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See original Asian action film before Hollywood rips it off

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In a perfect world, The Raid: Redemption would be seen exclusively at midnight screenings.

In the witching hour, audiences are a little punchy, and their inhibitions are correspondingly diminished. And this is a movie in which audience reaction -- shouts, screams and miscellaneous exclamations of awe -- enhance the viewing experience much more than 3-D glasses ever could.

To the undiscerning eye, this Indonesian actioner might appear to be an Asian Die Hard knock-off, wherein a single good cop must make it out alive from an extremely hostile environment. But The Raid is much more ambitious, stirring up martial-arts action, police corruption intrigue and a touch of psycho horror into its piquant, bloody stew.

Rama (Iko Uwais) is a good cop seen kissing his very pregnant wife goodbye on his way out to an extremely dangerous mission. He and a busload of SWAT-like cops have been assigned to break into a highrise apartment building in Jakarta, ruled by the slippery crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy). The place is sufficiently fortified that even police don't go there.

Evidently, someone thinks it's a good idea to finally go in and find Tama. But shortly after the SWAT bus arrives on the scene, Rama and his police comrades find themselves under siege as they are trapped in the building by a combination of snipers and resident thugs, all taking direction from Tama's lieutenants, the brainy Andi (Doni Alamsyah) and the vicious, aptly-named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian, who doubles as this film's fight choreographer).

Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Evans comes at the film from the perspective of a true martial-arts fan, and that pure love of the genre translates into an insistence on filming fight scenes with a minimum of flashy editing, as opposed to the too-frequent phenomenon of hand-to-hand combat edited into an incomprehensible mess, a la Columbiana.

This film is, and I can't stress this enough, crazy-violent.

Think of the hero of Oldboy and his duel with miscellaneous thugs armed only with a hammer. Now stretch that sequence out for the better part of a movie.

Think of Bruce Lee armed, not with nunchuks, but with knives.

But even while The Raid: Redemption is a tad over-the-top with its bloodletting, Evans exercises admirable restraint in other areas. Performances are curiously sombre. The newly-minted martial-arts star Iko Uwais is neither cold-blooded action cipher, nor a wise-cracking Asian John McClane. Facing down three thugs armed with machetes, his unarmed hero strikes the right note of fear, desperation and resolve -- and masterly skill in the art of silat, a multi-faceted Asian martial-arts discipline.

If you've seen one too many times the sight of a guy walking away from an explosion, you already know the action movie is the least original, most plagiarized genre, the place where a single Die Hard begets a hundred Die Hard clones.

The Raid: Redemption is an original. Suck up the subtitles. See it before Hollywood rips it off.

Movie Review

The Raid: Redemption

Directed by Gareth Evans

Grant Park, Polo Park


101 minutes

4 stars out of five

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2012 D5

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