PASSED IN 1922, Ord. 87-1029, § 14.1 of Los Angeles County code states that in order for a film—as a representative example of the county's principal export—to call itself a "narrative feature," it must contain "no fewer than four (4) characters, no fewer than twenty (20) scenes, and no fewer than ten (10) humourous [sic] pratfalls or whimsical title cards." It's an outdated ordinance—one that the county's most famous district, Hollywood, keeps on the books for the benefit of star-struck tourists. But by its spirit rather than its letter, it defines how many of us think about film: There will be characters, what happens to those characters will matter, Adam Sandler will get hit in the nuts.
But The Raid: Redemption was made in Indonesia. And in Indonesia, they don't give a fuck about ordinances or subsections.
The Raid: Redemption has a character or two, I'm sure; it has some plot, I think. But none of that matters, because in The Raid: Redemption, those things are mere interludes in a nearly nonstop parade of stunning action sequences. The Raid: Redemption is an action movie; it is about nothing more than action. And good action. The sort that used to be dealt by John Woo, before America ruined him. Or Tony Jaa, when he teased us with Ong Bak before going insane. Or Jackie Chan, by which I mean Drunken Master II Jackie Chan. That sort of action.
The story, such as it is, has a crew of SWAT-like cops storming an apartment tower in a Jakarta slum. The entire building's been taken over by a nefarious drug dealer; naturally, just about everyone who lives inside is also evil, and they have a great number of both firearms and kung fu moves. The cops move in, and The Raid: Redemption stays claustrophobically close—room by room, floor by floor—as everything goes to shit. Star Iko Uwais moves with jaw-dropping speed and fluidity through an exhausting, exhilarating series of action beats, tearing through villain-clogged hallways with brutality and grace. The Raid: Redemption starts out feeling almost realistic, then grows increasingly ludicrous; likewise, Uwais starts as one of the film's interchangeable cops, but becomes a full-bore action hero by the end credits.
The real star, though, is writer/director/editor Gareth Evans, who understands action movies in a way that, these days, few do. Evans cuts fast when he needs to, but he's confident enough to capture Uwais' stunning physicality with long, unbroken takes; he opens the film with an intensity most films would build to, then smartly ratchets it even tighter, crafting an aggressive, disturbingly inventive ballet of violence.
The only line of dialogue from The Raid: Redemption that I can remember is something one terrified cop says to another ("Rank counts for shit now!"); the only characters I can recall with any clarity are Uwais' and this one horrifying guy with a machete. All of the usual parts of a movie that make up The Raid: Redemption are utterly forgettable. The experience of watching it, though, is something else entirely.