Thanks to the internet, events like Comic Con and Fantasia, and just good old fashioned PR buildup, there are a lot of films these days that, by the time most of us have a chance to see them, have already become something of a phenomenon. Most often, said films do not live up to the carefully cultivated flimflam, but, in the case of Gareth Evans ultra-violent and immensely satisfying martial arts shoot-em-up, The Raid: Redemption, believe the hype.
Set in the slums of Jakarta, The Raid: Redemption follows a group of elite Indonesian S.W.A.T. officers tasked with infiltrating a seemingly impenetrable apartment building/fortress that serves as the base of operations for vicious crime lord, Tama Riyadi (Ray Sahetapy). Overseen by Lieutenant Weyhu (Pierre Gruno), the 20 man strike force – including secretive rookie Rama (Iko Uwais) - stealthily slip into the apartment building under the cover of darkness, successfully navigating their way up to the sixth floor. Just as it looks like the mission is well in hand, a lookout blows their cover, and the team is ambushed, with many of the team being gunned down in the buildings narrow stairwell. This leaves Rama and handful of survivors trapped on the sixth floor, fighting off both Tama’s men, as well as the residents of the derelict building to whom Tama has offered free rent in exchange for their aid in killing off the remains of the invading police force. Matters are made worse when the surviving members of the S.W.A.T. team learn that Weyhu - a corrupt cop with a score to settle with Tama – has sent them on a veritable suicide mission; one without official authorization. Now, hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, Rama and the rest of the team learn that there’s only one way out, and that means taking out Tama Riyadi once and for all.
The Raid is an all-out action spectacle, big on tightly choreographed, highly-stylized fight scenes that are punctuated by percussive, borderline-sickening sounds of breaking bones and fists pummeling meat. Shot with myriad angles and film speeds, alternating between erratic, Shaw Brothers inspired bouts of multiple participant fisticuffs and ultra-slow motion, extreme close-ups of cracking limbs and dislocating jaws (as well as bountiful amounts of CGI enhanced carnage), The Raid is easily one of the most visually impressive, violent, and downright entertaining action films to come along in some time. The gun violence is equally balletic, borrowing from Woo and the Wachowskis, but still managing to come off as distinctive and fresh. Speaking of fresh, Evans has found himself an exciting and truly unique action star in Uwais; one who possesses the skill and ferocity of Tony Jaa (minus the mental baggage) as well as the charisma and boyish good looks of a young Bruce Lee. The Raid marks the second collaboration between the Welsh director Evans and Uwais, whose mastery of his country’s martial art, pencak silat, first caught Evans eye whilst filming a documentary on the subject, earning him a role in the director’s first feature, Merantau. It will be a treat to see where these two take each other in the years to come, and, as of this writing, a sequel to this film (as well as the inevitable Hollywood remake) is currently in pre-production.
The Raid: Redemption comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Sony, and the results are mixed. Shot on the Panasonic AG-AF100 camera, one would think this digitally shot image would translate beautifully to Blu-ray, but, sadly, that isn’t the case. This is a somewhat soft transfer that’s quite blocky in places, sports a few instances of the dreaded “clay face”, and a somewhat surprising lack of overall sharpness and detail. The image is also very washed out, which I’m assuming was an aesthetic decision on the part of Evans, but this lack of vibrancy, coupled with the inconsistent image quality, lends the film a flat, unappealing quality that looks more like an upscaled DVD transfer than a true Blu. Things are noticeably better when it comes to audio, as the film’s several dynamic 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio tracks offer a balanced and well-mixed listening experience. I sampled the various options, but opted for the Indonesian langue track featuring the Mike Shinoda (of Linkin’ Park fame) score, and found this track to be the deepest and most satisfying in terms of bass and overall fidelity.
Sony loads this disc up with an impressive array of extras, including a commentary track featuring an engaging and very informative dissection of the film by Gareth Evans. We also get a series of video blogs (HD), which serve as something of a fast and loose making of; a collection of lengthy music-centric featurettes with Shinoda, Evans, and Joe Trapanese (HD); a short Anatomy of a Scene featurette (HD), and a pair of funny shorts including Claycat’s The Raid, which is a Claymation “remake” of the film starring cats, as well as the animated The Raid TV Show (Circa 1994) commercial. Rounding out the extras are trailers for this and other Sony releases, as well as a UV Digital Copy of the film.
The Raid: Redemption is one of the most exciting and inventive martial arts/action films I’ve seen in ages, and one that will likely serve the benchmark for the genre for years to come. As great as the film is, the Blu-ray presentation is something of a disappointment in that, visually, it’s just not up to Sony’s usual standards. However, the excellent audio and wonderful collection of HD bonus features goes a long way toward softening the blow, and martial arts/action fans should consider this one an essential purchase. Highly recommended.