Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan perform martial arts. Their fighting prowess and acrobatic agility is so impressive and stylish that their work can literally be called an art form.
“The Raid: Redemption” is an Indonesian martial arts film, and it is a stunning one, but it is such a gruesome action movie that it hardly feels artistic. It is remarkably made, immensely creative and yet drenched in cold blood to the point that it no longer feels fun.
That’s because it’s packed with non-stop violence from start to finish. It squeezes in time for a story, but characters, names and dialogue hardly matter amidst all the rapid fire, bullet-ridden set pieces. A SWAT team has been assigned to infiltrate an apartment complex run by a gang lord and capture him after battling through 15 stories of crazed killers. The dull acting and flimsy plot twists are there to remind us we’re not watching the best YouTube montage ever compiled.
Sincerely, “The Raid” has some of the most remarkable fight choreography and action cinematography in years, if not decades. At one point, the camera leaps down a hole in the floor faster than the martial arts master before it, and as they climb up that same hole again, a hazy light filter makes the bleak moment strangely picturesque.
In fact the camera is so swift, it allows these fights to rage on endlessly. The frame will jolt left and a new Indonesian gangbanger will be there with a knife. Within split seconds, he’ll be stabbed and lying dead and the camera will pivot again to put another baddie in his place.
It almost always views the action in full-bodied two-shots, but the cinematography is varied enough that it doesn’t have the pretentious stench of over-stylization the way something like this year’s “Haywire” does. No punch, kick or head-butting is predictable, and “The Raid” revels in excessively clever and brutal murders, from one victim getting his head bashed against a wall a half-dozen times as he slides to the ground to a whole team of gangsters in the brunt of a make-shift fridge bomb.
The problem then is the film’s star, played by the Indonesian martial art master Iko Uwais. He lacks the bad boy charm of someone like Lee or Chan, and rather than cleverly and artistically out perform his opponents, Uwais finds people wherever they are and mutilates them. “The Raid” and Uwais go balls to the wall in no time at all, and in his wake he litters the halls with bodies each stabbed or shot beyond recognition.
“The Raid” is a ruthless film. It’s all style and no substance, but even the style, as impressive as it is, can feel exhausting.