The Raid: Redemption (2011): Authentic fight scenes show why martial arts beats gun play

MOVIE: The Raid: Redemption

RELEASED IN: 2011

STARRING: Iko Uwais, Donny Alamsyah, Joe Taslim

WRITTEN BY: Gareth Evans

DIRECTOR: Gareth Evans

PRODUCER: Ario Sangtoro

FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHER: Gareth Evans, Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian

RATING: ★★★★★

Showdown in The Raid: Redemption

When discussing plans for a movie night with a work colleague, we talked about the undeniable appeal of watching a film in a movie theatre. Besides the obvious perks of sitting in gold class, or having cinema popcorn and frozen cokes, there was one other brilliant difference between watching a movie at the cinemas and watching it at home.

“Whenever it’s a movie I really get into, I feel different leaving the theatre,” my friend said.

“I know that I enjoyed a movie when I feel like I’m re-entering the real world. But it doesn’t feel real at all. It feels like you left the real world back in the theatre.”

I was amazed. Before this conversation, I was the only person I knew of who could be so emotionally affected by a film’s story. Not necessarily in a flair for the dramatic, but because it was so easy for me to get carried away with escapism.

After watching the Indonesian action flick The Raid: Redemption, the experience was no different. But rather than left feeling inspired like I would be by an adventure epic or contemplative like I am after watching a historic drama, I was fearless as I recounted the incredibly fast-paced but calculated action scenes and brazen violence.

An Indonesian SWAT team is assigned the highly dangerous mission in capturing crime lord, Tama Riyadi, who is hiding out on the 15th floor of a Jakarta slums apartment block. This mission might not seem so dangerous on the outset, but the officers are soon informed that the building they are about to raid also serves as a safe house currently occupied by some of Jakarta’s most notorious criminals. In fact, Boss Tama has leased all the floors of his building to gangs of murderers, thugs and killer psychopaths.

And though the SWAT team is 20-men strong, many of its members are only rookies, including a silent young officer called Rama, played by Iko Uwais. Despite this, the team’s sergeant, Jaka, rouses some of the shaken men into action as they meet up with Lieutenant Wahyu at the building’s site. Other police officers and task forces had been previously unwilling to enter the rat nest in the past, but Lieutenant Wahyu is determined to take down Tama while leading his unit into the derelict premises.

The mission starts efficiently, as the police quickly infiltrate the apartment block. But before the team can even start their sweep through the building’s floors, the cops are spotted by some of its tenants. Suddenly Tama, who is observing the team via CCTV cameras from his own apartment, cuts the lights to the sixth floor and over an intercom, proposes to his building’s residents a deal too good to pass up – whoever kills off the SWAT team will be granted free rent.

The outnumbered cops are almost immediately surrounded by a bloodthirsty mob of armed thugs, which under the cloak of darkness, begins annihilating police officers in heavy gunfire. Any hopes of escape are swiftly dashed, as cops making their way to the floor’s windows were soon taken down by snipers who had surrounded the building, while the SWAT van parked outside was quickly destroyed.

Worst of all, as the remaining team members retreat to a nearby apartment, Sergeant Jaka learns from a petrified Lieutenant Wahyu that no backup can be called, since Wahyu’s mission was never sanctioned by their department.

Now completely outstripped, and low on bullets, the handful of cops who managed to survive the initial violent onslaught will have to carefully navigate the inescapable building floor by floor. But rather than submit to the imminent sense of doom that follows the surviving officers through the maze of apartments, in their almost hopeless attempt to sidestep every danger hidden behind any door, wall and staircase, they eventually prove to be more formidable a prey than Tama and his cronies originally expected.

In fact, it would be rookie cop Rama who would lead the charge by taking on his enemies in close combat, bringing them down in a flurry of bone snapping, flesh ripping and skull cracking in an awe-inspiring demonstration of Indonesia’s traditional martial art, pencak silat.

Aside from a couple of seconds of our protagonist hitting a punching bag at the beginning of the film, there was no real indication that this action film would see any hand-to-hand combat. But only when Rama is quite literally backed into a corner after he and a wounded officer unexpectedly run into more of Tama’s men, Rama springs into action in a whirl of close-in grabbing, heavy striking and speedy maneouvres that quickly (and fatally) incapacitates his opponents in a rampage reminiscent of Tony Jaa’s Kham in The Protector.

What makes these fight scenes so extraordinary is not necessarily the heart-in-your-throat anticipation of running into hidden enemies, nor the shockingly violent injuries and deaths. It is the skill in which the fight scenes are both depicted as well as executed. The choreography, while spectacular, is also meticulously modelled on situational combat. Instead of including erroneous maneouvres, each attack and counter connects and flows realistically and would invite a palpable sense of urgency and thrill whenever the actors are drawn into close combat.

Using Gareth Evans’ screenplay as a guide, Gareth, Iko and Yayan Ruhian, who plays the malicious character of Mad Dog, workshopped each of the film’s fights on crash pads. The writer/director would propose how the fight will be captured scene by scene, as both Iko and Yayan would attempt a step-by-step interpretation of how they would act or react in a certain fight scenario.

In a Wall Street Journal article by Don Steinberg, Gareth described the creative process.

“So in the fight in the corridor, he’s got the knife and the stick,” he says.

“It was in the script that he’s carrying somebody on his shoulder. I told them: Every time somebody comes from a doorway, from any direction, you have to shift his body around to keep him on his feet while you defend against these guys attacking you.

“Then you drop the body down to the floor. Then you lose the stick. Then you lose the knife. They fill in the gaps—what’s the punch, the kick, the slash, the throw?”

Only then would the production team begin considering camera placement and shooting sequences, to ensure the best capture of each fight scene.

“For me, shooting action scenes is the same as shooting drama, in terms of camera movement. We’re guiding the audience’s eyes.”

Mad Dog and Sergeant JakaThough the film can arguably walk that fine line between action and martial arts film because of the amount of gun play, the scenes where the actors are equipped with firepower shows just how one-sided the outcome of a fight can be where two people are pitted together. There’s no measure of skill, strength or intelligence of a fighter, apart from a mere ability to aim a gun or pull a trigger.

Through films like The Raid, it is evident just how much better an action scene resonates with an audience when there is an established level playing field, where both opponents are only reliant on their arms, legs and immediate surroundings in an authentic fight for survival.

I think Mad Dog said it best in the scene where he squares off with Sergeant Jaka, as he chooses to disarm his pistol before throwing it aside.

“I’ve never really liked using these. Takes away the rush.

“Squeezing a trigger … it’s like ordering takeout.

“Now this … this is the thing. This is the pulse. This is what I do.”

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