DIR/WRI: Gareth Evans • PRO: Nate Bolotin, Ario Sagantoro, Aram Tertzakian • DOP: Matt Flannery • ED: Gareth Evans • MUS: Aria Prayogi, Joseph Trapanese, Fajar Yuskemal • CHO: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian • CAST: Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Arifin Putra
Every few years an Eastern martial arts film muscles its way into the mainstream western conscience, films like Tony Jaa’s Ong Bak, Donnie Yen’s IP Man and the work of Yimou Zhang. The Raid: Redemption was one such film, which delivered a knockout karate chop to the face when it roundhouse kicked its way into Irish cinemas back in 2011. The Indonesian martial arts romp by the Welsh director (Welsh!), Gareth Evans, forwent substance in favour of a simple plot, about a team of police raiding a tower block of criminals, and a crap tone of style.
Now Evans is back with The Raid 2: Berandal, which takes the fight to the street and attempts to expand upon the staggering fight scenes from the first film with bigger action, a heavier plot and even a car chase or two.
Poor Rama is having a pretty bad week. We pick up with our bloodied and bruised protagonist where the first film left off, with him fresh from fighting his way through hordes of criminals to get to their drug lord boss. But now we find out that this boss is just a small fish in a large pond, on top of which his brother has been assassinated, and he must now go undercover in a prison where he’ll fight 18 guys from within the confines of a dirty toilet cubical. Life’s hard.
On his bloody tale of redemption Rama encounters a lot of big fish Mafioso types and their henchmen, such as the affectionately named Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man. His time in the slammer is really just a ploy to get pally with Uco, the angsty son of a big time crime lord. Once out, the focus of the film shifts towards exploring the relationship between the hot-headed Uco and his father.
This proves to be a smart choice by the filmmakers because, while Iko Uwais (Rama) is perfect as the brooding badass who may be in a lot of pain but will still mess you up, Arifin Putra (Uco) displays more dramatic range. Yayan Ryhian, who choreographed the fight scenes along with Uwais, is also impressive as he returns in a new role as a hobo/part-time hitman.
But for all of the plot, subplot and performances, the heart of the film is still in its bloody and indulgent fight scenes and, even running at a lengthy 150 minutes, you’re never far from some pants-soiling action. With modern Hollywood action films numbing us with CGI superheroes bashing CGI superheroes, the visceral and impactful combat here combines just enough realism with spectacle to make it truly satisfying.
Moving the combat out of the dingy rooms and corridors of the first film sacrifices the distinctive, claustrophobic style for greater scope and variety. Fights happen in cars, prisons, warehouses, clubs as well as bright offices, and fancy restaurants, giving a diversity that suits the longer format. What we miss out on as a result is the gritty charm. In particular, the cookie cutter gangsters in their minimalist offices don’t offer the same crazed vitality of the villains from the first film. The Mobster plot, including Uco and his father’s rule by fear vs. rule by respect debate, is also entirely unoriginal.
But for sheer blood-pumping spectacle, Gareth Evans is cementing himself as the best director in the business. By the end of the film I had the immediate urge to sit through it again. Despite some minor flaws, The Raid 2: Berandal is still probably the best action film you’ll see this year, unless of course Chuck Norris releases anything.
18 (See IFCO for details)
The Raid 2: Berandal is released on 11th April 2014