There may have been a plot at the beginning stages of production on The Raid: Redemption. There might have even been one filmed. If so, it was mostly edited out in the cut that is getting a theatrical release. There are hints at one — a pregnant wife, brothers who haven’t seen each other for six years, betrayal from people of higher authority — but apart from being brought up, they don’t have much bearing on the actions of the characters. This is about as pure as an action film can get; it doesn’t have time to establish much of a plot.
From what is established, here’s the basic setup. A group of police officers are going to perform a raid on an apartment building where illegal activity takes place. Nobody’s tackled it before because the kingpin, Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy), has paid off the right people. Essentially, these police officers, while noble, are going against the force for the greater good. They’re led by Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) and Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), and have no idea what to expect once they enter the building. Neither do we.
Things inevitably go wrong, the majority of the SWAT team members die, and we’re left with only a handful of people who are at the apartment residents’ mercy. They have to fight their way out through a series of hand-to-hand martial arts scenes in order to get through alive, and maybe capture Riyadi, although that has now become a secondary objective; staying alive is the first, as it should be. That’s about all you get for the next 80 or so minutes after the basic premise is given to you, save for a few breaks in the action when characters give you a brief idea that a plot was thought about at some point or another in some part of the film’s production.
Everyone in this film has at least an exceptional grasp of the martial art called pencak silat, which comes from Indonesia, just like the film. If The Raid is going to do anything, it’ll act as a showcase for the martial art, as it’s everywhere. Once the team runs out of bullets, all of the fighting is done with hands and feet, with a handful of weapons thrown into the mix. With it on such a prominent display, I can understand how a lot of people are going to leave the film and search it up. The filmmakers certainly make it look impressive.
That is the first major thing to note when talking about The Raid: The fight choreography is tremendous. Not only are the fights well-choreographed, but they’re also edited together without too many cuts, and shot without too much shaky-cam, meaning we can actually see the brilliant choreography in action. The fights themselves feel visceral and like they’re actually happening. At least, up until their conclusion, when enough blood squirts out of the deceased to remind you that you are still watching a movie.
Apart from the finale to the fights, the fight scenes allow for several highlights throughout. While I don’t want to spoil any one kill or scene, many of the fights last several minutes, each one tops the one prior, and the endings, while incredibly bloody, frequently come in inventive ways. This is an action film that understands that you shouldn’t show all your cards right away, so it is able to top itself each time that a fight begins. When one ends, you’re exhausted from watching it, and you can’t imagine how tiring it must have been to film.
I guess I should mention for the few of you that care that The Raid isn’t in English, even though it was directed by a Welsh man by the name of Gareth Evans. Truthfully, since dialogue is so sparse and everything takes place within hallways and secluded rooms anyway, having to read a few subtitles every now and then shouldn’t dissuade anyone from seeing it. There are long periods where there isn’t anything coming out of the mouths of these characters except grunts and blood, and since the plot is basically nonexistent and none of the characters have more than one dimension to them, you could easily get away with not reading anything and still enjoy yourself just fine.
I did find myself wanting real characters, especially in the few lulls in the action. Truth be told, the film tries to give us a few character scenes, but they come out of left field and don’t ever add up to anything, leading me to question if there was a longer cut of the film that was trimmed so that it could have more all out action, or if the filmmakers just weren’t quite sure how to give us real characters. I mean, about midway through, the character who I thought was supposed to be our protagonist dies and we begin to focus on someone else. Everyone is so woefully underdeveloped that it didn’t really matter who was involved in the fight scenes, and that makes it hard to care about them beyond mere spectacle-level.
The Raid: Redemption is a really fun action film, but it never does come above that. It’s comfortable in being a balls-to-the-wall martial arts film, and if you’re comfortable with seeing just that, then you’ll have a good time with this incredibly violent film, wonderfully choreographed film. If you want a plot and characters to latch onto, you’ll definitely want to be looking elsewhere. But for my money, this is probably going to be one of, if not the best action film of the year. It just isn’t more than that; it’s not a complete film, but it is a really fun one to watch.