Sundance 2014 Review: The Raid 2
The Raid 2 is The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Silat martial arts films. They skipped right over For a Few Dollars More. As perhaps the most highly anticipated film of Sundance 2014, maybe tied with Boyhood, the sequel to The Raid is completely satisfying and fulfilling, an evolution of Silat martial arts on film.
After surviving The Raid, Rama (Iko Uwais) is sent undercover to get to the top of the police corruption ring. It’s always nice to see the direct aftermath in a sequel. There is a time jump at some point, but The Raid 2 begins the same day as The Raid. Rama goes into prison to get close to Uco (Arifin Putra) and move up in the family. There’s of course much more to it than that, as The Raid 2 weaves a tapestry of colorful characters. Some are so colorful I wish they had been given more to do. It’s the Boba Fett conundrum, create a captivating character and hardly use ‘em, but they can always give Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) her own movie. More on her later.
The undercover cop story plays out effectively with good emotional beats, particularly with Rama and the family he’s trying to protect, and Koso, the new character Yayan Ruhian plays. Uco reveals his complexity too, at least the insecurity that so often drives a corruption of power. The nature of the story is no longer contained, and the film seems to enjoy the breathing room. But they still fight. Oh, they still fight. Whenever a bunch of dudes rush into a room, you can’t help but smile with glee anticipating how they’re going to dispatch them all.
It’s sort of invigorating that there are so many different styles of martial arts now that there can be subgenres, all equally thrilling. My favorite is still Jackie Chan because he’s clever. The Silat fights are clever too, but they’re brutally clever. Brutal is great too. I may always be more of a lighthearted person but I’ll enjoy it all. Silat fighters are fighting to kill, not to play around. This is our kill movie, as opposed to Chan’s playful fighting comedies and the Hong Kong artistic balletic wire fu movies.
One of the trademarks of the two Raid movies is the thorough kill shots. No one just dies in this movie. There is always a unique final move, usually a series of several bloody blows just to be sure. It’s Overkill: The Movie but the overkill is legitimate. If you’re in a life or death fight, you’re not going to do that movie cliche of knocking the guy down and turning your back thinking your safe. You’re going to stab the shit out of him or send him into an artistic death pose, which provides a macabre stinger to the scene.
Talking about the fights isn’t really a spoiler, because I can’t possibly capture the choreography in text, or the visceral thrill of seeing it performed. There is a fight in a car chase. That scene makes The Raid 2 the fastest, most furious martial arts movie ever. There won’t be a faster, more furious movie this year. Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yuilsman) have trademarks that add new dynamics to their fight scenes, especially when they interact with Rama’s style. I love their blunt names too. Why call them anything but what they are? Hammer Girl gets a wonderful macabre moment getting ready for her last fight scene. Even when Rama just Silats a concrete wall, it’s thrilling to watch his futile brutality.
Each individual fight scene has its own narrative, which really every scene should, but it’s worth celebrating when done so well. In the first prison fight, it’s a mini story of how each attacker gets into a small cell and how Rama traps them within the geography of the location. The camera has a lot to do with it too, providing some of the geographic motion, or defying reality to give us an overhead shot in the car chase fight. The only shot I didn’t like is early on: there is a gunshot and the camera goes shaky. I find that fake. There’s violence so suddenly the “world” is unstable? Fortunately the cinematography never pulls that trick again, and uses more elegant photography than handheld. I’m just keeping it real.
I was just glad to see the sequel expand its locations. One of my pet peeves about The Raid was it was another dirty warehouse type building, or rather a slum house. That’s great for finding a cheap location and making it work for the story, but I wanted to see what they could do in actual sets and production designed locations. Now they have fancy offices, nightclubs, the open streets, the countryside and a snow fight that’s like if Fargo had martial arts. Thank you for personally attending to my request, Gareth Evans.
Of course, there’s a lot of value to the good old badass stare down, which also benefits my Sergio Leone comparison. There’s even a DJ dance number. This movie has everything.
Everyone who’s wanted to see The Raid 2 will be happy and I can’t wait to see what everyone involved does next. It’s redundantly obvious by now that Uwais and Ruhian should have many, many vehicles, and Estelle is certainly ready to blow up. At the very least I will do my homework on her by watching her previous movies, with or without hammers. Putra has a strong screen presence in his more dramatic role too. Of course, Evans can keep making Silat movies or hopefully use his clout to explore some other bold new kinds of action. I guess if he wants to do a drama we’ll have to let him.