The Raid: Redemption (fight 5 of 5)

BOSS FIGHT!!!

And he has SO many hit points.

And he has SO many hit points.

5) Rama & Andi vs Mad Dog

The Fighters:

  • Rama, our hero. Played by Iko Uwais.
  • Andi, Rama’s brother and long-time black sheep of the family. Rama didn’t know he’d be there until he saw the pre-mission intel, and came determined to bring him out alive. Though physically formidable he’s more of an administrative/brains-type guy of the villain’s operation, and having something of a conscience he’s done what he can to minimize unnecessary brutality. Played by Donny Alamsyah.
  • Mad Dog, the crime lord’s top enforcer and the real physical threat of the movie (the villain Tama will, spoiler, soon be unceremoniously shot by Wahyu). One of the few characters in this movie whose name is more than four letters. Played by Yayan Ruhian.

The Setup: Fresh off their victory in the drug lab, the protagonists ascend up to Tama’s lair on the 15th floor. But on the way, Rama sees something that makes him stop and let the others move on without him: his brother, tied up in the center of a dank room, getting pounded like a sack of meat by Mad Dog. What Rama didn’t know until now is that Andi’s employer had discovered his aid of Rama, and has sicced Mad Dog on him as punishment/interrogation.

He wordlessly enters and stares down the villain. Mad Dog stops his slow torture of Andi, releases him from the ceiling-suspended chain and allows the brothers a brief reunion as he cranks up the winch he’d been suspending his target with. Then he approaches the two and gestures for them to step aside, positioning himself so that he’s directly between them.

Because, you know, otherwise it would have been too easy.

Because, you know, otherwise it would have been too easy.

Nobody needs to say anything, everyone knows what’s about to happen. Now, consider that Rama is still exhausted from his last three epic fights, and Andi has been stabbed through one hand and steadily beaten for a good while. Mad Dog, meanwhile, though he did have a nasty showdown with Jaka a while back, is fresher than either of them. On the other hand, there are two of them… but back on the first hand, this IS Mad Dog. So this is a lot less uneven than you’d think.

After a brief standoff, everybody gets down to business.

The Fight: Pure insanity. Emphasis on both words, because while the fight is certainly all kinds of crazy, it really is pure (well, nearly enough) in the sense that it is almost entirely unadorned by weapons, the environment, fancy tricks or outside interference. It’s just three warriors in a small room, trying very hard to kill each other.

It’s also of epic length: well over five minutes. That’s an eternity in fight scene time, especially in one that’s completely free of aforementioned adornment and has no changes of scenery. (There’s one brief cutaway early on to the Wahyu’s doings, but I’m not counting that towards this fight’s run time.) If the Jaka/Mad Dog duel was a breathless sprint, this one is a grueling marathon.

As with many battles of its ilk, recapping the exact goings-on would be a fool’s errand. Suffice it to say that despite it basically being five minutes of the same thing over & over, this fight never gets boring, and in fact only gets better as it goes on. Somehow it keeps staying fresh and diverse.

Rama & Andi make an effective team, sometimes getting the better of Mad Dog individually and sometimes overwhelming him by their superior number (or one hitting him while he’s engaged with the other). Given the lightning-fast nature of the battle there’s obviously not much time for the brothers to plan out any teamwork, but they do have a few good moments of improvised cooperation. My favorite is probably when Rama flings Mad Dog about by his leg and a downed Andi adds to the throw’s force with a kick to the chest.

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When Mad Dog gets back up and has to defend himself against both brothers attacking him head-on while slowly backing towards the door, Evans films it in a really striking head-on shot of Mad Dog where all you can see of the two heroes is their limbs. It’s where the still from the top of the article came from.

But the villain gives more than as good as he gets, several times managing to overpower the brothers even when they do combine their efforts. And most of the fight he only has to engage with one of them at a time, since he keeps putting each one down with such ferocity that they’re slow to rise and help the other.

