Some film mash-ups work. Most don’t. But the Indonesian film The Raid: Redemption takes a familiar story and creates a fun twist, even as a rush to fill in a plot and character backstories might leave the audience confused and wanting their John Woo-like action back.
Star Iko Uwais is a rookie police officer with a pregnant wife assigned to a SWAT team that’s raiding a crime boss’s stronghold, an apartment complex which houses his henchmen, drug runners and other nefarious characters, such as those living in their own filth, along with a few “living hostage” types, innocents who live there because they have nowhere else to go. Of course, the raid, which we learn has not exactly authorized properly, goes bad quickly, and the police are suddenly surrounded, pinned down and having to fight just to stay alive.
The plot does not move well beyond formula. We get a glimpse of the young officer’s family life, we see him briefly at prayer, and then, within five minutes, we’re on the transport to the apartment building, getting our introduction to the baddies and what’s in store. Anyone familiar with Xenophon’s Anabasis, or any adaptation (probably The Warriors), will be familiar with the story: Armed men get stuck behind enemy lines and have to fight their way out. The ingeniousness of The Raid, however, is that it limits the ways the police can get out to the way they came in. They have no other options. The building is so claustrophobic, the hallways seem so small to start, then get littered with bodies or the severely injured, that escape just seems impossible.
That fight out brings some remarkably inventive and exciting action, especially to those unfamiliar with Indonesian martial arts. Uwais is both charismatic as a lead and also remarkably capable of handling himself in close quarters, whether it be with a knife, a machete or hand-to-hand. Two great sequences, each coming within 20 minutes of each other, have Uwais first fighting to help a crippled fellow officer to a helpful resident’s room, and then fighting off four men with machetes in a cramped hallway. There’s also a remarkably tense scene in-between involving hiding in a crawlspace with the wounded man.
However, the fight sequences, with the exception of a final sequence with two men fighting one, which contains a remarkably inventive use for a fluorescent light, bring diminishing returns. A late sequence in a drug lab feels unnecessary, especially since it can’t top those that came before it. Even a somewhat climactic-seeming duel between the crime-boss’s “Mad Dog” henchman and the leader of the raiding party seems less than thrilling compared to what’s come before.
Perhaps also due to Uwais’ charisma, or the near total plot focus on his character, when he’s not on-screen, when the remainder of the plot puzzle is being put together, The Raid simply isn’t nearly as interesting for the audience. It’s not just a lack of charisma, it’s that there’s no effort to make us care about anyone else at all before the raid begins, so when the bullets start flying, the audience has no real reason to care about their fates. The same is true toward the end of the film as well. The apparent rivalry between the two oldest characters in the film is only talked about between the two men, with allusions to names without any explanation as to who they are and why we should care.
But most who see The Raid: Redemption aren’t going to concern themselves with such issues. It’s too fun a ride. The action really is exhilarating to watch, and the familiarity of the plot, in a way, makes it more enjoyable. You may know what’s coming, but you’ll enjoy the new spin and the fun fights.