Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Cast: Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, Kazuki Kitamura, Cecep Arif Rahman, Cok Simbara, Yayan Ruhian, Very Tri Yulisman, Donny Alamsyah, Epy Kusnandar, Roy Marten, Zack Lee, Fikha Effendi, Hengky Solaiman
Running Time: 150 min.
By Paul Bramhall
It’s hard to believe but 2009 is already five years ago, the year that saw the release of Merentau. It was a movie which starred an unknown lead in the form of Iko Uwais, from an unknown Welsh director by the name of Gareth Evans, from a country which was barely known for any type of cinema, let alone of the action variety, in the form of Indonesia.
Like almost any new martial arts based movie these days, fans approached it with a sense of trepidation. The cynical amongst us commented on how Uwais seemed like a blend of Tony Jaa and Jackie Chan, but not being on the same level as either, while the more positive minded noted that Merentau was a breath of fresh air, and just might be the start of something beautiful.
Thankfully, the latter proved to be right, and a couple of years later The Raid hit the screens. A stripped down 100 minute assault of martial arts chaos and violence, choreographed with a sense of immediacy and intensity that hadn’t been seen for a long time. While Merentau gave us a taste for how the Indonesian martial art of Silat could look onscreen, The Raid gave us a hearty mouthful, and then some. The plot was simple – take 1 team of rookie cops, throw in a building which has a drug lord on the top floor, and every floor below crawling with junkies and low lives, and create a setup wherein the rookie team have to get from bottom to top without getting killed. Simple.
So simple in fact, that when a sequel was announced people pondered what could possibly follow such a fantastic shot of adrenaline. Well, skip forward another couple of years and its March 2014, and that sequel is here, not only that, but I just got through watching it last night. If Merentau was a taster and The Raid was a mouthful, then let it be said that its sequel is an all you can eat buffet of epic proportions. The Raid 2 had a budget almost four times that of the original, however the scope of the movie is closer to a hundred times larger in its scale. By the end of the first hour you’ll realise just what a tiny drop in the ocean that building from the original really is.
The stripped down simplicity of the The Raid is replaced here by a layered story of a city, torn between rival gangsters and yakuza. It’s a dark and violent world of weary family heads trying to keep a grip on the empire they’ve built, of blood thirsty offspring willing to do anything to tip the scales of power, of undercover cops so deep they’ve lost their identity, and assassins who will slice you up in an instant. Then thrown into the chaos of this world is Rama, the character played by Uwais, coming directly from the events which took place at the end of the original. He’s picked up by a special unit dedicated to weeding out corrupt cops, told he’ll be declared dead along with the rest of his unit, and sent into prison with the intention of befriending one of the head gangster’s sons that’s doing time there.
This kicks off the events which unfold in The Raid 2, and for 90 minutes, almost the same length as the original, the story develops on a slow boil, punctuated with extreme moments of violence that serve to propel the story forward, compared to the set piece style setup of the original. These punctuations alone serve as some of the best and most brutal action witnessed onscreen since, well, since the original – a frantic prison yard brawl, a desperate assault in a restaurant, a vicious shakedown on a warehouse. Every scene would be the finale in a Hollywood movie, but here they only serve as a link in a chain of events which keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.
Despite this, there is a danger some might almost be disappointed here. Those who wanted the locomotive pace of the original may be left shuffling in their seats, others may complain that the chaotic camera work during the brawls doesn’t capture the moves as clearly as it should. But that’s ok, the pacing is intentional and Evans displays an assured hand, he’s a film maker who shows a maturity here that belies his relatively short time in the industry. It’s under this assured hand that Uwais turns Rama into not just a rookie cop relying on his wits and fighting skills, but a fully rounded character with very real fears and motives, and this makes us rally for him all the more.
This is just as well, because The Raid 2 clocks in just short of 150 minutes, and it’s at that 90 minutes mark when things EXPLODE. The much spoken of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man make their appearance, and believe me they’re worth the wait, Bruce Law puts together a car chase scene which makes his work in Special ID look like he must have been having an off day, there are more wince inducing facial impacts than you can shake a stick at, and throughout it all there is some of the most finely choreographed fight action you’re likely to see this side of the millennium. For its final hour, The Raid 2 crams in so much tension and action, you’ll hardly have time to catch your breath. (As a matter of fact in the screening I attended, one person clearly didn’t and had to be carried out by security)
To go in-depth into the action would probably take another 1000 words, so I’ll simply say that it’s impossible to be disappointed. Big words, but I’ll stand by them. Evans gives Uwais just short of an entire army to wade through, but also knows it’s pointless to have an invincible hero that no one else can match. Rest assured by the time you see him standing at one end of the corridor, with Hammer Girl (played wonderfully by Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (played with sinister cool by Very Tri Yulisman) standing at the other, you won’t be left wanting. Even if you are, The Assassin, as he’s billed, played by Cecep Arif Yahman, is waiting just behind the doors. If you thought they crammed a lot into the Ninja: Shadow of a Tear finale, then The Raid 2 seems determined to stomp all over it, which is no mean feat for those who have seen Scott Adkins laying on the beat down in his latest effort.
Put simply, it would be easy to talk at length about The Raid 2 for another few hours, but it’s best to leave it at that and say get out there, buy tickets to go see it, then once you have you’ll probably buy another ticket to go and watch it a day later. Evans has constructed a masterpiece here, which is every bit as much of a gangster movie as it is an action one. For those who are looking, there are subtle nods of the head to several of the classic Korean gangster movies, the Nikkatsu movies from the 60s, The Godfather, as well as a host of winks to talent he obviously has a lot of respect for such as Donnie Yen, John Woo, Panna Rittikrai, Takeshi Kitano, and in one scene I’d even say David Lynch. I’ll sign off there, now get out and see it.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 10/10