After a while the intense & exciting music steadily grows more, as we can see Mad Dog slowly wearing out his two opponents. Andi goes down hard when he’s slammed stomach first into a large metal box (air-conditioning unit or some such, probably) and shortly after that Rama takes a dive when the villain flips him all the way over in the air– before he lands, he goes so high his feet smash into one of the ceiling’s long fluorescent light tubes. (This will be important shortly.)

With both his foes reduced to writhing on the ground in pain, Mad Dog makes the same face we saw him make earlier, just before he killed Jaka. Uh oh.

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You don’t ever want to be in the room when Mad Dog makes this face. Actually, you just don’t ever want to be in the room with Mad Dog.

He decides to start with Rama, the more dangerous of the two and the one he’d been unsuccessfully hunting for most of the movie. As he pulls the hero up and lays hands on his neck, a dazed Andi sees a broken shard of fluorescent tube on the ground nearby. He crawls slowly to it, seizes it, pulls back Mad Dog’s head from behind and stabs him right in the side of the neck with it. Owwwwww….

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Improbably, this only seems to make Mad Dog MORE angry. He drops Rama and beats Andi mercilessly, and even starts slamming his head into the floor. Rama tries to interrupt but he gets a beating too, and almost nearly takes a probably-fatal elbow to the chest before Andi jumps back in and blocks it.

This last bit of teamwork seems to have worn down Mad Dog enough (he may be losing blood from the stab wound) that Rama is able to get around him and put his arm in a lock so that he can break it with a swift hand strike. Without missing a beat, the hero glides back around to the other side and breaks the other.

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With the villain now far less able to defend himself, Rama whips around and delivers a series of rapid-fire punches to Mad Dog’s chest. Then he spins him around and delivers a really hard knee to the chest, possibly breaking some more bones. That’s two snaps, a crackle AND a pop, I believe.

Mad Dog doesn’t have much time to worry about seeking medical attention, though, because Rama immediately slams him to the ground and holds him down by the shoulders. Andi crawls over and pins down his legs for good measure. Rama grabs the still-embedded (!) light bulb shard, and slowly drags it all the way across the villain’s twitching throat. It’s SO gross, but with a guy like Mad Dog you have to pull out all the stops. Hell, if I were them I’d go on to decapitate him, then cut his body into fifths and bury the pieces in separate continents. You know, just to be sure.

I mean, at least try setting him on fire.

I mean, at least try setting his body on fire. Are you SURE he’s not a vampire?

This is absolutely phenomenal. It may not be the best all-around fight in The Raid, but it’s exactly the kind of epic, adrenaline-soaked, balls-to-the-wall note this kind of movie needed to end with. If there is any true flaw it’s that the introduction of the bulb shard is a bit of a cheat, interrupting the purity of the fight. But it’s such a desperate struggle by then that it’s hard to begrudge the heroes for pulling out all the stops, and besides, Mad Dog still kicks their asses for a little while after the initial stabbing; they don’t actually kill him with it until he’s already pretty much lost anyway.

More than ever, you can really register the exhaustion and the desperation of the combatants. The quasi-realism the movie employs thus makes Mad Dog’s nearly superhuman ability to withstand punishment all the more impressive. A truly epic end to a truly epic movie. Gareth Evans, you are the chosen one.

Grade: A+

Recommended Links: Don’t forget to check out the trailer for Berandal, next year’s sequel to The Raid. Apparently Rama goes undercover so he can beat even MORE criminals to death. UPDATE: Trailer #2!

Coming Attractions: BWAAAAAAAAAAAAMP

Shadows of the Colossi

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The Raid: Redemption (fight 4 of 5)

Drug bust.

Face bust.

3) Drug Lab Assault

The Fighters:

  • Rama, our hero, now patched up and rested a bit from his previous encounters. Played by Iko Uwais
  • Wahyu, the police lieutenant in charge of the mission. Older and in worse shape than any of the other team members (and sporting hilarious bleach blonde hair), but plenty mean enough. It’s come out by now that Wahyu is deeply corrupt and has outlived his usefulness, which is why he’s ordered this raid as a sort of last-ditch shot for leverage. His companions know he’s dirty, but they keep him around because it’s important to stick together. Played by Pierre Gruno.
  • Dagu, another SWAT member who we don’t know much about. Basically only around because he’s lucky enough to have survived. Played by Eka “Piranha” Rahmadia. No idea what the nickname is all about.
  • Drug lab thugs, about 15 or so. They’re spread out all over the place given the huge nature of the lab, and probably a few are also coming in from other rooms so once again it makes sense that they’re attacking our heroes at irregular intervals. Most seem to be there to make drugs but several are probably guards, so their individual skill levels vary.
    • Armed with: Some have knives.

