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Depending on who you talk to and what kind of geeks you like to surround yourself with, you’ll hear a lot of people saying that The Raid: Redemption is the biggest martial arts film since Ong-Bak.
Well, barring The Protector, Ip Man, Fearless, and the second half of True Legend, this statement might hold a kernel of truth. However, it’s a bit of an unfair comparison. Yeah, sure, there’s plenty of parallels between the two, with Ong-Bak and The Raid both showcasing a visceral, atavistic flavor, but at the end of the day, I think people would settle on the idea that Ong-Bak was entertaining on a whole other level.
Now, why would that be? They both espouse those “realist” philosophies that make south-east Asian martial arts flicks so damned brutal and wince-worthy. They both place plot secondary to action and send their heroes on a one-man journey to The Land of Wanton Violence. Hell, they both were apparently so good, that they were carried over for North American theater releases, despite being subtitled and not as accessible as the films that we’re used to.
Here, it would seem that the problem lies in the fact that the film just feels really long – longer than it actually is. Don’t get me wrong, the fights are freaking exquisite, but they’re bogged down and sandwiched into a story that might turn people off.
Which is strange, because on the surface the story seems taut, contained, and a perfect justification for mindless mayhem: A shoddy, run-down apartment building deep in the heart of Jakarta’s slums houses a motley bunch of the city’s most dangerous killers and criminals. Police are bought off, and civilians are kept quiet, and affairs in general are all run very smoothly by Crime Lord Tama Riyandi (Ray Sahetapy) and his two bad-ass henchman-boss-characters, Mad Dog and Andi (Yayan Ruhian and Doni Alamsyah, respectively). Things take a turn for the worst (and thus, the most entertaining) when a SWAT team comprised of the most elite members on the force decide to raid the place from the ground up.
See? It all seems so perfectly simple and reasonable as an excuse to cut straight to the fisticuffs. The problem here is that between bouts, we get bits of plot development that feel very, very long – longer still to those not used to subtitles. It’s not so bad during the first hour, but it starts to overstay its welcome at about the 80-minute mark. The fights become a welcome relief to the dialogue-heavy bits, and the whole thing kind of gets this vibe as being a hindrance to itself.
But it might not be so much the plot as much as the setting. Considering the fact that The Raid is set in a dilapidated building with shoddy lighting and an overall gray color scheme, every room starts to feel the same. When you’re filming a martial arts flick, you need to add diversity to the dynamics of a good fight.
Every fight should either handicap the hero, be set somewhere interesting, or have a villain with a unique style. When you think back to any memorable fight scene, you probably immediately recall where it was set, and who was being fought. Unfortunately, with The Raid, you get Hallway Fight #1, Hallway Fight #2, Apartment Room Fight #1, Hallway Fight Reprise, and then the climactic fights featuring the boss characters.
When the majority of your fights take place in indistinct empty rooms against nondescript mooks, well, even creative choreography can’t save you from your own repetitive set pieces.
Continue reading The Raid: Redemption review after the jump…
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