The poster for 2011’s The Raid: Redemption, originally Serbuan Maut or “The Deadly Raid” in bahasa Indonesia, is dominated by a dilapidated building looming over a single figure. The tagline is breathless in its brevity: “1 Ruthless Crime Lord. 20 Elite Cops. 30 Floors of Chaos.” The Raid: Redemption, directed by Welsh expatriate Gareth Huw Evans, delivers upon the poster’s promise with a strong emphasis on the “ruthless” and “chaos.”
To backtrack on the plot, the hero, rookie officer Rama (Iko Uwais), joins an elite task force led by no-nonsense Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) and Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), a graying veteran. Their mission is simple: infiltrate an apartment block in Jakarta’s slums and take out the building’s owner, a crime lord named Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy), who has offered protection to a bevy of criminals. While they are initially successful in subduing the first five floors without alerting the paranoid Tama, who has the building crawling with cameras, they fail to quiet a lookout. In retaliation, Tama shuts off the lights, bars the exits, executes their back-up, and offers the residents of the building free rent if they take down the officers. As can be imagined, the residents take to this directive with gusto. It is soon discovered that this raid is unauthorized; no help is coming. The rest of the movie is thus spent on the squad’s desperate push to survive the attacks from Tama’s right-hand men, Andi (Donny Alamsyah) and Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), and take down Tama.
Evans described his film as more of a “survival horror film,” which is an apt description. This is an action movie pared down to its ass-kicking essence. The movie is limited almost entirely to the one building. Plotting and character development are minimal. It’s a lean and mean 100 minutes of brutal, inventively choreographed fight scenes.
And it’s freaking awesome.
Most of my notes jotted while watching the film boil down to, “Holy [censored], did that guy just shove that guy through a window to break his fall?”
Why, yes, he did.
The badass, bleeding heart of the film lies in its hero, Rama, who is the first person we see in the film, praying, exercising, and saying farewell to his pregnant wife in the early morning hours before leaving for work. That scene establishes his bonafides as a decent man who will spend the rest of the movie breaking people against walls. Uwais, a silat national champion Evans discovered and cast in his debut feature, Merantau, choreographed the film with Ruhian, who plays the bloodthirsty yet strangely honorable Mad Dog.
The action is the movie’s main selling point, and The Raid doesn’t scrimp. The fight scenes are choreographed thoughtfully, pragmatically, and realistically (or at least as realistic as one can get in a movie in which one man can fend off dozens of mooks). The space and props are used creatively with the characters’ capabilities and situation kept in mind. The older Lieutenant Wahyu, for instance, lacks the stamina and strength of his younger colleagues and compensates by smartly using items such as a file cabinet and a chair to take down his opponents. It’s a trait I noticed and admired in Evan’s debut, Merantau, and am glad to see continued in his later films.
All other technical elements add to the propulsive energy of the film. The camerawork, fluid and kinetic, follows the action — closing in on a loaded gun, peeping through a hatch — without being distracting. Evans, blessedly, hasn’t joined the trend of near-constant shaky cam in action films, which are guaranteed to give me a headache. The production team also did marvels with the sets. The apartment building becomes its own character: the flickering lights, the stained and graffitied walls, the shadowy corners, the hidden crawlspaces. You can feel the claustrophobia and the fear the characters must have, trapped in that nightmarish deathtrap.
This is not a movie for those seeking, well, depth. The plot is straightforward and doesn’t seek any nuance or surprise, although it does touch on institutional corruption, which is a hot-button issue in Indonesia. The characters are, with few exceptions, merely competently acted and archetypal. In my notes, I refer to most of them as “dude,” and since many die quickly, there’s no real need to get attached. And yes, the relentlessness of the fight scenes did get a little old near the end of the film.
Still, when this movie premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, it was greeted with wide critical acclaim for its originality in the action genre. This was a pleasant surprise for the Indonesian film industry which, up until this point, was relatively overlooked in the international film scene. For a budget of approximately $1 million, it made about $20 million worldwide. Its financial and critical success ensured that a sequel would be made, The Raid 2: Berandal, which recently premiered to positive reviews at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Evans, cementing his reputation as a promising talent, is currently planning another Raid film to complete the trilogy.
Between this film and the recently Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, which takes a different tack in depicting violence, the Indonesian film industry is getting into the spotlight. Despite The Raid’s flaws, it’s hard not to see why it first caught the film world’s attention. It’s brutal and brisk, and knows exactly what it is, delivering the goods with a knockout punch.
About the author: Anna Cabe is a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Palembang, South Sumatra. She graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2013 with a degree in English Literature-Creative Writing.