The Setup: After getting some help from the crime lord’s other lieutenant, Andi (who turns out to be Rama’s brother. Ze tweest!), Rama lays low for a while and eventually re-unites with the other two wandering survivors. They decide that since the exits are being watched by snipers, the only hope they have is to complete the mission as planned, so they head onward and upward. This will take them through the rather large drug lab (unspecified what kind of drugs, could be multiple types) not too far from Tama’s perch on the 15th floor.

While Wahyu and Dagu act as bait, Rama takes out the lone roving guard on the stairwell, tossing the gun-wielding thug over the edge. Here’s where the sountrack (or at least the US version, enhanced by Mike Shinoda and Joseph Trapanese) kicks into high gear with a rhythmic, jaunty, techno-esque tune. We see a long pan over the many workers in the lab going about their business, until they’re suddenly interrupted by Rama bursting through the door and tackling another guard. Time go all Nancy Reagan on this biatch.

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The Fight: On many levels this is the most ambitious fight of the movie yet. It’s three allies with different fighting styles loosely cooperating against a numerically superior but disorganized opposition, in a very large space with lots of obstacles. Of course as you might have guessed by this point, Evans and crew pull it off masterfully.

There’s a wild, popping energy to this scene that sets it apart. The last fight was a vicious duel to the death and the one before that was a desperate struggle for survival, but this one’s just a smorgasboard of hyper-kinetic, high-speed violence. In this way it’s closer to the first fight than anything, only a lot more so because there’s more combatants, more space to play in and more energy at work. The fighters here run and jump and pull all sorts of crazy stunts. Evans goes back & forth between all three protagonists as they put down henchmen left & right, with varying degrees of difficulty.

Dagu proves surprisingly capable for a guy who’s basically just lucky cannon fodder. He fights a lot like Rama but seems to be faster and more wiry, getting in several good beatdowns in this sequence.

But strangely in this fight it’s Wahyu who comes off as the most memorable. Despite being a paunchy middle-aged man amongst a crew of young, ripped martial artists, Wahyu is still quite the badass. That’s in spite of his dearth of martial arts prowess, rather than because of it: while Dagu and Rama pull off dazzling acrobatics and surgical beatdowns, the crusty lieutenant is just a big simple beast of a man. He throws wild haymakers and topples down huge objects around him as diversions. At one point he even channels his inner bad guy wrestler when he uses a chair to sweep the legs out from under a charging foe, then brings it crashing down on him brutally when he’s on the ground. He’s a bull in a china shop and it’s delightful to watch.

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Rama, of course, is the fight’s MVP and rightfully gets most of the focus. Even though he’s still kicking ass in fine form, he absorbs a healthy amount of punishment from the tougher thugs, but he keeps coming back. At one point he’s able to seize a foe’s knife and starts his old slash & stab routine, but he loses it soon enough when he opts to throw it across the room to skewer a baddie who’d been choking Wahyu from behind.

The final showpiece of the sequence involves Rama and the last bad guy leaping onto opposite ends of a very long, thin table. Like, “I said, could you PASS the SALT?!”-long. They charge each other at full speed, and Rama gracefully leaps over what would have been a deadly slide kick.

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“Why aren’t we fighting on the ground?” “Shut up, this is awesome!”

They have an extended battle and the last guy does pretty well for himself, until Rama is able to deliver a stunning kick-punch-sweep combo that drops the thug so that he lands with his back slamming against the table’s edge. Ouch.

The only thing “wrong” with this fight is that in comparison with the last two it’s relatively inconsequential: there are no recognizable faces amongst the sea of interchangeable bad guys here, and none of them rise above moderately threatening. Even the final table duel, while neat-looking, doesn’t end with quite the level of “oomph” the movie has subtly trained us to expect from this sort of thing.

