Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2012 4:58 pm 
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The ultimate fight picture?

The Raid: Redemption runs for 100 minutes. Be prepared. Most of it is violent fighting in a dark ghetto building 15 stories high. Fighting with automatic weapons and pistols but mostly with machetes and knives and hand-to-hand, to the death, on and on, to the last man. This is as dark, intense, violent, and extreme a movie as you will ever be likely to see. And for about 90 minutes you are trapped in the halls and apartments of that grey, dingy building with vicious and desperate men. If that appeals to you, have at it. If not, please don't come to watch this movie.

A SWAT-style attack squad of policemen comes to rout makers of illegal drugs housed on the top floor of a tall building. But some of the squad are tyros, inexperienced in such raids. And they are expected. The building is dark and dingy but fitted with a full system of security cameras. It also has a speaker system. And it seems to be crawling with lithe, long-haired men in loose, greasy T-shirts, carrying long machine guns and out to kill anything that moves. Not only are many of the policemen quickly killed, but for the rest, the escape route seems blocked. When the cops have been decimated and only the strongest survive, the lithe bad buys keep coming on one floor after another, carrying knives and out to kill. They keep on coming and coming. Only a handful of cops survive and make it to the top floor. And their fight is the longest.

"I am the guy that makes stunt performers take multiple kicks to the head for what I hope is a captivated audience," says Gareth Evans, a Welshman who as a child wanted to be Jackie Chan. He was later a fan of Die Hard and Assault on Precinct 13 -- "films that used a single building for unyielding cinematic geography while creating feature-length tension." Then he went to Indonesia and learned about Pencat Silat, a traditional kind of martial arts fighting using the body and blades and teamed up with Iko Uwais, a young, almost baby-faced champion of the sport. He first starred in Evans' debut, Merentau. The Raid will seal Evans late-night martial arts movie cult status. In The Raid, Uwais plays Rama, a young cop with a pregnant wife. And then there is Joe Taslim, who plays Jaka, and Yaya Ruhian, who plays Mad Dog.

The aim is to bring down the calm, sinister drug lord on the top floor, Tama (Ray Sahetapy). He watches the battle with Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and Mad Dog on his battery of screens. A complication, besides the fact that a lot of the cops are unfit for this kind of urban warfare, is that the raid instigator, Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno), is corrupt and may have devious motives that can lead to the failure of the operation.

While Tama's ragtag army has downed most of the cop squad, it emerges that Rama is a relentless superman. After a while the focus is on his continual downing of opponents. There is also a wounded cop whom a building resident with a sick wife takes in, hiding him and Rama till Mad Dog breaks in.

Evans skillfully structures the action (which was created interactively, the stunt men and martial artists creating their fights according to what he calls "a D.I.Y. method of fight choreography," with the film team, cameramen, and editors) so that it rises and falls, with changes in rhythm and what he calls "breathing space" -- calculated pauses so the audience can catch its collective breath. For the faint of heart this is simply unpleasantness, but for those who like martial arts movies, this is a new kind of pleasure. The fight choreography is superb. Pencat Silat is a rough kind of fighting, with running and tackling and improvisation of weaponry. There is also some judo, where brawn is more a feature. There are leaps and twists. Moti D. Setyanto's production design makes use of the building, where holes are punched so men can jump or climb between floors, and there is the feel of an endless but inescapable labyrinth.

It's awesome, it's relentless, and toward the end it's a bit absurd, how several guys can get beaten up, then untied, and fight tirelessly in a threesome for endless minutes, then run away. The most tireless bad guy fights for minutes with a candle driven into his throat. There is a satisfying finale involving capture of the crime boss, punishment of the corrupt cop, and a reunion of brothers who are on opposite sides. All ready for Berandal ("Thug"), the sequel, which is coming, with Uwais again as Rama. The director sees The Raid now as the first of a trilogy. Obviously Evans, whose team for shooting, editing, sound design and two music tracks for Indonesian and western audiences is crack, is in deep debt to Hong Kong. This would not exist without that. But the dark Kafkaesque ironies of the action evoke Park Chun-wook and the Korean revenge film of recent decades too.

The Raid: Redemption or Serbuan Maut presented at Toronto, followed by Sundance and SXSW. It has been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics. US release will be March 23, UK May 18, 2012. It is included in the MoMA/Film Society of Lincoln Center New Directors/New Films series, to be shown:

Thursday, March 22nd | 6 PM | MoMA
Thursday, March 22nd | 11 PM | FSLC

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