The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan maut)


The Raid: Redemption

Never tell a martial arts expert to clean up his room or else.

(2011) Action (Sony Classics) Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Ray Sahetapy, Tegar Satrya, Iang Darmawan, Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia, Verdi Solaiman, R. Iman Aji, Ananda George, Yusuf Opilius. Directed by Gareth Evans

 

Hollywood was once the action movie capital of the world, as heroes like Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Seagal and Willis unleashed mayhem of every shape and size against villains both human and extraterrestrial. But as our action heroes got older, their movies soon came out of vogue and the paradigm shifted.

Hong Kong was for a time the action center of the universe as Jacky Chan, Jet Li, Donny Yuen and Chow Yun Fat kicked butt in both police procedurals and fantasy martial arts extravaganzas. Again most of those actors have begun to age their way out of favor and now the paradigm is shifting once again.

Southeast Asia seems to be the new center of action movies as Thai star Tony Jaa has transfixed audiences with his astonishing martial arts films and now here comes this Indonesian entry into the sweepstakes that is meant to up the ante.

Rookie cop Rama (Uwais) leaves his pregnant wife to go on a dangerous assignment; to enter an apartment building and arrest the crime lord Tama (Sahetapy) who lives in a bunker-like enclosure on the top floor of the 15 story building. Most of the people living in it are beholden to Tama so it isn’t lie they can stroll in, arrest him and stroll out. They need to move in stealthily, as team leader Jaka (Taslim) explains. They are accompanied by a higher-up Lieutenant Wayhu (Gruno) who seems shady from the beginning.

Unfortunately for the cops, there is no stealth in a building that is wired with closed circuit cameras and microphones. Tama knows they are there long before there’s any chance for escape; he wipes out the men left behind to guard their van and traps the men on the sixth floor, sending his two right hands Andi the brains (Alamsyah) and Mad Dog the brawn (Ruhian) to finish them off. The cops will have to fight their way out of a death trap and it becomes not so much about getting their man and more about survival.

This is a movie all about choreography and pacing, and it’s done as intricately as any dance number. It’s kind of like a nearly two hour video game session without the controllers as cannon fodder on both side run out with machetes, guns or their fists to take on the heroic cops. Yes, it gets frustrating as you see gangs of fighters go in one at a time to take on the obviously better trained cops with predictable results but then again, that’s just fair play is it not?

Uwais is an action star in the making. He is handsome, charismatic and skilled, all attributes necessary for action star-ness. He doesn’t get a lot of dialogue here – nobody does – but he seems to be able to handle it pretty well. He is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Evans is a Welsh director who lives in Indonesia now and this is his baby. He knows what to do with it as well, giving it a lightning-paced edit that perfectly displays the kinetic fight sequences to their fullest, and gets a pulsing electronic score that further plays up the videogame angle.

This isn’t for everybody. Roger Ebert rightly opines that there isn’t much in the way of plot or character development and that the characters are essentially faceless, mindless and motiveless; we don’t care much for them so it doesn’t matter when they get slaughtered and after two hours of watching skulls getting bashed into walls, machetes slicing and dicing through bloody torsos and skulls exploding when a handgun is fired directly into them, well one can get desensitized. I do find that a little troubling.

However, I have to also admire the way this is put together and say that if you love action, this is really going to float your boat. It’s non-stop, pull no punches balls to the wall thrills and unapologetically so. There is in fact an audience for this kind of thing (which Hollywood has noted – a remake is in the pipeline) and they deserve to be served as much as the pre-teen girls who are served by the Twilight movies or the film buffs served by indie movies. I found myself pulled in and enjoying this on a visceral level and although I wouldn’t have minded a little more exposition and yes, a little less action, there was still enough of the former to justify the excess of the latter.

REASONS TO GO: Non-stop action. Paced so quickly you are literally left breathless.

REASONS TO STAY: Lacking in plot or character development; if you aren’t into one long fight scene this may not be your cup of tea.

FAMILY VALUES: Tons and tons of violence, some blood and gore and a bit of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Before becoming an actor Uwais drove a truck.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/25/12: Rotten Tomatoes: 83% positive reviews. Metacritic: 73/100. The reviews are universally praiseworthy.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Assault on Precinct 13

TACTICS LOVERS: The weapons and tactics used by the actors playing the special forces team are authentic to the ones used by Indonesia’s KOPASKA, down to the hand signals used  and the actors underwent training with KOPASA to use them properly.

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT:Chimpanzee

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Bangkok Dangerous (2008)


Bangkok Dangerous

Nicolas Cage wonders if that's the Career Reaper following him.

