Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal Review

By Ben Macdonald

Directed by Gareth Evans
Starring : Iko Uwais, Arfin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Ryuhei Matsuda
Release Date: March 28, 2014 (limited); April 11, 2014 (wide)
In Indonesian with English Subtitles

In recent years, Asian martial-arts cinema has come to be largely associated with art house wuxia pictures like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero or most recently Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster . These are examples of Martial art films, with beautiful cinematography, period detail and refined stories where the action scenes closely resemble dance. The Raid 2 is not one of these films. It is ugly and unrepentantly violent. It is also completely great.
The importance of audience vocal feedback in the cinema usually applies to comedies and horror films, but The Raid 2 is a notable exception. In the screening I attended, the incredible bone-breaking action of the film was met with a steady stream of all kinds of sounds of astonishment from the young, primarily male audience; mostly exclamations of “ohhhhhh!” and sudden intakes of breathe, as well as laughter at the sheer absurd excess of some of the violence. After the star takes out an enemy with a long flurry of rapid punches, a guy near me raises his arms as if for a touchdown. The immense skill and virtuosity of the martial artists and their choreography leads to a rare kind of visceral filmmaking. Frighteningly desensitized to screen violence though I may be, my whole body would tense up during fight sequences.
Pencak Silat practitioner and star of the film, Iko Uwais, is a big part of why the fight scenes pack such a punch. Though he lacks the charisma of a Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan or Chow Yun Fat, he is certainly an extraordinary martial artist. And his acting is pretty good; he wisely doesn’t try to act all that much. He also manages to earn the sympathy of the audience so that whenever he gets hurt it’s surprisingly distressing in a way that the rest of the film’s ultraviolence is not.
Though the action is all similarly brutal, a range of different weapons (blades, guns, bottles, batons, hammers, cars, an aluminum baseball bat, baseballs, etc.) give variety to one of the best collections of fight scenes ever stuffed into one film. However, unlike its predecessor, The Raid 2 has lengthy stretches of story and dialogue between its action scenes. In direct contrast to the Aristotelian unity of time and place in the first one, the second film is epic in scope (and runtime: 150 minutes!). Whereas The Raid: Redemption was a minimalist Die Hard/Assault on Precinct 13-esque actioner, The Raid 2’s betrayal and revenge filled story of gang warfare and an undercover cop is much more like the crime thrillers of East-Asia, like those of Johnnie To. Such an ambitious departure is the smart move, but it necessarily entails sacrificing the simple perfection of the original. Differences aside, The Raid series remains a singularly brutal source of hard-core martial-art action. Viewer discretion is advised.