On the other hand, that’s kind of the scene’s strength. This sequence comes during a particularly harsh stretch, storywise: Jaka has died, the remaining heroes know they’re cut off & alone, and Andi’s treachery has just been discovered by his criminal colleagues. The heroes, and the audience, need something light, fast-paced, and fun. They need a good clean win, and boy is this ever that. From the moment the high-paced music kicks in you begin to feel like it’s Comeback Time, and know that the movie’s starting to come into the home stretch.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: An unfair fight.

Definitely not fair, they should have at least three more guys.

Definitely not fair, they should have at least three more guys.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 3 of 5)

Constanze: “Is it not good?”

Salieri: “It is miraculous.”

Don't ALWAYS bet on the tall guy.

Unfortunately not the kind of miracle Jaka’s going to need.

3) Jaka vs Mad Dog

The Fighters:

  • Sergeant Jaka, the smart & capable leader of this SWAT team. While the corrupt Lieutenant Wahyu is ultimately in charge of this mission, Jaka is the team’s field commander. Played by Joe Taslim, a former Judo champion-turned-actor who you might recognize from being in Fast & Furious 6 earlier this year.
  • Mad Dog, one of the crime lord’s two right-hand men. Smart, sadistic, relentless and enthralled with the glory of physical combat, Mad Dog is one dangerous puppy. Played by Yayan Ruhian, a renowned silat instructor (he used to train the Indonesian equivalent of the Secret Service) turned actor. While Iko Uwais is undoubtedly the star of The Raid and does the lion’s share of physical work, Ruhian is the movie’s secret weapon.

The Setup: While Rama has been fighting his way through legions of cannon fodder and mini-bosses, his companions Jaka, Wahyu and another cop named Dagu have been evading and hiding as well. Finally holing up in an abandoned apartment, this second group of survivors try to figure their way out of this mess. Jaka is able to deduce that Wahyu is hiding something and confronts him. After some drama (including the revelation that this mission is not officially sanctioned and no one else knows they’re here), the group decides to sneak out, but they pick the absolute worst time because as soon as Jaka opens the door he gets a kick in the face from Mad Dog, who’s been dispatched with a couple followers to track down the survivors.

There’s a scuffle between the two sides that ends Jaka ordering his men to escape, with Mad Dog’s posse in pursuit. Meanwhile, the two leaders get caught in a weapons stand-off that is decidedly uneven.

Sean Connery had a few choice words about this sort of thing in The Untouchables.

Once they’re alone, Mad Dog gestures for Jaka to put down the knife, which he does with some caution. Then they both rise and, at the villain’s further direction, enter the room. Mad Dog closes the door behind them and relaxes. As Jaka stands a few feet away, wary, Mad Dog unloads and discards his gun, then removes his sweater. All the while he talks about how killing someone with a gun is too easy (“like ordering takeout”) and he prefers the thrill of the fight, of getting his hands dirty.

The audience has already been informed, via Jaka’s intel, that Mad Dog is definitely crazy, but we didn’t know how crazy. The way Ruhian delivers his lines so calmly, even breezily, indicates the presence of a truly dangerous psycho. There’s something about his simple confidence in himself that’s kind of terrifying.

The villain stretches out, struts toward his target, and immediately unloads.

The Fight: Just non-stop, pure, brutal violence. They’re punching, kicking, blocking, dodging, tossing, reversing. They’re down, they’re back up, they’re all over the room, they’re slamming each other into things. It’s fast and it’s insane. No amount of description could do it justice. It’s a hurricane.

It certainly rocks you like one.

Hard, percussive muic kicks in just as soon as the fight starts, and only briefly lets up at one point when Jaka is able to get atop his adversary and furiously tries to choke him to death. Then it kicks right back in as soon as Mad Dog pops loose.

The two combatants are dazzling, managing that amazing feat of playing out meticulous choreography while somehow making it all look natural; it’s simultaneously a work of technical perfection but it’s also just two warriors trying desperately to kill each other.

