You know what I miss? Good, old-fashioned American martial arts movies. (I mean martial arts movies from America. There are no American martial arts.) Almost all recent action releases feature martial arts sequences, but they’re usually integrated into a broader fight scheme involving machine guns and/or super powers. In short, they’re used sparingly and tastefully. FUCK THAT. I want people continuously and implausibly jump kicking the crap out of each other. I want a horde of bad guys wielding machetes to conveniently show up just as the hero spends his last bullet on the only remaining armed assailant. For now it seems that stuff is strictly the province of foreign cinema. The Raid: Redemption is a perfect example.
Remember when Ong Bak generated huge buzz on a great trailer and the renowned physical prowess of its star, Tony Jaa? While the stunt work was indeed spectacular, that movie looked like garbage and had a plot so convoluted I can’t remember why he was in New York or how it ended. Raid benefited from a similar western marketing blitz last year but this one actually lives up to its promise to provide hyper violent hand to hand combat and little else. The fight scenes are absolutely brutal and the graphic bodily damage inflicted (and shown!) is wince-inducing. Though the martial artists are clearly impressive athletes, the choreography wisely eschews high flying head kicks for the most part, focusing on down and dirty knee breaks and body slams.
Is there a plot? Sure, some cops raid a big building filled with bad dudes. Are there weak tea side stories and meandering twists that are as unecessary as they are boring? Yup. But that’s not what you paid for and thankfully those moments are short lived. The movie is at its best when the good guys are knee deep in the broken bodies of their enemies, punching and slashing their way to freedom.
Thai cinema settled into a nice little niche following the modest international success of Ong Bak. The Raid: Redemption is a vastly superior film, both in structure and production values. Indonesia has a real opportunity to build a reputation as the place to go for gritty martial arts movies. Now if only I had any idea where Indonesia was.