The Raid: Redemption is the most brutally Indonesian martial arts movie I have ever seen. That is, until I saw The Raid 2. Despite all the cringe-worthy gore, these are also two of the most skillfully coordinated martial arts movies I have ever seen. They execute all the music, the camerawork, and the fight choreography perfectly in each and every scene. These non-stop films pack so much intense action into just a few short hours that you will be on the edge of your seat. Holding your breath, and clenching your fists until your knuckles turn white for the entire duration.
The Raid: Redemption is a 2011 film by Gareth Evans. The plot takes place almost entirely in a dark and gritty apartment building that the police are trying to take back from a crime lord. The story is fairly simple with a twist that isn’t particularly surprising, but the movie is nonetheless a work of art. The greatness of this film doesn’t come from the dialogue or the writing, but from the amazing choreography and cinematography. Almost every scene is incredibly fast-paced and filled with action, and it is all flawlessly executed.
The lighting, framing, and dingy, run-down look of the apartment building lend a dark, lawless feel to the entire film. The would-be hero policemen are trapped in a strange and frightening place where each of the countless dark rooms and hallways may hide residents willing to kill them. Part of the tension of the film comes from the fact that all bets are off concerning who will live and who will die. Characters who look like central heroes or villains die by the end, and minor characters somehow live.
Gun fights fill the beginning of the film. But the real action comes when both sides begin to run out of ammunition and use hand-to-hand and knife combat. In some of these action sequences, dozens of men die to rapid, uniquely choreographed violence in cringe-worthy detail. A man’s thigh is slashed open one moment and another’s neck is broken the next in a gory display that could leave more faint-hearted viewers nauseous.
Both The Raid: Redemption and its sequel feature Indonesian martial arts called Pencak Silat. This is a full-body fighting style which incorporates weapons and uses every part of the body for attack and defense. It can involve anything including kicks, punches, grabs, throws, or using the shins and elbows for offense and defense. In the opening scenes of The Raid, they establish the ultra-fast fighting style of the film.
The main character, Rama (Iko Uwais, the director discovered him at his martial arts school), practicing his style on a heavy punching bag. His incredibly rapid strikes are almost unprecedented in martial arts movies. And this pace continues for the rest of the film with no visual evidence that the footage has been sped up. The skill that Iko Uwais and supporting actor Yayan Ruhian bring to both films clearly shows that these actors are highly trained martial artists.
The second film from 2014, simply called The Raid 2. It somehow contains even more brutality and violence than the first, but the plot is much more complex. Unfortunately, the dialogue and sprawling plot of The Raid 2 can actually get a little boring. Because the skill in these martial arts movies comes from the action instead of the plot. The story has the feel of Infernal Affairs or The Departed since Rama this time infiltrates a criminal organization as a mole. But this film does not pull it off as well as its predecessors.
Regardless, a lot of the action and fight scenes are even more enjoyable than the first film. The camerawork is once again spot-on. In one specific scene, a character jumps through a window and the camera moves right along with him, arcing to land on the ground sideways. The coordination and attention to detail in scenes like these are really what makes it worth watching.
The Raid 2 also features more spread out fight scenes with interesting characters, where they constrained the first film to the hallways of one apartment building. In the first movie they used this well to keep the fighting confined and intense. The Raid 2 has more room for variation, where three main villains use signature weapons.
A blind woman uses hammers to fight, her companion wields a baseball bat which he uses to beat up people. The final battle features a man who uses scary-looking curved knives called karambits, which people traditionally used in the Pencak Silat fighting style.
Overall, these two martial arts movies are brilliant demonstrations of modern, gritty, rapidly-paced martial arts. Where they fall short is in dialogue and plot, because they train the actors martial artists first and actors second. This means that they execute each and every action scene incredibly well and intense. While all of the scenes that explain story can get a little boring.
That is not to say that the plots of these martial arts movies have any major flaws. They both tell interesting stories, and the films are not simply scene after scene of people fighting for no reason. The Raid: Redemption is gripping all the way through, and The Raid 2 has interesting characters even if some of the plot scenes drag on a little too long. It’s somewhat of a tradeoff, because The Raid 2 has more interesting characters and fighting styles than the first movie. Therefore, I highly recommend both of these martial arts movies for anyone. If, of course, they can stomach the extreme level of brutal violence and gore.