Image: Sony Pictures Classics
A story of popcorn and anger only made possible by the theatrical experience 10 years ago
Ten years ago, Gareth Evans’ The Raid: Redemption jolted me awake. Especially the part where I barely dodged a rage-fueled rumble before the halfway point.
Back when the movie was released in the U.S. in 2012, I was limited to whatever screened at my suburban New Jersey multiplex. Cable stations played Broken Arrow or Die Hard on repeat. My action movie vocabulary reflected popular culture, and in 2012 terms, that was The Expendables. Don’t get me wrong — Sylvester Stallone, Chuck Norris, Jean-Claude Van Damme, and other ass-kicker icons hold their own as masters of foot-and-fist combat. But The Expendables, for better and worse, represents everything stateside audiences crave in their blockbusters. Point gun, inhale cigar smoke, pull the trigger, exhale a quippy retort to a cold corpse.
I knew action flicks could be more than bulgy biceps and gunsmoke — my father’s sixth-degree black belt certification in Taekwondo meant a household of martial arts appreciation. And yet, American bullet barrages from Rambo to Smokin’ Aces worshiped the masculinity of Stallone types or fully loaded shootouts. They still do. The Raid: Redemption introduced Indonesia’s hyperspeed “pencak silat” artform as an antidote to mountains of muscle throwing one another through concrete pillars.
The Raid: Redemption lulls viewers into deceptive familiarity as Brimob special forces infiltrate an apartment block to arrest crime lord Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). Rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) falls behind Sergeant Jaka (Joe Taslim) as they reach the sixth floor, then all hell breaks loose. The ratatat of emptying magazines is recognizable — until assault rifles silence. Uwais and co-star Yayan Ruhian (villain “Mad Dog”) shine as the film’s lead fight choreographers once gunplay lessens, differentiating The Raid: Redemption from generic action films that’d keep stars blasting away like modern cowboys. Pencak silat becomes Evans’ nonstop weapon of choice; the brutality of MMA octagons meets the hostile beauty of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
The magic of The Raid: Redemption is it amps its crowd up to dangerous levels.
What was this international pulverizer doing with a matinee slot in my shopping center AMC? Uwais’ chops and punches flew quicker than a sniper’s round. Combinations of snapped limbs and stabbed jugulars moved with unheard momentum, heralding the pageantry in physical punishment beyond grunts, bodyslams, and imposition deemed by size. “I never like using [guns]. It takes away the rush. Squeezing the trigger is like ordering takeout,” spits Mad Dog at one point. I can still see Ruhian’s smirk, laughing at American action stars who hide behind piles of M-16s and .44-cal Magnum revolvers.
My heart beat faster than Ruhian’s feet could scamper. I knew I’d never forget my first viewing of The Raid: Redemption, because how can you replicate such an experience?
You couldn’t stage a more thematic viewing environment for The Raid: Redemption. I waltzed into an empty theater alongside my film major buddy. We were middle-right, no stadium layout, figure 250 seats? A group of teens munching snacks and arguing about kickflips or whatever sat back left. Lastly, some jacked welterweight lookin’ stud strutted in with his girlfriend, and they plopped frontmost, split between myself and those rowdy hooligans. The pieces were on the board.
Early on, the teens chattered and looked bored. I paid no mind as Rama and Jaka stealthily pushed forward through the Indonesian housing slums. Then, I spied tiny objects falling short behind the absolute unit whose bicep was bigger than my thigh. A glance back revealed the youths were trying to provoke the beast in a Tapout tee.
On the screen, tension mounted as Riyadi’s spotters sounded the alarm. Bodies started dropping around Rama until only a few officers remained and gunfire halted. Rama, Jaka, and others relied on pencak silat where Agent 47 would have looted for more pistol clips. After this point, The Raid: Redemption feels like a feature-length riff on the hallway beatdown in Oldboy, the way Rama never catches his breath between gangs of battle-ready threats. There’s no pause to chase romantic interests or deliver monologues outside a few necessary plot reveals. Everything The Raid: Redemption accomplishes is through breakneck action choreography that never quits, amped by background beats co-composed by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda for an extra energetic boost.
In our theater, suspense built as popcorn projectiles — from an impressive distance, to be honest — bounced around the respectfully engrossed grappler. His head swiveled the kids’ way, and I noticed they were ducking behind seats, out of his vision. I chuckled because c’mon, these morons couldn’t pull this act off much longer. The combatant directed attention back towards the film as Rama searched for cover (much like the cackling brats).
Soon enough, snack artillery rained once more. What I didn’t notice — but presumably what happened — is while I was hyped on The Raid: Redemption, Mr. Bust Your Lip counted my friend and I as the only other patrons. No one else could be interrupting his daytime movie date. Then his companion took a “hit” from a piece of popcorn. She got annoyed. The gloves came off.
The guy who may as well have been Georges St. Pierre Jr. shot out of his seat at the same time Rama started whooping the absolute snot out of Riyadi’s army. He screamed something close to the following, his neck veins popping at two movie dweebs (us): “I will kick the fucking shit out of both of you if you don’t stop right now!” I pointed at the troublemakers as they bolted towards the exit doors. It was futile because this dude wanted to tap me out in the middle of The Raid: Redemption. Was this really happening? Questions flashed through my head, but after catching Rama eviscerating some dope with a flurry of backhands and bruises, I told myself the stupidest two words that have ever crossed my mind: “Fuck it.” I was ready to throw down — luckily, for my health, that didn’t happen.
Obviously, we would have gotten smashed like The Hulk treating Loki like a stuffed animal. That’s the magic of the adrenaline blast that is The Raid: Redemption, though — it amps its crowd up to dangerous levels. Punches and kicks aren’t just flying like a game of Street Fighter. A knockout two-on-one climax that pits Rama and brother Andi (Donny Alamsyah) against Mad Dog pushes every performer to their sweaty-dizzy brink for five uninterrupted minutes of unarmed action bliss, defying the pain thresholds human bodies can withstand. . My mission, moving forward, was to seek future titles like Headshot, The Night Comes For Us, and Jailbreak as American releases like Mile 22 went on to neuter Uwais’ talents next to bulky Mark Wahlberg types. How any filmmaker could stack Uwais against an American-bred bruiser and let the latter toss him around like potato sacks is mindless. Such a waste of the unique skills Uwais can bring to an overseas action role.
I’ll never forget The Raid: Redemption because it opened my world to global action representation that’s now helping shape American franchises like John Wick. Maybe I’d feel the same even if there was no hospitalization threat looming over the film’s duration — then again, perhaps not. 4DX blows mist in your face to recreate the sensation of rain; I had some Ultimate Fighter contestant trying to be the Joe Taslim to my Steve Rogers before the superhero serum. Entering its 10th anniversary this year, The Raid: Redemption was my unintentional introduction to interactive cinema, plus it almost instigated my first real fight. If a higher power exists, they’ve got one killer sense of humor.