts, but then I don't suppose I need to. Indo-chinese martial arts are infamous for their brutal, vicious deadliness, with many limbs being snapped in horrible, acrobatic fashions. This movie provides more than enough opportunities to showcase Silat in all its gory glory, as our hero proceeds from assault rifles to guns to melee weapons to bare fists, destroying a metric horde of enemies in every conceivable manner. Action sequences are varied and high-energy, showcasing the skills of our hero (Iko Uwais) over those of his sufficiently dastardly enemies. If Uwais is attempting to make it as an action movie star, this film should give him plenty of bragging rights, for he definitely comes across as a sufficiently bad dude here.

Of course a hero is nothing if not pitted against sufficiently nasty antagonists, and this movie establishes several excellent ones, particularly the inventively-named "Mad Dog" (Yayan Ruhian), a reasonably small man who exhibits terrifying skill at demolishing those people who cross his path. Several other antagonists, including a terrifying-looking man with a machete whose name I have been unable to determine, serve as excellent foils for our heroes efforts to smash his way through every floor of the run-down apartment building. All of these men perform stunt-work that is truly impressive, and succeed in selling the ruthless, brutal violence that the movie uses as its raison-d'etre.

Things Havoc disliked: You may have noticed that I didn't mention the plot above. The reason for that isn't what you think.

A movie like this is not going to be plot-heavy. The plot exists as a vehicle for fight sequences of greater or lesser length, and is generally dispensed with. Many martial arts films actually take pride in this fact, producing advertising that hinges on the notion of having a complete, 90+ minute film without any of that boring plot stuff to get in the way. Walking into this movie, I felt as though I had been promised such a thing, and was disappointed to find that I did not receive it.

Before anyone pillories me, I'm not saying that movies should not have plots. I am saying that the plot in this film, which is necessarily forgettable and foolish, was not worth the sacrifice of 30-or-so minutes of the runtime. Standard movies must have plots, of course, but the martial arts film is a genre unto itself, and while there are plenty of martial arts films with excellent plots, characters, and story (Fearless, Kung Fu Hustle, etc...) a lazy, half-MacGuffin plot simply does not add to the experience. One is reminded of the old saying about pornographic movie plots, that they are expected to be there, but do not form the attraction of the film.  The filmmakers should have had the courage to actually follow through with their plot-less convictions, or alternately should have put in the time and effort to give us something worth seeing for half an hour of their movie. They unfortunately did neither.

But while the plot is secondary to a film like this, the action is not, and much as it pains me to say, this action, while good, is not world-class. Films like Ong Bak, or Sat Po Long have really raised the bar in terms of what superb action choreography and filming can be these days, and the fight sequences in The Raid, impressive as they are, athletic as they are, are not in the league of the reigning champions of this genre. The battles seem too choreographed, too forced, too close to the old saw of one man destroying legions of foes with one move each as they obediantly attack him one after the next. The durability of the hero and his major opponents becomes ludicrous after a point, and while none of this makes the film bad, it doesn't elevate it to the stratospheric heights of the great films in the genre.

Final thoughts:    Lest I seem too harsh though, this is a movie that more or less does exactly what it was intended to do, provide a spectacle of beatings and violence to entertain those who have an affinity for such things. Nothing here is done particularly badly, but neither is it elevated above its material. Still, if one is eager to see one man beat the tar out of many in a flashy, cinematic fashion, one could do far worse than this. Anyone else simply need not apply.

Final Score:  6.5/10

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