He’s basically performing a sideways Shoryuken.

And for all Jaka’s superlative skill, it becomes increasingly clear that he’s out of his league here. Mad Dog is too fast, too resilient, too much. Jaka can’t stop him, heck watching this you’d almost believe a superhero couldn’t stop him. Though the villain absorbs many powerful blows and is left a sweaty, tired mess by the end, Mad Dog’s victory is guaranteed when he delivers a particularly strong knee to his foe’s face.

Jaka is still moving afterward, but is notably slower and dazed. Here the whole pace of the fight slows down, because the villain knows the end is near. He even revels in it, as we can see in a close-up shot when he tilts his face to the ceiling in a moment of perversely serene ecstasy.

From here on Evans plays a few tricks that solidify the sense of dread and inevitability. The drums die down and are replaced on the score by an odd mechanical whine that steadily rises, so loud that it drowns out the sounds from the few remaining blows (instead they’re accompanied by drum booms on the soundtrack). Because what happens from here is no longer excitement & entertainment but drama: a good man is about to be murdered.

Mad Dog softens Jaka up with another running blow. Then he grabs his neck, and, still savoring the moment, caresses his enemy’s head, almost affectionately. Jaka squirms to get loose but a vicious punch to the face stuns him further.

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And with one brutal twist, boom! Neck snapped. Just like how Superman does it.

The word for this is perfection. It is utterly without flaw from a technical or dramatic standpoint. It avoids the sins that deflate so many otherwise great fight scenes (and, to be honest, even a few great ones). The two combatants don’t just “take turns winning”; they have a genuine, non-stop and complex push & pull where neither side gains advantage for more than a few seconds. Rarely is a fight this convincingly close, either– they’re both amazingly talented fighters but while one is clearly better, the other truly makes him work for it; it’s plausible that Jaka could have won. And the victor does not win on a technicality or a matter of luck. Mad Dog wins simply because he’s better… or perhaps just more crazy, savage and fearless.

While Taslim is outstanding, the real star of this fight is, of course, Yahyan Ruhian. He has a surprising range for a non-actor– he only ended up in front of the camera after joining Gareth Evans’ previous film, Merantau, as a choreographer, and ended up filling in an acting slot when the director had trouble filling a small but important antagonist role. In Merantau he was certainly a bad guy but more of a tragic one, his soulful eyes betraying a lot of regret. But here he’s a flat-out psychopath, the kind of guy you’d cross the street to avoid if you saw him walking down the sidewalk. On paper, the kind of bad guy who puts down his gun because he so openly relishes bare-hands killing is such a cliché, but Ruhian elevates it through the sheer intensity of his performance.

And one other thing? This whole battle, including the slower portion at the end as Mad Dog prepares to give the coup de grace, is well under two minutes. Yet it’s packed with so much incident it feels like much more. Is this how Olympic athletes feel during the 100-meter dash?

We are honored to witness this.

Grade: A+

Coming Attractions: Taking the rest of this week off for Christmas. But when we come back, our heroes say no to drugs.

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With extreme prejudice.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 2 of 5)

Eat your heart out, Jason Voorhees.

It looks like he’s reeling just from being yelled at, which actually makes this even better.

2) Machete Chaos

The Fighters:

  • Rama, once again. Played by Iko Uwais.
    • Armed with: Not a darn thing.
  • The Machete Gang, as the credits oh-so-accurately call them. They’re a band of five (soon to be four) particularly tough thugs who have been roving the building together for stragglers. If this movie were a video game (and it is SO a video game), these guys would be the miniboss squad. Their leader (“Machete Gang #1”) is particularly aggressive and deranged; he may well be hopped up on some amphetamine or another, given his demeanor and resilience. Played by Alfridus Godfred, Rully Santoso, Melkias Ronald Torobi, Johanes Tuname, and Sofyan Alop.
    • Armed with: Hint’s in the name.

