BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE RAID 2 (2014)

 

As far as action flicks go, they can ultimately be hit or miss with me. Having some really impressive action sequences can make for an incredibly visually appealing experience at first, but then after 90 minutes or more of this, the initial blast of awesomeness starts to wear thin and wane out, in much the same way a fantastically large budgeted summer blockbuster like the latest bastardization in the TRANSFORMERS franchise by “all sensation, zero thought stimulation”  Michael Bay does in almost every film he pumps out regularly. The only thing being slung out faster than empty emotional build-up is the millions of dollars that generally make up the budget of any one of his films.

The sequel to the extremely popular and, and (what appeared to be) film with a limited-released in the states (garnered a lifetime gross of 4.1 million dollars of which only $220, 931 of it was within its first week in the United States and Canada but that probably had to do with only 14 movie theaters getting it during its first weekend and 46 theaters getting it for its 2nd weekend) seemed to get far more press and exposure than its first-born brethern in the series.  I also might add that Roger Ebert HATED (might be too strong a word given its rating) the first RAID film, giving it only 1 star out of 4 stars for its lack of character depth and stating “the Welsh director, Gareth Evans, knows there’s a fanboy audience for his formula, in which special effects amp up the mayhem in senseless carnage.” Well, that very well may be true but RAID: REDEMPTION is an action film, and I feel that most carnage may be senseless but in regard to a film about a maniacal drug lord who doesn’t give a fuck about anything but making money it made absolute sense.  RAID: REDEMPTION was just straight up fighting with some of the best action choreography I have ever seen and it wasn’t full of phony digital effects added in post-production like so many current and past bogus action films.

The action in THE RAID 2, the sequel to RAID: REDEMPTION, picks up just about exactly where the first film left off. If you haven’t seen the first one, this review may be a bit of a spoiler for you and I apologize so stop reading and go watch the first one now! After almost all the cops have gotten slaughtered by all the hired hands and followers of the drug lord in the apartment complex, three cops are left and one of them is not very reputable as you find out within the first few minutes. The other remaining cop is sent to get some medical attention and the final remaining cop is given a chance to go undercover and infiltrate the root of the problem, police corruption on the highest level, is none other than our hero and badass from the first film, Rama (portrayed by Pencak Silat practitioner Iko Uwais). After Rama’s brother is killed off by a new villain introduced to us as Bejo (Alex Abbad) in a very stylized and artistically shot scene that slows the pace of the film down a bit, letting viewers know that this sequel is going to have quite a bit more style than the first one, I felt some goosebumps. As my goosebumps tingled away, I was reminded of some similarly themed gangster films, classics as they may be, like the GODFATHER films (first two only) and GOODFELLAS for their organized crime grandness and impactful scenes of respect shown between the bosses and the soldiers. Some other Japanese Yakuza classics such as  SONATINE (starring ‘Beat’ Takeshi) and Kinji Fukasaku’s THE YAKUZA PAPERS series brought to mind the betrayal and heartless aspects of the films and reminded viewers that jealousy brings down the tightest criminal outfits, and even elements of the Hong Kong-based star-studded extravaganza THE MISSION, directed by the incredible Johnnie To and starring Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Jackie Lui, Roy Cheung, Suet Lam, Eddie Ko, and Simon Yam, reminded me of the elements in RAID 2 of the feuding crime families, but maybe only vaguely. Some would argue that the INFERNAL AFFAIRS series had more in common with RAID 2 since it deals with both undercover cops AND criminal empires, but RAID 2 did seem to focus more on the internal strife and conflicts within the crime families and not so much dealing with the police procedures.

I compare all these classic organized crime films because I feel that even though many consider it a straight-up ass-kicking action flick, the interludes between the flying elbow drops, explosive knees to the ribs and midsection, and pummeling fists to every other part of the body within range are truly what sets the sequel apart from the original and making RAID 2 a film in which viewers see director Gareth Evans truly grows as a filmmaker. If the late Chicago-native and film critic Roger Ebert were alive to watch and review RAID 2, I dare say that his review would be much more favorable than his assessment of the original. It may only be a one star more maybe, but still even he could not ignore the increased value of the storyline and the development of its characters.

Director Evans’ knowledge of much of the fighting displayed in RAID 2 was primarily due to his being hired as a freelance director for a documentary about the Indonesian martial art Pencak Silat, an umbrella term for the martial arts of Indonesia and the name was chosen as a unifying term for the Indonesian fighting styles. While making this documentary, he found Indonesian martial artist and the lead actor in the last 3 of Evans’ films, Iko Uwais. The amount of realistic Indonesian fighting is incredible. I am, by no means, an expert on Pencak Silat, but I do have a friend who traveled to Asia and did take instruction in the martial art, along with others, and had a base knowledge of the art. He taught me a few punches and moves and it was fun to learn. Ask me if I can execute with any effectiveness those moves now and that answer would definitely be “no way!”.

