The Raid: Redemption (directed by Gareth Evans, 2011) is a testosterone-filled movie about a rookie police officer whose squad infiltrates a thirty-story building where the target is a terrorist of a crime lord. The 101-minute film is loaded with brilliant martial arts choreography that will surely give South East Asia notice among the better part of the Asian-martial art spectrum. Despite the epic fight scenes and sharp placement of the camera, the plot leaves something to be desired. Have no fear however, if you aren’t worried about how congruent the plot is, the martial arts and concept of brotherhood shown works hand in hand to create an environment that will satisfy even the most staunch critic. Remember that the star of the film is the jaw-dropping action, never mind an intricate plot. I want to be entertained with fists, not words!

The opening starts with Rama (fresh actor and longtime Pencat Silat practitioner Iko Uwais) praying early in the morning per ritual whilst his pregnant wife lies asleep in bed. The second scene has him training fastidiously, never missing a beat. Clean and in uniform, he kisses his slumbering wife before she awakens and tenderly says her goodbye to him. He kisses her clothed swollen tummy and asks for their child to wait for his return. The last scene has him approaching the doorway where an elderly man looks forlornly at him with pleading eyes. Rama promises to bring “him” back, we can only assume is the man’s son. Already we have the picture of a young Indonesian man with familial responsibility (wife and the unborn child), discipline (training to keep fit), and religion (shows unwavering spirit). He is likable and a hero in the eyes of the audience.

A lead actor who can do his own stunts? Check!

Next is the introduction of a twenty-man squad in a black van with Sergeant Jaka (former gold-winning Judo athlete Joe Taslim), the harden officer who wants to clean up this city. He gives one hell of a pep talk to the group, inspiring the group as well as myself (if you wish to see an upcoming movie with Taslim as a villain, he’ll be in the 2013 film “The Fast and the Furious 6”) that Jakarta has serious issues pertaining to crime and it is up to their group to put a stop to injustice. Lieutenant Wahyu, an older officer wearing a white shirt underneath a black bulletproof vest waits for the group, and orders Sgt. Jaka to have the group of rookies in the back of the group so they aren’t in the way. Well excuse me Judas–er, Lt. Wahyu but I already have my suspicions on you and your white shirt; you stick out like a sore thumb among the squad clad in black. We also have the foil to Rama among the officers, Bowo, who snaps at Rama when a question was asked and refuses to cooperate with a tenant. However minor squabbles do not weigh heavily while on a mission and it is Rama who helps Bowo after a near-fatal injury.

Sgt. Jaka describing Tama without obscenities (hint: there’s a lot of those)

Tama, Mad Dog, and Andi. One of these names is not like the other, or so the Sesame Street rhyme goes (hint: it is the one that is totally English). Tama is the leader, a tired looking older man who would calmly shoot tied up prisoners on the back of their heads and when he runs out of bullets, he’ll smash heads in with a hammer. Then he’ll go back to eating noodles or monitoring his wall of television monitors like some deranged security guard. Mad Dog is short and vicious; his body is a martial arts machine, punching and flying as if it were another day at the gym exercising. Andi is a tall and slim guy who is described as “the brains behind Tama’s business” by Sgt. Jaka. He keeps Mad Dog in check and is a pretty good fighter in his own right. Andi is revealed to be a brother of Rama’s and although not by blood, their friendship transcends into brotherhood.

“I would kill the guys off-screen but I’m hungry right now.”

Why has this small group go in to take out Tama? Why today? wonders Rama. The unwelcome sight of Lt. Wahyu and how he goes over Sgt. Jaka’s procedures grits against the team harmony. With all these cameras, were the police heading into a trap? Will Rama keep his promise?