The Setup: After successfully unloading Bowo in the home of the one decent man in the entire building (and just barely hiding in the walls from the Machete Gang while he was at it), Rama has resumed his mission alone. But it’s not long before he encounters the gang again in a hallway. One of them is significantly closer than the others, so when Rama flees, he’s the first to catch up. Our hero of course beats the crap out of him, though it takes significantly longer this time, and finishes him off by tossing him down the building’s main stairwell, where he lands on a concrete ledge a few floors down, back first. Ouch.

Rama runs up one more floor and gets chased for a while, but when he finds himself at a dead end, he knows he has no choice but to do this the hard way.

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The easy way does not exist in this film.

There’s a brief stare-down between the two factions, and then before you can say “ki ki ki, ma ma ma” everyone rushes in to get some killin’ done.

The Fight: Rama works harder here than ever before, being careful to stay inside the swing radius of his foes’ blades. It largely works, but he has a couple close calls that he barely dodges, including at one point when one of the gang (the one with impressive dreadlocks) almost stabs his face off after pinning him to the ground with a running leap onto his chest.

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And for being the only unarmed guy, Rama does kick a decent amount of ass here, scoring lots of blows that temporarily incapacitate an opponent or two at a time, only to leave him to go right back to the remaining ones. He also briefly lays hands on a machete himself and proves fairly adept with it, but loses it in an up-close suffle after only getting to deliver a painful-looking but superficial wound. There’s even a mildly funny bit where he tries to pick it up off the ground but his hand gets machete-slapped away by the gang’s leader.

At one point Rama gets caught between two thugs on either side of the narrow hallway (Evans switches to a cool overhead shot for this) but is able to turn the situation around by beating them both soundly. He kicks one bad guy hard enough to smash him through the door of an apartment, then grabs the other one by the neck and leaps them both backwards so that the thug’s neck lands on the protruding shards of the broken door, killing him instantly.

This happens. This is a thing that happens.

There’s enough of a lull in the action that Rama takes time to pause, seemingly shocked at his own brutality. Possibly more so because the thug he just killed looks all of 17 years old.

But the fight picks up again soon enough. Rama is quickly able to kill another of the gang by taking his machete, using it to slice him through the gut and side of his neck, and then bury it in his chest. After that, he’s unarmed again as he squares off in hand-to-hand with the dreadlocked guy, who proves surprisingly adept at martial arts. He hits Rama with some pretty fancy moves, knocking him over a couch and following up with several mean-looking blows.

But the hero rallies, and when Dreads tries to jump up so he can deliver a devastating knee to Rama’s face, Rama tackles him in mid-air and swings him into the corner wall like a sack of wet garbage. It seems to put him down for the count.

This frees Rama up to tussle alone with the leader, who proves alarmingly resilient and capable. There’s a real vicious push & pull between the two as each struggles to take the other out. The villain very nearly executes a mean suplex on Rama, who actually changes his own momentum in mid-air so he only flips forward to land on his feet (and then falls on his face). Then Rama almost gets his neck-snapped before he can break free, head-butt him and attempt a choke of his own. They trade some more blows, screaming at each other wildly the whole time. If the first fight was a complex ballet the whole way through, the second one quickly devolves into a desperate struggle for survival.

The thug is able to pick up his machete again and misses with a few wild swings. Rama gets in close, softens him up with a few blows, get around behind him and put him down with a hard punch to the back of the head. Visibly shaken, Rama checks the AO, wary of any lingering or new threats. When the gang leader stumbles shakily to his feet, our hero panics and tackles him with a wild surge of energy, sending them both plummeting out the window.

This is what you'd call a "hail Mary play," I believe.

This is what you’d call a “hail Mary play,” I believe.

They fall several stories, clip a ledge on the way down and stop on a metal balcony. Rama lands on top of his foe, so he’s relatively okay, but still pretty roughed up. Worse so when some of the bad guys stationed outside the building open fire on him. Most of the bullets bounce off the balcony’s bars, but at least one round makes its way into his flak jacket, and when he crawls inside he has to desperately remove the vest to get the heated bullet away, sacrificing yet another layer of protection. But at least he’s alive. Any fight you can walk away from….

