This month ComicsVerse is talking about what makes us happy and thankful. November is all about Thanksgiving and a little TLC to the ones you love — so, in light of that, we are doing a Thankful Series. A series all about what makes us joyful whenever we see it, play it, touch it, or eat it. There are no limits to being thankful, and we hope you express what you are thankful for too this month. Let’s get into THE RAID REDEMPTION.

What am I thankful for? Well, lots of stuff. Good pizza, holiday-themed Reese’s candy, but the thing I am often most thankful for is a great action movie. I love superhero films. However, the thrill of the real actors doing real stunts is irreplaceable. This is likely why the JOHN WICK films have become such a cultural phenomenon.

These movies feel like a throwback to a more traditional action film while having a slick contemporary aesthetic and complexity of action. While I love JOHN WICK (I’m thankful for you too, my dude, don’t worry), I believe that the films that truly kick-started (and punch-started and stab-started) this modern action film renaissance is Gareth Evans’ THE RAID: REDEMPTION.

Obviously, the unbelievable fight scenes are a major part of the reason I’m thankful for THE RAID: REDEMPTION. For God’s sake, look at this:

But I am also thankful for THE RAID: REDEMPTION because of the way it balances action with the power of mythology. For as long as there has been a heaven, there has been a hell. In one form or another, that swelling pit of despair and darkness has kept humanity on the side of good.

Hell comes in many forms in many religions. Now and again, a hero chooses to traverse the barriers of the underworld. Myths of heroes entering the underworld become expressions of both mankind’s inherent morality and its capacity for evil.

Abandon Hope, Ye Who Enter Here

The Raid

In 2012, director Gareth Evans created his own vision of a hero entering the depths of the underworld. THE RAID: REDEMPTION is the story of one man who walks the valley of darkness in search of his wayward brother. Evans’ version of hell stretches to the heavens in the form of an apartment block in Jakarta. Rama, our knight in bulletproof armor, tests every bit of his courage to save his brother’s soul. In Evans’ modern underworld myth, the angels and devils wage war with bullets, blades, and bare fists.

In THE RAID, a small squad of officers is sent into an apartment building to take down ruthless crime lord Tama Riyada (Ray Sahetapy). One of the officers, the stalwart Rama (Iko Uwais) is on the raid with an ulterior motive: to convince Andi (Donny Alamsyah), his brother and one of Tama’s lieutenants, to return to the side of the law.

The plot of the film is simple, which makes it a clean slate to link together a series of audaciously escalating fight sequences. However, the simplicity of the film isn’t a drawback. Rather, the simplicity serves to further the film’s mythic template.

Just as the production of the film comes from a mixture of cultures (Evans is Welsh working with an Indonesian cast), so too are the film’s mythological influences. From a purely Campbellian analysis of the film, THE RAID: REDEMPTION follows the major steps of the Hero’s Journey. Rama’s Call to Adventure comes in the form of the mission. The film skips past any semblance of a Rejection of the Call, reinforcing Rama’s noble dedication to the law. The Threshold for adventure comes from the 30-story apartment building, a concrete pillar and a home to sin.

JOHN WICK: The Elements of A Great Action Movie

The Inferno

Edward’s choice of location for THE RAID further reflects the descent into Hell. In Sunni Islam, and most famously in Dante’s Inferno, hell is described as being multi-layered with each level designated for a different type of sinner. Here the layers of hell are in the shape of the metropolitan walk-up. Each looming staircase is representing the deeper descent into the underworld.

Director Gareth Evans vision of the building makes it seem like a metropolitan pit of Tartarus. A land filled with sinners trapped by their vices. The gray walls are unidentified stained smears. On every floor and behind every door lurks a new danger. For Rama, a Muslim, each floor of the high rise is another layer of his personal Jahannam. Tama’s high-rise kingdom is a world free of law and order. A world where men like Rama either don’t exist or succumb to the corruption around them. It’s within these walls that Rama looks to bestow the redemption of the title.  

That word “redemption” is key. Rama’s goal is to rescue his brother and save his soul from corruption. Following Campbell, Rama follows the archetypal hero as redeemer structure. According to Campbell “the incarnation [of the redeemer hero], utterly free of such ego-consciousness, is a direct manifestation of the law.” Rama as the redeemer hero is quite literally an agent of the law as a member of the police force. Rama’s own belief in his moral nature gives him the convictions to journey into this place of the damned against the corrupter.

The Case for a Stunt Oscar

Evil Incarnate

Like many entities of evil, Tama is more than a violent threat; he is a corrupter. As a traditional Christian version of the devil, he checks off all the major boxes. He sits atop his apartment hell as a grand ruler. His words are enough to poison the hearts of people with temptation. When the raid team enters the building, he announces to everyone inside that anyone who kills the intruders “can consider [themselves] a permanent resident free of charge.”

