Just how high is an action movie's bar set that when we see a guy take a shot to the face from a steel chair, it fails to impress us?
Dear lord, bless us this day when you sent forth a review copy of The Raid: Redemption, an Indonesian action flick by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans. I have often said that the measurable standard of how great an action movie (more specifically, a martial arts picture) is by how often the audience winces and goes, "Ouch!" As I sit here, hands flying across the keys of the keyboard, I'm still remembering some of the bone-crunching stunts of the film and the sounds of a group of hardened and jaded action fans all cringing with a mixture of empathetic pain and excitement.
With a plot taken straight from a video game, the story follows an elite group of police who, uh, raid an apartment building held under the iron fist of a crime lord, who rents out space to other crime lords. By "elite group of police" I of course mean "a bunch of cannon fodder that got their idea of urban assault tactics from playing Rainbow Six: Las Vegas" There is a nice nod by the screenwriter in a blink-and-you-miss-it throwaway dialogue exchange that explains away the utter lack of tactical planning on the police's part with a variation on the "I'm not even supposed to be here today" line from Clerks (1994).
Needless to say, the assault goes all kinds of FUBAR and eventually we're left with one badass rookie and a building full of gangsters with assault rifles, machetes, and flying fists of furious...err...fury. As the hero dispatches generic villain after generic villain, the video game analogy continues in our heads as we start mentally imagining his health and power meters, all leading to the epic boss battle at the end.
There isn't much characterization on display here. Hell, most of the characters are named along the lines of "Machete Gangster #6". But complaining about lack of character development in a movie this intense would be a cardinal sin. The action is the character development, and this movie essentially the action equivalent of a Shakespeare soliloquy. You've got refrigerator bombs, hatchet fights, machete-fu, gun-fu, knee-fu, multiple elbows to the face, and a guy still kicking tons of ass with a piece of a florescent light bulb sticking out of his neck (who at one point made a kick so fast that we would have to rewind the film and watch in slow motion just to see it happen). In case you're wondering, he's The Raid's take on Caliban from The Tempest. Hamlet is the one who stuck the bulb in there in the first place.
Being an Indonesian action picture, there is a healthy disregard for the well-being of the stunt people on display during the course of the story. During the afore-mentioned fight with the steel chair, there are also a few choice shots involving a file cabinet that couldn't have been done by any other method than recklessly hurling a guy at said file cabinet...then crushing him with it. However, our audience was quite impressed with sheer number of medical professionals and massage therapists listed in the closing credits.
In a way, The Raid is a lot like Christmas...if Christmas involved a bowie knife to the knee.