Another piece of extended awesomeness here. As mentioned there’s a whole different vibe to this scene, as Rama is up against stronger odds right from the outset– not to mention that the first battle had to have taken a lot out of him. The bad guys here are not just more threatening but more distinctive visually, with their crazy-eyed leader having already established himself as being particularly ruthless and hateable.

One of the movie’s more subtle yet distinctive triumphs of choreography is also apparent here: reversals. In several clashes between hero & villain, one party will attempt a move that the other reverses, escapes or otherwise defeats. It’s not always something simple like a punch or kick, either, but a complicated throw or some such. And even though the move doesn’t work you can always tell what the first person is trying to do, which makes it even more impressive when you see the target cancel it out. Just one of the many little things that help make this movie so amazing.

And for all that The Raid is so wild & intense, there’s an interesting undercurrent of realism that grounds it, exemplified here. Rama’s physical condition degrades visibly as the fight goes on, and once it ends, between the exhaustion and the multi-story fall he’s quite out of it. His vision is blurred and he’s stumbling around like an Irishman at four a.m. the morning after St. Patrick’s Day. If not for the timely intervention of an unlikely ally he’d have been easy pickings.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: No time for sergeants.

This is even less friendly than it looks.

The Raid: Redemption (fight 1 of 5)

“Be a man and see it. See it and be a man.” Chapel 3929

“Is there a fund we can give to for the families of all these stunt men who clearly died while filming The Raid: Redemption?”Seanbaby

At the very least, you can see it so they didn't die in vain.

At the very least, you can see it so they didn’t die in vain

The Raid: Redemption (gratuitous & inaccurate subtitle added for US release, I will not be using it again in content of posts) aka Serbuan Maut in its native Indonesia, is an action-lover’s dream in all the right ways: it provides consistently entertaining and varied scenes of stylized but gritty violence, puncuated by dramatic sequences that are just enough to make you care while not dragging on so long as to waste your time (how many otherwise spectacular action films have been ruined by “dramatic” beats that were clumsy, pretentious, overlong or all of the above?). It’s confident without being cocky, writer/director Gareth Evans being a true genre auteur rather than a winking fanboy.

Longtime readers may remember that I cited this film as the main reason why it’s sometimes necessary to switch to the “retrospective” format and indeed I planned to do that here; however, upon re-watch I was surprised to learn that, despite remembering the movie being almost non-stop action after it finally revs up (minus a few necessary breathers), there are actually only five sequences amongst all that action that could be reasonably described as fight scenes. But every one a masterpiece.

In an age where cinema is in many ways growing stagnant, The Raid is something truly special, and that’s why I timed it to be the subject of this, the 100th post of the blog. Happy Birthday, Grading Fight Scenes.

1) Hallway Brawl

The Fighters:

  • Rama, the film’s noble hero. A young but extremely capable (and lucky) member of the local police force. Rama is, like the actor who plays him and also like many other characters in the movie, an expert at pencak silat. Being as that’s an umbrella term for all the varied martial arts in Indonesia, it’s hard to pinpoint any one thing that makes it unique, save for perhaps its flowing, constant motion. Played by Iko Uwais, who is destined for great things.
    • Armed with: a standard-issue police baton and combat knife. He had an assault rifle and hand gun, but has discarded both after running out of ammo. Also still wearing most of his riot gear: flak vest, elbow & knee pads, but no helmet.
  • Bad Guys, like 20 of them (it’s hard to keep count). Denizens of the apartment building where the titular raid occurs, they’re all foot soldiers loyal to the film’s villain. All ruthless thugs but most of them here don’t seem to have much more than rudimentary skill. Played by stunt men.
    • Armed with: Various small sticks, blades and even a machete.

The Setup: Although the plot does eventually produce a couple interesting twists, The Raid’s basic premise is refreshingly simple: 20 cops in full SWAT gear storm a building that’s run by a sadistic crime lord. From up in his perch where he has access to dozens of security cameras, the villain sics the building’s inhabitants (most of whom work for or are in some way beholden to him) on the police. Although the protagonists are largely competent and virtuous, they find themselves quickly overwhelmed, their numbers dwindled and the survivors separated.