As I mentioned earlier, RAID 2 begins with Rama (Iko Uwais) going into deep undercover and attacking a member of the opposing crime family to get in good with Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo) and his group so while Rama (Uwais) is locked up in the same jail as Bangun’s son, Uco (Arifin Putra), Rama (changing his name to Yuda for his cover) can keep an eye on him and possibly earn the respect and trust of him. This display of trust is most violently expressed in the 2nd major fight scene choreographed in the film during a fight in the prison yard in the rain. The scene looks great, full of realism, and having it filmed in the rain with the all the mud and large puddles only added to the scenes’ effectiveness. By no means can any fighter fight perfectly in the very slippery mudslide-like mess and all the slips or falls only add to the overall realism of the scene. The fighting is not overall sloppy, because their still was near-perfect kicks and execution of moves, but it definitely was an unpredictable battle. When the guards finally rush in with billy clubs and nightsticks to dispatch inmates fighting, one loses track of who they had even decided to root for. Skulls are getting rocked left and right!

For the most part, the rest of RAID 2 is filled with intense meetings between Bangun and his partnership/”friendship” with Goto (played by character actor and notorious bad guy Ken’ichi Endo) and the rising star in the criminal underworld of Bejo (Alex Abbad) who starts off the film by murdering the brother of Rama (Uwais) via a gun to the head in a field of sorts that reminded me of a certain scene in CASINO where actor Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro and his brother get beat to death by baseball bats. I guess the corn field in CASINO and the high grasses and field in RAID 2 rung a bell with me and made me think of the two scenes as having some similarities. The effectiveness of Evans’ scene was much more powerful and far less exploitative than the route Scorsese chose to go with the uber-violent bat beat-down. The fact that Evans has the leader of the gang, Bejo, actually pull the trigger to kill the brother of Rama leaves a powerful impact for viewers to be left with. It shows that this guy is fucking ruthless and he does not care about his own self-preservation. Don’t have your minions do something that you yourself will not do. It is quite an epic beginning to a film. The long shots as the camera pulls away just added to the desolation and detachment of the cold-blooded killer and his victim. I loved it.

As Ranma/Yuda gets close with the mob, primarily attached at the hip with Bangun’s overzealous and ill-tempered son Uco, one almost feels a sense of pity for Bangun’s love for his son and trying to teach him the way to be a smart and effective mob boss and leader of a powerful organization. One ALMOST feels sympathy for Bangun and Uco, but then one remembers that they are ruthless and so many innocent have died by their hands. As Uco collects money for his dad from degenerates dealing in all sorts of illegal activities like drug dealing and the gang of psychos that make super low-budget porn dvds and duplicate and distribute them was kind of appalling. The various symbols marked on the mass-produced movies (including man on woman, man on man, woman on woman, and animal on man/woman) was a unique scene and look into what Evans’ saw as happening in the Indonesian underworld. Sadly, he is probably spot on!

As both Uco and Bangun trust Ranma/Yuda more and more, I felt I was rooting for Bangun’s family and seeing Bejo as the bad guy even though everyone in this film is a corrupt piece of shit really except for Ranma, whom Uwais did a wonderful job of portraying. The guy is a natural actor. He did not have a ton of dialogue scenes as RAID 2 is a good deal of choreographed fighting, but he got the job done. I felt that Pakusodewo as Tio and Putra as Uco were the strongest actors in the film.

With so many fight scenes that rivaled and leave in the dust so many other action films, I have give credit due to a few more scenes, one of which involves Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman) and Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle). These two characters literally felt like they were pulled off the pages of a comic book! I feel that is the style that Evans was going for and it definitely appealed primarily to all the fanboys out there. The scenes of violence, at times, had a humorous edge and feel to them because, after all, an assassin carrying a baseball bat with a league ball that he hits into his victims like a deadly grand slam slaying reminded me of Walter Hill’s epic ’70s street gang opus THE WARRIORS and The Baseball Furies with their painted faces, uniforms, and bat as weapon. Again, maybe quite a stretch but that is what the Baseball Bat Man reminded me off. Hammer Girl, on the other hand, drew to mind Chiaki Kuriyama in Tarantino’s KILL BILL VOL. 1. Kuriyama as Gogo Yubari and her use of the Meteor Hammer a.k.a. Manriki in the film just drew to mind many of the most memorable action and cult films used unconventional weapons, real and some even made up. The Manriki just happens to be real. Estelle running around with two steel hammers might not be the most practical way to kill someone and definitely not the cleanest way, but her scenes were extremely memorable and I think that was what Evans was going for. A particular scene with her hunting down a victim on the subway was most enjoyable and brought to mind Kitamura’s adaptation of Clive Barker’s THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN with Vinnie Jones’ portrayal of his character Mahogany and his use of the meat mallet.