(2008) Action Thriller (Lionsgate) Nicolas Cage, Shahkrit Yamnarm, Charlie Yeung, Panward Hemmanee, Nirattisai Kaljaruek, Dom Hetrakul. Directed by Danny and Oxide Pang

I’m not sure what it is about assassins that get weary of their job. They always seem to kill only people who deserve it, and when they try to do one last job, things always seem to go horribly wrong for them. It’s enough to make a killer check his 401K.

Joe (Cage) is such an assassin and you can tell he’s tired of his job because, well, he tells us he is. He certainly seems tired; he wanders through Bangkok trying to look cool and tough at the same time but he looks sleepy to me. Maybe it’s his hair – Cage is the king of really bad movie haircuts and this might be his worst yet.

He’s been sent to Bangkok to perform four murders, all of which are meant to look like accidents, which are Joe’s specialty. The crime boss that hires him (Kaljaruek) is provided with a list of requirements; in return, the targets and the information about them are delivered in stainless steel briefcases. The courier is Kong (Yamnaram), a street hustler Joe picks up to be his gofer…or his number one son. You make the call.

As Joe offs three bad guys, he develops a relationship with a blind pharmacist (Yeung) that blossoms into full-blown romance, which is a violation of one of Joe’s rules (it’s a rule that all cinematic assassins have to have a set of rules which in turn get violated during the course of the movie; it’s not the screenwriter’s fault, man – it’s a rule) as is his growing mentor relationship with Kong, who is proving to be no King.

When the fourth and final target pops up, Joe is shocked to find out that it is a politician, one who is particularly loved by the people. This pisses Joe off; he made it very clear that he doesn’t do political. Still, a job’s a job right? Of course not – this job’s a setup. Now Joe’s on the run and to make matters worse, his exit strategy doesn’t provide for people he cares about. Getting out of Bangkok alive has just become very problematic.

I usually like these kinds of movies and I usually like Nicolas Cage in movies, although that has become much harder to do lately. Some of his more recent movies have become a good deal more style than substance, and he has gone from being one of Hollywood’s most bankable stars to being one in danger of becoming a B-movie headliner whose movies as often as not head direct to home video.

The Pang Brothers based this on their own 1999 action movie of the same title. It’s kind of an odd choice for a remake – it wasn’t really one of their better films, and it doesn’t really get much value added to it by being “Hollywood-ized.” To make matters worse, it is very badly underlit and the colors have a washed out tone to them, like someone left the aperture far too open on a home movie.

However, the Pang Brothers are action specialists and some of the sequences (particularly the boat chase and Joe’s escape from an ambush while his paramour walks ahead, completely unaware of the carnage going on behind her) are masterful. That said, the Thai locations used here don’t really give you a sense of the lively nature of Bangkok but nonetheless give you a good idea of the beauty of the city and its environs. If they hadn’t tried to be so stylish, this could have gotten more points for being a good looking film.

As I mentioned earlier, Cage more or less sleepwalks through this, trying an Eastwood-like approach of growling in a low voice while rarely displaying much emotion or feeling. Unfortunately, that works better with a gravelly voice than it does with Cage’s and for the most part, his part is uninspired. However the relationship he has with Kong is one of the movie’s highlights; young Yamnaram does a solid job as Joe’s flunky.

The romantic subplot serves as a distraction and really never goes anywhere anyway. Yeung is very attractive but there’s no real fire or passion in her scenes with Joe; they’re too chaste to really convince me that there’s any sort of heat between them. More convincing is the romance between Kong and a stripper that he becomes fond of. Strangely enough, she becomes the damsel in peril (every movie needs one) rather than Joe’s friend. In retrospect that’s probably a wise decision.

Given the Bangkok location, this could have been a much more exciting, enjoyable film than it was and that’s really a shame. Unfortunately I never really got a reason for this film to be made other than for a quick payday. I never got a sense anyone involved really loved the story nor believed in it. Perhaps that’s why I gave this such a tepid review; that’s more or less how I felt the filmmakers gave to their audience.

WHY RENT THIS: The action sequences are exciting. The relationship between Joe and Kong is believable and dynamic.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The “retiring assassin doing his last job” thing has been done to death. The romantic relationship with the blind pharmacist never really goes anywhere nor is it very convincing.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s plenty of violence and a little bit of sexuality. There is also a fair amount of foul language as well. Definitely for older teens and above.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie was filming in Bangkok during the September 19, 2006 coup d’état. The armory department claims they fired the only shots of the coup. Filming was only interrupted for six hours.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a featurette on the growth of Asian cinema which is a bit shallow but informative nonetheless.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $42.5M on a $45M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Next Three Days