After a fantastic action sequence that culminated in an exploding refrigerator (I love this movie), our main hero Rama is stuck with his wounded but living comrade Bowo (whose only character development prior to this was “annoying jerk”), searching for safe harbor while the other remaining crew hide elsewhere. Rama drags his non-friend through a hallway on the seventh floor, but the two are quickly discovered.

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The Fight: Fast, mean and complex.

Fortunately for Rama’s sake, the bad guys keep coming in one or two at a time. But for once this old action cliche is justified: the thugs here have mostly been conducting a spread-out, disorganized search, and all of them except for the first few are drawn by the noise, so they rush in at non-coordinated intervals.

Not that these small bursts of baddies give Rama much of a chance to rest, of course; he’s constantly moving and attacking nearly the whole time, a frenzy of focused violence. He wields his baton in one hand and knife in the other, using the two weapons sometimes separately but often in concert, such as when he pulls one guy in by hooking him with the baton’s handle and then stabbing him with the knife.

There’s all sorts of inventive nastiness on Rama’s part. Several times he uses the baton to “deconstruct” opponents, delivering a lightning-fast series of small blows to various points on the body, quickly & systematically overwhelming the victim. Others get slammed harshly into walls and doors. Rama stuns one thug with a club to the chest then reaches around to stab him in the back of the thigh. He stabs another in the upper thigh and then pulls the still-inserted blade nearly down to his knee. He stabs another right in the knee and then twists the knife. Throats get not just sliced but also clubbed. Over & over the knife is used for all manner of quick, punch-like stabbings, and the accompanying sound effect is suitably sickening.

Rama is one ruthless SOB, but not sadistic; he’s just doing what he has to. While many if not most of the wounds he delivers are fatal, often he’s satisfied just leaving a defeated foe injured enough to not get back up again. Indeed, during one of the fight’s few lulls, as Rama creeps his way warily to a T-section of the hallway, he leaves behind a handful of groaning cripples along with all the dead & dying. One of those injured seizes Bowo just as the latter crawls to keep up with Rama, and the visibly agitated cop repeatedly stabs the thug in the chest– it’s Bowo’s sole contribution to the action and one of the film’s few moments of humor.

When baddies rush in again and Rama has to take them on from both sides, things get a bit hairier. First he loses his baton in a close-up scruff, and not long after that he has to abandon his knife when he gets yanked away from behind just after he’s stabbed one poor sucker right in the shoulder. Fortunately he’s almost as deadly unarmed as he is armed, and, wouldn’t you know it, none of the remaining bad guys in this scene happen to run in with weapons either. Rama cleans up the remainders, and takes out the last one with an epically brutal finishing move that was rightfully included in most of the trailers:

“Knock knock.”

Yep, he grabs the man, slams his head into a hallway light fixture, and then slams his head FIVE MORE TIMES down the side of the wall before dropping him. It’s… it’s beautiful. Unfortunately, Rama does not take the time to recover either of his weapons before picking up Bowo again and moving on. That will prove to be a mistake.

This fight, however, is anything but. Though it’s definitely not the first bit of excitement in the movie it’s the first extended physical fight we’ve seen, and as such is as powerful a mission statement as an opening fight can be. Evans smartly turns the limited scope of the hallway into an effectively claustrophobic environment. The choreography switches seamlessly between multiple weapon types and pure hand-to-hand, and the constant stream of bad guys makes for an unpredictable threat. The filmmakers manage to find that sweet spot of being complicated without seeming complicated– there’s never really a moment where you stop and say “wait, why didn’t he just do that more simply?” or suspect the characters are showing off, it all feels very organic.

Much of the credit of course goes to all the meticulous stunt work behind the scenes, but a large amount is due to Uwais as well, who sells the entire thing as natural and unforced. Physically impressive and with a highly sympathetic face, the audience is always rooting and fearful for him, because he’s not some Superman. Although he comes out here miles better than he does in any upcoming battle, Rama does absorb a couple blows here, and has a few of his own attacks stymied one way or the other. He’s awesome, but not invincible.

And you know what the crazy part is? This is the least impressive fight in this movie.

Grade: A

Coming Attractions: Machete kills.

Rama don’t text.