Thursday, 1 January 2015

The Raid 2: Berandal

Title: The Raid 2: Berandal
Director: Gareth Evans
Released: 2014
Starring: Iwo Uwais, Arifin Putra, Tio Pakusadewo, Oka Antara, Alex Abbad, Cecep Arif Rahman, Julie Estelle, Very Tri Yulisman, Ryuhei Matsuda, Kenichi Endo, Kazuki Kitamura, Yayan Ruhian, Cok Simbara

Plot: Picking up the story several hours after the end of the first film, Rama (Uwais) meets with Bunawar (Simbara) the head of an anti-corruption task force who tasks Rama with going undercover to expose those at the top of the Jakarta criminal underworld, following the murder of his brother by self-made gangster Bejo (Abbad).

Review: While the threats of an American remake of the original film continues unabated, much like those which surround a remake of “Battle Royale” the original film remains even now a high benchmark for martial arts movies / action movies on the whole, let alone for Evans himself to try and top which arguably is exactly what he has done here with this ambitious sequel.

Expanding on the world he introduced us with in the first film, here he broadens the scope of the film to this time take in the whole of the Jakarta underworld as Rama’s story this time is just one of many in play in this gangland saga as Rama soon finds himself caught in the middle of a war between the two crime families. The Jakarta crime family run by Bangun (Pakusadewo) and whose hot-headed son Uco (Putra) Rama is tasked with befriending as an entry point into the underworld he’s been tasked with investigating. On the opposite side we have Boss Goto (Endo) who heads up the local Yakuza faction who in turn mix things up and like so many aspects gives us something else that audiences haven’t seen before. Originally envisioned as the first film in the series only for budget issues to force Evans to scale down the production to the claustrophobic corridors of the original while he put this script to one side, reworking it slightly when this film was given the green light, which in a strange twist of fate only seems to be for the better as this works a lot better as the middle film of a proposed trilogy than the first.

While the scope of the film and not to mention numerous plot threads in play can at times feel slightly overwhelming, Evans manages to bring it all together for the finale while the films generous run time helps each of the characters to be developed beyond being just cut out villains, though some of the more colourful henchmen such and the dual claw hammer welding Hammer Girl and the baseball bat welding Baseball Bat Man are given just surface colour to highlight their relationship with the majority of their appearances here being to highlight their particular and unquestionably brutal techniques. While this might not be a huge issue, it did however when it came to the Hobo hitman Prakoso played here by returning fight choreographer Yayan Ruhian who also memorably played “Mad Dog” in the first film and here gives the polar opposite of that character with his dishevelled clothes and beard he carries out hits for Bangun with deadly efficiently with his machete, while we see that he only does this work for his son who currently lives with his ex-wife a background teased by Evans in a scene showing the frosty relationship he has with his wife, who refuses him access to their son while belittling his appearance no doubt the result of any money he makes being given to his son. Even though he is a minor character he’s still one I would have liked to have seen more of.

This time we get to see more of Rama’s homelife to add to what we saw in the introduction of the last film, here used to emphasis the stress and loneliness that Rama has to fight while maintaining his cover, especially when he is originally promised that he will only be under for a couple of months which soon turns into a couple of years. Needless to say Uwais is more than capable of taking us on this emotional journey, rather than your usual action hero who care more about the action elements than selling the drama, something which was a concern with this film being more drama heavy than the first, but Uwais again gives a great performance so that we truly believe that he is gone through hell when we see his broken expression at the end of the film, not that it takes awhole lot of selling when you look at what he has to go through in the finale.

He action scenes are unquestionably once more the selling point for the film as Evans sets out to not only top what he did with the first film especially combined with such inventive and impressive camerawork, clearly aiming to ensure with each action sequence that he is giving us something that we haven’t seen before. This time not only increasing the spectacle of the fight scenes, which are noticeably one of the areas to increase in scale, while Evans also turns his hand to crafting several thrilling vehicle based sequences including a jaw dropping car chase involving multiple vehicles and a heated brawl taking place while this happens. As I mentioned earlier in this review fight choreographer Yayan Ruhian returns to give us yet another brutal demonstration of Silat, with Evans recently going on record to state that he is the only choreography he will work with and consider that somehow he has managed to craft scenes more brutal than the first film, as limbs are frequently broken or snapped. The scale of the fight scenes is also increased so that the majority of the battles are large scale affairs with the prison yard brawl featuring around 30 fighters is a dizzying piece of choreography while only added to when the whole thing seems to have been shot in one take.

The downside here though is that in upping the ante and trying to beat the already brutal bar set by the first film, there is often the feeling that things are being taken further than I felt comfortable watching especially when some sequences verge on raw sadism with the frenzied knife fight between Rama and “The Assassin” (Rahman) which I can only really describe as watching human dog fighting. Perhaps because unlike the insanely violent “Riki-Oh: Story of Ricky” this film is aiming for an element of realism which perhaps in turn makes it only seem the more brutal. However when you look at the fact that one character is using dual hammers and another a baseball bat, I guess there is no way to make their fights any less brutal.

While the film suffers due to its brutality levels there is no denying what Evans has achieved here as this is a film that the genre fans as well as fans of the first will no doubt adore, even if it is a different beast in many ways to the first film. With Evans looking to make a third and final film in the trilogy I'm now especially interested to see the direction he takes, more so when the bar has undoubtedly been raised yet again with this film.

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