The tagline to the poster reads: “1 Ruthless Crime Lord. 20 Elite Cops. 30 Floors of Chaos.” This sounds like the tagline for the Die Hard series and, spoiler alert, the group does not go through 30 floors of chaos. Instead they go through a paltry 15 floors. 15 floors of discombobulation and massacre until only a handful survive. There are wonderful scenes with the group using tactics to tie up criminals and then eventually fighting said criminals when they’re running about with machetes and guns. There are some questions that may arise while you watch the movie, such as why have child spotters on the 5th floor only? What happened to the badass “neighbors”? Why not pick up the weapons you’ve used that you can still use to fight? Why post men in different rooms when you only have 20 guys? If Tama has cameras everywhere, why didn’t he have people kill the group when they were on the 1st floor? Remember this though, unless you’ve watched this multiple times (supported by commentary by a martial arts and gun enthusiast in the audience like I have), these things won’t matter! You want the cops to win against corruption but by taking out guys loyal to a crime lord, aren’t you driving them out of their home to do crime elsewhere? Cut one head off the hydra, three more grow; with only a team of 20 and no backup what hope do the police have taking out the boss, the low-life thugs will go elsewhere and cause trouble again. These sort of things are do not mean much while paying attention to how either group intends to survive.

Confined in a dilapidated building with graffiti, it seems an unlikely location for a crime boss. There’s also a drug processing plant within one of the floors that makes for a well-made fight scene which can explain his power over others. Many of the tenants in the building are drug addicts or criminals while there some, if not only one family, that is decent and offers a temporary refuge to Rama and Bowo. The setting is perfect for a fight where common appliances such as a fridge or the window in the room can be used as a weapon or deterrent. This isn’t a place where the wealthy and powerful live, this is where the common man would live had he chosen the rural slums. Fights happen all the time, especially when there is a corrupt politician or greedy crime lord behind it.

The lighting and camera shots are perfect, successfully placing me in a state of tension as if I were in a videogame; never knowing when an enemy will strike from behind a door or knowing what weapon he will use. The use of looking at Rama through the door peephole of Room 726 placed me in a state of sympathy, not just for Rama and Bowo but for the entire police force trying to make an honest living doing the right thing yet because of police corruption a majority will look at the police through narrow eyes. Voyeuristically speaking this goes the same for Tama and his paranoia by watching the television monitors; he watches the lives of these people in a building he owns as if he were God watching over His dominion. Likewise, the audience is watching everything as if WE were God, granting a satisfying attitude towards watching a movie. Pretty trippy if you ask me. The music is subtle, with an ominous feeling of tension, a kickass upbeat tempo to get your body going with the fight scenes, and a happy finale. Other than that there is not much music save for the ending credits.

Shadows make everything scarier!

Look at Rama, look at a police officer, look at a wounded man

An important theme in the movie is loyalty. The police group honor a code of loyalty to justice while the criminals abscond from the law. There is honor among thieves–with the promise of living in the apartment building free of charge–that hordes of men living in the building will kill the police by orders of Tama. Lt. Wahyu switching allegiances from the squad to Tama by keeping him alive to use as collateral for his political game among the corrupt police force. Then there is the unseen political force that responds to Tama, ensuring he has loyalty over the justice system. A cycle of loyalty in the eyes of the beholder On the other hand Andi proves the be the lone wolf; he kills the two subordinates ordered by Mad Dog to search with him in order to catch Rama alone in order to talk instead of fight. Andi wishes to not fight Rama but is willing to betray his liege in sight of his brother.

One of the best 2-on-1 fight scenes I’ve seen yet

I would recommend this movie for those who love martial arts and would like to view a fresh movie that uses an Indonesian art form with other forms of martial arts (Tae Kwon Do, Wushu, Judo, etc. to name a few). While the story isn’t golden, it is simple to understand and utilizes the need for the raw choreography. Even if the well-known American critic Roger Ebert gave this film 1 star out of 4 (his beef was lack of character depth and plot), the fight scenes appealed to me more than the story. Begone the fanciful martial arts using wires and the shadow kick that causes a character to fly 10 feet through the air, the story here doesn’t need that so save it for another film (I’m looking at you, Ang Lee).  Sequel? You betcha there is one, which started filming in January of 2013 titled Berandal. Also be on the lookout for an American remake of The Raid: Redemption with Evans serving as executive producer.