By Harrison Chute
American cinema enjoyed a history of violence when it came to action spectacle in the 1980s, but the exhilaration, the fun, and the violence have washed out of our post- “Matrix” silver screen.For a harder and more entertaining action picture, we must look around us to the foreign films good enough to filter through to international markets. Some of these movies, particularly those of Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, may not be to the taste of everyone, or anyone, but the Indonesian film “The Raid: Redemption” is the complete package, a better cure for the itch left by “Total Recall” than this year’s decent but perhaps misguided remake.
“The Raid: Redemption” is a martial-arts film in an entirely different genre than “Total Recall.” The comparison between the two draws a shared space in violence alone, this sort of reckless abandon of the intensity meter. “The Raid: Redemption” is a product of creativity, not cynicism in movie action. There’s a pulsing sense of imagination running through the movie, as well as a chaotic but rhythmic energy.
This is action movie by way of horror movie, martial arts film by way of John Woo bullet ballet. It is, like the aforementioned “Matrix,” a stylish mix of the familiar and the welcome, something that Western audiences will have no trouble accessing. The plot is not only well attended by its writers, it’s an engaging vessel of the action and drama unfolding within the walls of an apartment block ruled by a drug kingpin. Its contained thriller framework has worked well in the past for acknowledged classics like “Die Hard” and “Speed,” where the rules are established early on, and geography plays a major role in the cat-and-mouse game that so often breaks out into fight scenes.
An ingredient missing from most action movies is human drama. “The Raid: Redemption” is full of intrigue and genuine character development, though both operate on the fly and in between moments of violence shot with the eye of a student of Hong Kong cinema, who moves with the action and never shakes and rattles for artificial intensity. “The Raid: Redemption” knows where its priorities lie, but part of building tension is character, and the release of that tension through action proves cathartic and sometimes jaw-dropping here.
So “The Raid: Redemption” is an answer to “The Expendables” and “Taken”s of American movies – a fresh, artistic, and hard-edged film that so few modern filmmakers care to even glance at. It is however, so much more than this – a martial arts movie removed from the convoluted legacy and mythology of Chinese films, and thrilling enough to win the hearts of those sorely disappointed by John Woo’s own venture onto the now sedate American shores.
“The Raid: Redemption” is now available on DVD by Sony Pictures Classics with original language track and English subtitles