Ten years ago, Gareth Evans The Raid: Redemption woke me up with a start. Especially the part where I barely dodged a rage-fueled rumble before the halfway mark.
Back when the movie was released in the US in 2012, I was limited to whatever was shown in my suburban New Jersey multiplex. Cable stations broadcast broken arrow Where die hard repeat. My action movie vocabulary reflected popular culture, and in 2012 terms, it was The Expendables. Don’t get me wrong – Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme and other ass-kicking icons stand out as masters of kick-and-fight combat. Corn The Expendables, for better or for worse, represents everything American audiences want in their blockbusters. Point the gun, inhale the cigar smoke, pull the trigger, exhale an ironic retort to a cold corpse.
I knew action movies could be more than pumping biceps and gun smoke—my dad’s sixth-degree black belt certification in taekwondo meant a family of martial arts appreciation. And yet the American bullet barrages of Rambo at Smokin’ Aces loved the masculinity of Stallone types or full load shootouts. They still do. The Raid: Redemption introduced the high-speed Indonesian art form ‘pencak silat’ as an antidote to mountains of muscle slamming into each other through concrete pillars.
The Raid: Redemption immerses viewers in deceptive familiarity as Brimob’s special forces infiltrate an apartment building to arrest crime lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). Rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) falls behind Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) as they reach the sixth floor, then all hell breaks loose. The failure to empty the magazines is recognizable – down to the silence of the assault rifles. Uwais and his co-star Yayan Ruhian (“Mad Dog” villain) shine as the film’s lead fight choreographers once the gunfire subsides, differentiating The Raid: Redemption generic action movies that would keep the stars blasting like modern cowboys. Pencak silat becomes Evans’ weapon of choice; MMA octagon brutality meets hostile beauty of Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon.
What was this international sprayer doing with a morning slot in my AMC mall? Uwais’ chops and punches flew faster than a sniper’s round. Combinations of broken limbs and stabbing jugulars moved with unheard-of momentum, heralding pageantry in physical punishment beyond grunts, body slams and imposition judged by size. “I never like to use [guns]. It removes the rush. Pulling the trigger is like ordering takeout,” Mad Dog spits at one point. I can still see Ruhian’s smirk, laughing at American action stars hiding behind stacks of .44 caliber M-16 and Magnum revolvers.
My heart was beating faster than Ruhian’s feet could race. I knew I would never forget my first viewing of The Raid: Redemption, because how to reproduce such an experience?
You couldn’t stage a more themed viewing environment for The Raid: Redemption. I waltzed into an empty theater alongside my big movie buddy. We were mid-right, no stadium layout, figure 250 seats? A group of teenagers munching on snacks and arguing about kickflips or whatever sitting back left. Finally, a welterweight-looking guy strutted his girlfriend out, and they fell in front, torn between me and those rowdy hooligans. The pieces were on the board.
At first the teenagers were chatting and looking bored. I didn’t pay attention as Rama and Jaka sneaked through the Indonesian slums. Then I saw tiny objects falling right behind the absolute unit whose bicep was bigger than my thigh. A look back revealed the youngsters trying to provoke the beast in a Tapout tee.
On screen, tension mounts as Riyadi watchers sound the alarm. Bodies started falling around Rama until only a few officers were left and the gunfire stopped. Rama, Jaka and others relied on the pencak silat where Agent 47 allegedly looted for more gun clips. After this point, The Raid: Redemption sounds like a feature film riff on the hallway beating in Old boy, the way Rama never catches his breath between gangs of battle-ready threats. There’s no pause to chase romantic interests or deliver monologues aside from some necessary plot reveals. All The Raid: Redemption accomplished through frantic action choreography that never stops, amplified by background beats co-composed by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda for an extra energy boost.
In our theater, the suspense built in the form of projectiles of popcorn – from an impressive distance, to be honest – bounced around the respectfully absorbed grappler. His head swiveled in the direction of the children, and I noticed that they were hiding behind the seats, out of his sight. I laughed because come on, those morons couldn’t do this act any longer. The fighter directed attention to the film as Rama sought cover (much like cackling brats).
Soon the snack artillery rained down once more. What I didn’t notice – but probably did – was while I was horny The Raid: Redemption, Mr. Bust Your Lip counted my friend and I as the only other customers. No one else could interrupt his movie date during the day. Then his companion took a “hit” from a piece of popcorn. She got angry. The gloves fell off.
The guy who might as well have been Georges St. Pierre Jr. was knocked out of his seat just as Rama started screaming the absolute snot of Riyadi’s army. He yelled something close to the following, the veins in his neck sticking out at two movie goons (us): “I’m going to scare the hell out of you both if you don’t stop now!” I pointed the finger at the troublemakers as they rushed for the exit doors. It was futile because this guy wanted to pat me in the middle of The Raid: Redemption. Was this really happening? Questions raced through my head, but after catching Rama eviscerating drugs with a flurry of backhands and bruises, I thought to myself the two dumbest words that had ever crossed my mind: “Fuck it”. I was ready to throw away – luckily for my health that didn’t happen.
Obviously, we would have been crushed like the Hulk treating Loki like a stuffed animal. It’s the magic of the adrenaline blast that’s The Raid: Redemption, however – it boosts its mob to dangerous levels. Punches and kicks don’t fly like in a Street Fighter game. A two-on-one climax that pits Rama and his brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah) against Mad Dog pushes each performer to the brink of sweat and giddy for five uninterrupted minutes of unarmed action bliss, defying the pain thresholds that human bodies can endure. . My mission, going forward, was to look for future titles like Head shot, The night is coming for us, and Jailbreak like the American releases like Thousand 22 continued to neutralize Uwais’ talents alongside Mark Wahlberg’s bulky types. How a filmmaker could stack Uwais against an American-bred murderer and let the latter throw him like sacks of potatoes is insane. Such a waste of the unique skills Uwais can bring to an overseas action role.
I’ll never forget The Raid: Redemption because it opened up my world to global action representation that now helps shape American franchises like John Wick. Maybe I would feel the same way even if there were no threat of hospitalization for the duration of the film – again, maybe not. 4DX blows mist on your face to recreate the feeling of rain; I had an Ultimate Fighter contestant trying to be Joe Taslim to my Steve Rogers pre-superhero serum. Entering its 10th anniversary this year, The Raid: Redemption was my unwitting introduction to interactive cinema, and it almost sparked my first real fight. If a higher power exists, they have a killer sense of humor.