This elevates the stakes of the film, but it also emphasizes Tama as an agent of avarice. He knows the greed in the hearts of people and exploits it accordingly. Even Rama’s superior officer Lt. Wahyu isn’t above the corrupting influence. Later in the film, it is revealed that Lt. Wahyu is a corrupt cop and the entire raid is an elaborate assassination attempt on Tama. If Tama is the evil corruptor then Rama, his opposite, must be divine.

Rama’s own name points toward that divinity. While the character may be Muslim, he shares a name with the hero Rama from Hindu myth. Rama is the divine hero of the epic Ramayana and one of the avatars of Vishnu. Both Ramas are heroic and incorruptible. In Hindu myth, The demon king Ravana kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita. Rama followed the demon king and faced off with monsters and armies until he had rescued his beloved.

The Rama from THE RAID faces a similar mission. As he chases his brother, he battles his way through wave after wave of obstacles. Rama’s singular focus is the rescue of his brother. However, Edwards subverts traditional heroic myths when Andi rejects Rama’s rescue.

By the end, Rama’s story ultimately most resembles the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. When Orpheus’ beloved Eurydice unexpectedly died, Orpheus went to the underworld to retrieve her. His music convinced Hades and Persephone to allow him to return to the surface under the condition that Orpheus does not look back until they left the underworld. Rama’s song comes in the form of relentless ass-kickings with Andi helping him to defeat Mad Dog, a violent henchman of Tama (much as Orpheus soothed the savage dog Cerberus).

The Endless Battle

As they leave the building, Edwards frames Rama walking a few steps ahead of Andi. The difference here is that Rama does not look back, rather Andi does. Andi tells Rama that he plans to stay and build a new criminal empire as its ruler. Like many myths, this one also ends in tragedy. His own brother exploits Rama’s nobility. Redemption is rejected instead of embraced, and all Rama can do is march back through the gates of Hell knowing he stayed incorruptible in the face of the world’s evils.

This moral defeat recalls yet another Greek myth. Here, Rama plays the part of Sisyphus. In the myth, Sisyphus was punished for escaping the afterlife with pushing a boulder up a hill. The trick, however, was that the boulder would never stay put. Each time Sisyphus reaches the top of the hill, the boulder rolls down the other side. Much like Sisyphus, Rama’s purpose in life is to fight a losing battle.

However, his battle as the redeemer hero doesn’t end in THE RAID: REDEMPTION. In THE RAID 2, Rama undertakes an assignment as an undercover agent for Bunawar (Cok Simbara), an internal affairs agent. As Rama plunges himself into the world of criminals, he is forced into the role of the very criminals he has always fought against. Rama feels the corrupting influence of his violent actions and wonders if it is tarnishing his soul. As Campbell explains, the Redeemer Hero runs the risk of corruption if they do not become a martyr: “The hero of yesterday becomes the tyrant of tomorrow unless he crucifies himself today.”

THE RAID and Redemption

As Rama’s attempt at Redemption failed in THE RAID, he walks a path towards tyranny in THE RAID 2. Under the tutelage of petulant crime boss Uco (Arifin Putra), Rama is a relentless enforcer. It’s only when he discovers that fellow mobster Eko was also an undercover agent who was abandoned in the field that Rama returns to the path of the martyr. He puts himself through a gauntlet by taking out Uco’s entire criminal organization.

When Rama’s task is complete, Bunawar confronts him again and makes an inaudible offer to our hero. Rama, breathless, covered in blood, simply says “No…I’m done.” His work as redeemer has ended and his crucifixion comes in the form of resigned awareness that his violent actions only enable more violence. Rama the redeemer crucifixion comes at his own hands. He leaves the underworld behind and returns to the world of the living.

Action is the universal language. There are essential qualities of the movement that we can all understand. A hand can be open to represent peace, or clenched to signify war. THE RAID: REDEMPTION has been rightly praised for the complexity of its action, but it also seamlessly blends the mythic beliefs that are older than cinema itself.

I’m thankful for THE RAID because Perhaps the acclaim for the film is deeper than its spectacular fight scenes. It works as a piece of action cinema because of the primal archetypes it builds and deconstructs in its brutal and bloody tale. Some critical circles will dismiss action films as shallow, but THE RAID proves the depth of craft and story these movies are capable of.

One Comment

  1. Saku

    November 7, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    The building is not 30 floors, that’s only on the tagline for the US promotional material. Its actually only 20 floors (see posters) and the crime boss stays on the 15th floor.


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