This post may contain spoilers. Read at your own discretion.
Called “Serbuan Maut” in Indonesian, Gareth Huw Evans’ second directorial masterpiece warrants exaltations from martial arts film fans. The Welsh director gathered some cast members from his 2009 film, “Merantau”, and created an action flick, which made its global debut in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Received positively, it also made its rounds in the most recent Indonesia International Fantastic Film Festival (iNAFFF) to hoardes of proud citizens.
“The Raid: Redemption” is pitched to appear as an action film of the “survival horror” kind. Its fighting scenes showcase the techniques of pencak silat, an indigenous martial art originating from Indonesia. The 101-minute experience is pocked with meticulously choreographed, graphic combat sequences that potentially raise the bar for the entire genre.
The film opens a little past four, where Rama (played by Iko Uwais) is performing Fajr, or the Muslim dawn prayer. In the background, an audible ticking is heard, uniting the juxtaposing scenes of him exercising with the serenity that envelopes his person as he kneels on his prayer rug, surrendering to spiritual dialogue. Time seems to revert to default speed, as he tucks a gun into his holster in a determined, purposeful motion. The noise awakes Rama’s heavily pregnant wife from sleep, and she lightly chides him for not waking her. He insists on her resting, for the sake of herself, and their unborn child. A brief tender moment is shared before he leaves.
The scene shifts to a dark home. An elderly man sits, wearing a pensive expression, sunlight barely lighting up the harder to reach corners of the abode. Rama approaches him, and affirms the intention to bring home one more individual, implying a rescue mission is at hand. It is later revealed that the individual is Andi, his estranged brother (played by Donny Alamsyah), and the earlier vow is made by a son and worried father.
Rainfall greets the Jakarta morning, as a black armoured truck sweeps through the wet streets of the city. Inside is a SWAT team of twenty men, sitting calmly and preparing their weapons. Sergeant Jaka (played by Joe Taslim) watches over the group, and briefs them on what they’re up against: a famous and nefarious gang of criminals residing in one of the most desolate and decrepit pits of the capital. Tension fills the air, and Jaka does not even sympathise with the visible nervousness of a slightly less experienced cop. When the team arrives on the site, Lieutenant Wahyu (played by Pierre Gruno) greets Jaka, and they agree to put the “kid” in the very back of the line.
A very careful group entry is achieved through a relatively smooth combative hack through the front security. The team establish a plan to smoke out the building through the sides of the structure. However, unbeknownst to their knowledge and strategy, they are to face a band of highly-skilled individuals hell-bent in preserving their illegal lifestyle, and discover the dark root of their extremely dangerous assignment.
“The Raid: Redemption” is definitely not a wholesome film. The fight scenes themselves do not shield viewers from the explicit realities of a brutal end, like blood, the sound of breaking bones, and death-knell cries. However, beneath all the adrenaline lies a web of a creative process, containing a cornucopia of well-crafted choreography, dark but careful filming, and clever twists in the writing. The original soundtrack also deserves recognition, because it is twenty-six numbers of aural goodness. My personal favourite, “Hole Drop”, contains amazing dubstep samplings that drop about a minute and a half in. The ones responsible for the music are Joseph Trapanese and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park fame.
This 2011 film is more than just complicated punches and flying kicks. In fact, “The Raid: Redemption” appears to toy around with the theme of futility. Ironic, considering the film’s title.
The casualty level of the raid is high, and it also becomes a re-examination of one’s loyalty. In the middle of the operation, Wahyu is found to have arranged the assignment out of his own previous altercation with the top leader, Tama (played by Ray Sahetapy), putting the lives of the team in great danger. As expected, Wahyu’s remaining men would get wind of this, and turn against him. On the individual level, Rama manages to find his brother amongst the bloodshed, but shortly after their reunion, he would lose him again. It would not be through a shower of bullets, however, but due to Andi’s refusal to abandon his questionable lifestyle. The team leave the building indefinitely with their arrests — one, being their own Lieutenant. Whether the raid is more effective than expected, or bore fruit at all, is left unanswered.
If I had any misgivings at all about “The Raid: Redemption”, it would be during the language cross-over. It seemed as though the translator took great liberties in inserting profanity into various parts of the English script, when there wasn’t really any. Now, I do not have sensitive ears nor harbour any moral opposition to colourful language, but I was mildly annoyed with the loss in translation. Since when did all anger need to be justified with a barrage of expletives? Granted, the film has a few instances of cursing — which the translator duly noted — but those scenes aside, any strong dialogue between characters are obscenity-free. Those who plan to watch this film, but do not have a strong command of the Indonesian language, please note that the dialogue is not as crass as the sub-titles make them to be.
The fighting, however, is.