Three years ago, director Gareth Evans’ second film, The Raid arrived in Aussie cinemas with a bang. It’s the first Indonesian film I can remember ever getting a wide release here (and in North America, where it was first retitled The Raid: Redemption and given a soundtrack workover), and it won a great deal of attention from critics and dyed-in-the-wool action cinema fans. Evans had managed to craft a taut, focused genre film fusing well-trodden Hollywood tropes with the harder action sequences reminiscent of Hong Kong action cinema at its best, all on a shoestring budget and with some truly inventive set pieces.
His lead actor, Iko Uwais (also in their debut feature, 2009’s Merantau) showed considerable promise as a newly-minted action star, and the film made extensive use of Indonesian martial art pencak silat, something many viewers would never have seen on screen before.
In interviews after The Raid’s international release, Evans made it clear that he was planning to go back and make the much more ambitious movie he had originally intended to film: Berandal, which over time has morphed into the sequel we have in cinemas right now. This time around he has a much larger budget to play with, some international recognition and distribution, and all the experience garnered from his first couple of pictures. To say that we here at HC have been anticipating this film’s release is quite an understatement.
Taking place right after the events of The Raid — rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais) still has a hunted expression and a full complement of cuts and bruises — The Raid 2 opens up the universe of the first film, taking us from that one claustrophobic tenement building into the larger city beyond. In this Jakarta, official corruption is rife and gangsters battle for control of the city’s less wholesome businesses. Rama, as the only survivor of his squad and a relative nobody, is a plum recruit as an underground mole for Bunawar (Cok Simbara), the head of an anti-corruption squad who wants to use him to unmask a group of corrupt politicians who have greased the wheels for the city’s mobsters.
The city has been divided between two gangs for more than a decade. One is a local operation run by patrician boss Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo), whose plush offices belie the ruthlessness with which he runs his territory, while the other is the Goto crime family from Japan, run by shrewdly calculating elder Goto (Kenichi Endō). Each boss has a son, firebrand Uco (Arifin Putra) and cunning Keiichi (Ryuhei Matsuda) respectively, and it’s Uco that Rama is ordered to get close to in order to infiltrate the crime families and gather his evidence.
The only trouble is, Uco’s in prison. And prison, in The Raid 2′s Jakarta, doesn’t look like an easy place to survive. And even if he can, the careful balance of power between the two big crime families is about to be disturbed, courtesy of ambitious gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) and his unusual crew of hoodlums.
The first film had a simple, linear storyline, reminiscent of the setup for many a video game: Rama had to fight his way up through the building, taking on a serious of ever more dangerous opponents, until the final boss at the end. Though it’s no less an action film, The Raid 2 has a more complex script, with a bit more flesh on the characters. In particular, the web of intrigue and various conflicts of personality between the various gangsters plays out like it would in a Takeshi Kitano film (see Outrage, for example) or in a Hong Kong triad flick.
There are a couple of great little scenes that illustrate that Evans was interested in building more than just bigger, flashier fight sequences, such as the meeting between assassin Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian, who played Mad Dog in the first film) and his estranged wife. The scene doesn’t drive the action or directly further the plot, and we never see Prakoso’s wife again, but it gives Prakoso a dramatic, tragic heft as a character that wouldn’t be there otherwise. Similarly, Iko Uwais has quite a bit more to do as Rama this time, rather than just kick his way through armies of criminals.
That said, I’m not saying that the filmmakers have skimped on the action. If anything, there’s more: the film clocks in at 150 minutes, and a good deal of that is dedicated to meticulously shot and choreographed fight sequences. Evans and his fight team have refined and expanded on the way they shoot action, and some shots will be familiar, particularly the fight sequences in cramped spaces and corridors. And then they’ll do something completely different, like one jaw-dropping scene that combines a fight sequence and a car chase, shot from increasingly surprising (and difficult to pull off!) points of view. Hong Kong veteran Bruce Law’s stunt team was brought in to handle the car stunts, and they’re certainly a highlight.
Joining in on the action later in the piece are a couple of characters that it would be remiss of me not to mention, since they’ve been all over the posters and preview clips: upstart gangster Bejo’s crew includes brother and sister pair Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman), who wreak havoc with their chosen weapons, and an unnamed assassin (played by another real silat practitioner, Cecep Arif Rahman), who uses a pair of curved kerambit knives.
Visually the film is a step up as well. The extra budget available provides scope for lush interiors and big outdoor scenes, from Jakarta’s seedier drug dens to quiet backroads beside vast sugar cane plantations. In between the action sequences, all of which look like the demanded a great deal from the DOP (Matt Flannery, who’s worked with Evans on both previous films), the filmmakers occasionally take the time to settle in on a quieter, more formal shot. Some of these evoke (again) Takeshi Kitano’s work, particularly one or two of what Bordwell calls planimetric compositions. High-angle shots, long tracking shots, unusual points of view: a great deal of effort has gone into even the less complex scenes in the film.
The sheer weight of all those action scenes, though — claw hammers, baseball bats and all — probably means that The Raid 2 is still primarily a genre film, one that will warm the hearts of those who have fond memories of John Woo’s HK actioners, or who have enjoyed more recent South Korean action-thrillers. (Unless I’m mistaken, there’s even a couple of sly references to a number of these in the film!)
If you count yourself amongst that audience, or you want to see something a bit grittier than the stream of anodyne superhero-festooned movies Hollywood is churning out right now, go and see The Raid 2. You’ll not be disappointed.
(Thanks to John Snadden for his feedback and suggestions on this review.)