The Raid: Redemption offers brawny action thrills from abroad

Its hard to recall the last time a great action film was released stateside to both critical acclaim and commercial success. While The Raid: Redemption hasnt exactly received the sort of box office bounty of a Die Hard film, it did well enough to expand from limited release and earn critical accolades.

The film dutifully earns its praise, with director Gareth Evans capturing a refreshing blend of well-choreographed, no-holds-barred action that provides more than its share of ethereal action thrills, the likes of which we havent seen in quite some time.

When a SWAT patrol storms the tenement of a vicious mobster and his army of violent thugs and killers, it becomes increasingly apparent that their goal of overthrowing this seedy empire may be fruitless. Rama (Iko Uwais), a good-hearted officer who seems to have fists of steel, helps his fellow SWAT members battle through the violent siege all while police corruption and immoral acts reign supreme.

The landscape of The Raid is a grimy one, with most of the films grisly action scenes taking place within the many dingy-looking rooms of the rundown tenement. While the settings can occasionally become monotonous, the well-staged action set pieces do not.

In an age where filmmakers often employ cinma vrit-style techniques to capture action with varying degrees of success, with recent titles like The Bourne Supremacy and The Hunger Games coming to mind, Evans stages his scenes with a clean presentation that makes each character and punch distinct, even if Rama is battling more than 10 opponents at once.

Theres some semblance of a story in The Raid that involves corruption within the SWAT precinct and the moral duality of these individuals, though its one that is brought forth and dispensed as quickly as Ramas foes. Evans understands that the audience for The Raid is there for the same reason audiences have always wanted to see martial arts films of this variety to see individuals battle it out in an elaborate and at times ridiculous manner that only cinema can offer.

From the 1973 Bruce Lee masterpiece Enter the Dragon to 2005s The Protector, and so many more, martial arts films have always provided American audiences with a break from the traditional Hollywood action blockbuster. While its a blast to watch John McClane battle his way through every level of the Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard, Bruce Willis cant exactly hold his own in a fistfight.

Theres a sense of naturalism in The Raid that continues to bolster the cinematic lineage of martial arts films, as well as thrill audiences. Audiences react with awe as Rama battles it out with a machete-wielding madman, with moments where it looks as if the two actors are actually giving each other a few bruises.

Every character on display in The Raid holds athletic prowess, that when combined with the outrageous ways in which these fight scenes are built and ultimately climax, make it seem almost entirely plausible. Despite noticeable garish flourishes of computer-augmented blood when characters are stabbed or shot, moments like when a foe is thrown through a window or receives a sharp kick to the head crackle with a bone-crunching realism that makes you feel as if these individuals are actually taking a blow.

It would be tough to argue the characters and situations arent presented rather broadly, but the film dispenses the storylines and character information so economically before the films major showdown that its almost admirable. We have everything we need to know about why whats happening on screen is happening in the first 10 minutes of the film, with the rest left for the brawl.

The Raid is overtly violent and at times even gratuitous in nature, but never at the expense of losing an audience that is used this type of martial arts film. The onslaught of blood and carnage in the films opening section only makes the ultimate Redemption the title suggests all the sweeter in the end.

Like most martial arts films, The Raid employs these sort of violent tactics to draw its audience into the plight of its characters, so when Rama begins to literally fight to save his life, the stakes are high and every blow counts.

The Raid is the first in a tentative trilogy of films looking to tell the story of Rama and the moral corruption of both his SWAT force and the seedy mob underbelly of his hometown. The Raid: Redemption seems to be the setup for what could be an increasingly impressive action trilogy if each subsequent film holds up the standard presented here.

This first entry into The Raid tale offers enough high-flying kicks and headbutts to make any martial arts film fan proud, but then again, it offers so much more. Its a fine start to what will hopefully be a great trilogy, and its one of the best of its kind in years.

The Raid: Redemption is currently playing at Muvico Starlight 20, Muvico Centro Ybor 20, AMC Veterans 24