The film would also not be complete if not for the character Prakoso, portrayed by martial arts instructor Yayan Ruhian, who also has roles in the first RAID (2011) and MERANTAU (2009). His portrayal Bangun’s deadliest and most-trusted hitman sort of softened one’s heart when one realizes he fights and earns money just to support his estranged family. Of course, he is one of the most violent and effective fighters in the whole fucking movie! Presenting himself as a street vagrant and bum, armed only with a machete, his scenes are some of the most powerful, especially one particular scene of betrayal at a dance club.

Now, after all this praise for the 15o min. film, the only negative criticism I have for it is the fact that the awful MPAA had to stick their big, ugly nose in things when the film was submitting it for a rating and the distributors decided they wanted to release an R-rated version and not the original, uncut unrated edition like the first film was released. After all, Malaysia went so far as the outright ban the film with not really giving a definite answer as to why (to my knowledge) and Evans went on record as saying that the cuts were very minimal and similar to the original cut (only a few frames of violence were cut out) and that the MPAA was not going to give the original cut of the film an R-rating due to those few frames of graphic violence. I saw the film in theaters and now after having watched it a few times on blu-ray, I really did not notice. That is not to say that I am not going to go out and purchase the U.K. version which is uncut (the film was released on home video in an unrated edition in Europe) and immensely enjoy those few extra frames of violence. I see it as those few frames were enough to garner the film an X or NC-17 rating so it was enough to make a difference. Maybe after I watch the uncut version again, I can truly compare and contrast the two films.

The extra features of the Blu-ray release from Sony Pictures Classics include a commentary with director Gareth Evans, the featurette “The Next Chapter: Shooting a Sequel“, the Cinefamily Foundation Q&A featurette with Gareth Huw Evans, Iko Uwais, and Joe Trapanese (worked on the film’s music), and (exclusive to the blu-ray only) the deleted Gang War scene. If the incredible fight choreography is your thing (as it was mine!), then check out  the “Violent Ballet: Behind the Choreography” and “Ready for a Fight: On Location” (the challenges of filming in Indonesia). The blu-ray is loaded down with quite a bit of extras, but just not the extra few frames of footage for the complete unrated cut of the movie. Included also is the English and Spanish dub of the movie (for those of you that are blind or are just purely lazy and won’t read subtitles) and the original Indonesian language dialogue with English and Spanish subtitles.

Fans of the RAID films will definitely want to check out Evans’ other film MERANTAU (also starring Uwais) about a skilled practitioner of Silat Harimau preparing for his century old rites-of-passage to be carried out by the community’s young men. This also takes place in Jakarta. I have not seen this film but I feel that if I bought it blindly I would not be disappointed one bit. I plan on doing that.

With a sequel to RAID 2 on its way, I suggest catching up on the martial arts action extravaganza and get a move on watching RAID 2, as well as its predecessor in time to catch the third one when it comes out in theaters. Maybe Sony Pictures Classics will release an uncut print of this film in conjunction with the third films’ release. I did hear of Evans stating that he is going to be taking a break for 2-3 years before starting work on RAID 3. This looks to be true as Evans wrote the screenplay for THE NIGHT COMES FOR US with director Timo Tjahjanto, who is helping writing the screenplay and taking over directing duties from Evans on this Action/Crime/Thriller about a gangland enforcer returning to his local crime family after a spell with the infamous South East Asian Triad.  Another film with Evans’ production company Merantau Films, this looks to be another solid entry in his resume of badass movies.

RAID 2 was the best action film of 2014 (if not the best action film ever possibly ever made to date) and if you have not already seen it or picked up the blu-ray, SHU-IZMZ strongly suggests you do so immediately! The superb direction by Gareth Evans, incredible choreographed fight scenes shot with extreme realism (actors really punched each other and had to learn how to control their speed and strength so that it looked real on camera) and using real fighters and training for 6 months even before filming began, as well as the beautiful camerawork (Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono) and incredible editing of shots (Gareth Evans), all add up to some excellent and extreme action.

 

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