As you may have guessed by reading some of the movie posts I’ve made around here, in addition to enjoying old black and white screwball comedies and 80s teen movies and Very Serious dramas, I like action movies.
I like action movies enough that I forgive a lot of otherwise-badness characteristics of large swaths of action movies and call them entertaining. Now, in the U.S., there’s a long standing tradition of cowboy movies (A Fistful of Dollars) and war movies (The Guns of Navarone) and revenge movies (Death Wish) and hardbitten crime dramas (Bullitt) sometimes those movies are also action movies, but usually they’re not. They have great action sequences or great chase scenes (reminder to self: write “great chase scenes” post) or great fight scenes (reminder to self, write “great fight scenes” post), but the movies themselves are about something else that drives the movie. A character, a community, a mission, self-sacrifice, a moral story.
Action movies are movies where the action drives the movie. There often is a community or a mission or self-sacrifice or a moral subtext, and in the best action movies you see all of these things, but the point of the movie is really to get the viewer to strap him- or herself into a chair and go on a roller coaster ride. Most Saturday morning Kung-Fu theater qualifies… most martial arts movies qualify.
Think Die Hard, as a non-martial arts movie that’s still an action movie.
Americans really don’t do this as well as some other places. We have some real gems, but for your average-everyday-run-of-the-mill action movie that comes out of a studio, the ones that come out of American movie houses are on average worse than ones that come out of… oh, Hong Kong, for example. And even some of the better directors that did good work in Hong Kong produced something else entirely when they started making movies here in the U.S. I highly suspect this is a function of Hollywood, not the directors in question. People claim that American movies and American culture are uniquely violent and I shake my head and wonder if they know anything about foreign films at all.
Anyway, now that I’ve well and truly buried the lede, this post is about The Raid: Redemption, which recently arrived from Amazon (I really need to figure out the affiliate thing).
This movie was an instant attraction when I heard about it because most of the martial arts in the film is Silat. Digression number two.
One of my roommates (who we will call Vinnie) in college took a few classes in Silat from Paul de Thouars (you can see Uncle Paul here, embedding disabled). Vinnie, as a student of Tae Kwon Do… followed by Jeet Kune Do and a little bit of Thai boxing… thought that Silat was fascinating as an art. I remember him describing it thus, “It was the first time I walked into a martial arts class and the instructor began by pouring a big bucket of water on the floor and saying, ‘Today we will learn to fight on wet pavement.'” At one point someone in the class asked about why you would use a throw instead of some other technique in a given situation, and Paul said, “Well, you throw someone when (pointing to the place where the target would land) there’s a car door or a fire hydrant there.” Of course, why would you throw someone just to the pavement? They could get back up. You throw them into something. Otherwise, it’s best to keep hold of them and damage them in some other way.
Unlike a lot of the more familiar martial arts that have evolved away from combat and towards a more general martial discipline (Tae Kwon Do, Aikido), or who have become reductionist and formalized by structured bouts (Thai boxing, American boxing, Judo, Sumo), Silat practitioners typically begin training with a stick and a knife, learning techniques that are designed to maximally disable their opponent as quickly as possible. You learn how to defend yourself against live, aggressive, violent, malicious attackers first. There are lots of knee and elbow strikes, and some really fancy looking grapples and throws that are designed to allow a small protagonist to throw or grapple with someone who has a distinct advantage in body size.
There are other martial arts like this, Silat isn’t unique (Krav Maga, Kali, Eskrima, Arnis). There are other martial arts that are much more like this than point-fighting arts, somewhere in-between (Brazilian jiu-jitsu). Let me be clear: I would not want to run up against anyone who practices any of the above with discipline. This isn’t a “deadliest” contest. But if I really thought that dying in the bloodiest way possible was the way I wanted to go, I’d go pick a fight with someone who has a bad temper and a background in either Filipino or Indonesian martial arts.
So, back from the digression!
This meant that I was expecting three things from this movie: some gunplay, lots of people getting stabbed with knives, and a whole bunch of very neat looking long action shots. And at most five minutes and forty-two seconds devoted to character development.
It certainly had all of those things. I absolutely cannot recommend this movie to you if you are the least bit squeamish about violence. It’s over-the-top violent, but it lack the cartoonish element of over-the-top American action movies. It looks real, and lots and lots of people are killed and wounded in ways that would be a bit of a shock if you haven’t seen movies like this before.
Actually, I’ve seen plenty of movies with this level of violence, but this is the first time that knifework has figured predominantly in any movie that I’ve watched. There’s something very viscerally ugly about knifework on film. I’ve rolled through all sorts of extremely violent movies from Japan or Hong Kong without batting an eye, but this is the first one that had me wincing while watching it in more than one place. It just looks bloody painful.
Here’s the trailer:
From a cinematic standpoint it was stunning. The main antagonist has many minions, but in particular Yayan Ruhian was amazing to watch. If you like martial arts movies, and you like action movies, and you’re not particularly squeamish, you’ll love it.