Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review Double Feature: The Raid: Redemption (2011) and The Raid 2 (2014)

Another double-feature review: this time of the Indonesian martial arts action film The Raid: Redemption and its sequel.

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

Three years after I first saw it, The Raid: Redemption stands as one of the finest action movies I've ever seen. Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans, virtually overnight, put himself on my map and that of many other people when he made this unflinchingly brutal movie, with some of the best-shot and best-choreographed martial arts action I've witnessed in my life. The plot may be thin and hard to follow... but holy shit did this movie knock me on my ass. Whether I watch it in English or with subtitles in the original Indonesian, I can be guaranteed of a damn good time watching Southeast Asian tough guys beating the living crap out of each other, smashing their heads against the walls, or did you see that one scene where the guys somehow keeps going after...

...oh, the plot? Sorry, I got carried away there. The plot is about a police raid on a slum block in Jakarta, Indonesia seeking to bust a ruthless drug lord named Tama who lives in the penthouse and controls the entire building. The raid goes horribly wrong, and before long, rookie cop Rama (played by Iko Uwais), veteran lieutenant Wayhu, and sergeant Jaka are fighting to survive in an apartment tower crawling with thugs, while learning just who among them is trustworthy. It can get difficult to follow at times, but in the end the twisting tale of police corruption does come together. Fortunately, you don't really need to be paying attention to the plot, or even reading any of the subtitles, in order to get the obvious: dudes are trapped in a building full of bad guys, dudes need to take down the bad guys' leader and escape with their lives, and one of the dudes has his own agenda. The important stuff is simple enough that it doesn't get in the way of the most important part of the movie (and allow me to start gushing here)...

...the bone-crunching, face-punching, neck-snapping action! Gareth Evans delivers some amazing fight scenes here, showcasing the Indonesian martial art pencak silat. Having never heard of it before watching this movie, I still don't know much about it beyond its country of origin, except that it looks absolutely brutal up on screen, the film's star Iko Uwais making it look that much more so with his physicality and his moves. This dude would be an action hero in the making even if he didn't have Evans' amazing cinematography and fight choreography on his side. Both Uwais and Evans need to get noticed by Hollywood, since in a world where action movies are filled with jitter-cam and incoherent filming to cover up both the director's lack of style and the actors' lack of fighting chops, the combination the two of them bring to the screen here is almost a revelation. The fights here are beautifully ugly, getting down and gritty with so many "holy shit" and "dear God" moments that I'm still awestruck as to how this movie was put together.

Oh, and if you have a problem with subtitles... seriously, the DVD comes with an English track. You have no excuse.

Score: 5 out of 5

I don't think I can say any more beyond OH HELL YEAH!


One down, one to go...

The Raid 2 (2014)

So yeah. The Raid: Redemption was fucking awesome. Gareth Evans, virtually overnight, put himself on the map with one unflinchingly brutal, and stunningly shot, martial arts action flick. For the sequel, of course, the stakes are raised; not only is this a much bigger film than its predecessor, but Evans has to prove that he's not a one-trick pony, making a film that is one part martial arts movie and one part crime drama in the vein of The Departed. Not only are the action scenes more ambitious and over-the-top, with prison riots, car chases, fights inside cars in the middle of said chases, and a handful of colorful assassins with their own crazy weapons of choice, but the film also has to carry a lot more in terms of actual plot. It tells a tale of mob wars and double-crosses, running fifty minutes longer than the first movie and definitely feeling like a more "epic" film.

Does it all pan out? Well, to put it in one word: yes! The Raid 2 is just as excellent a movie as its predecessor, with both Evans and star Iko Uwais showing that they have range beyond just pure action. The fights are just as jacked-up and crazy as they were in the last film, but not only that, I was glued to the screen even during the "talky" bits, finding myself genuinely invested in the story here. It's not Scorsese, but the twisting plot of The Raid 2 is leagues above that of the first film, helped along by standout performances and, of course, excellent action.

The film starts hours after the end of the first one, with Rama (Iko Uwais) being tapped by an anti-corruption task force in the Jakarta police to infiltrate the Bangun gang and expose its dealings with various crooked members of the force. Rama spends several years of his life winning the trust of Bangun and his son Uco (Arifin Putra), the latter of whom is ambitious and is getting impatient waiting for his turn to ascend to the throne. Meanwhile, Bejo, a young gun with ambitions of his own, is seeking to start a war between the Bangun gang and the rival Goto gang for his own profit. Over time, Rama decides that his police mission alone isn't enough, and seeks to destroy the Bangun gang from the inside.

Uwais had already proven himself a legit badass in the first movie, but here, he proves that he's a very good dramatic actor on top of it. Even not understanding what he was saying and having to read the subtitles in order to follow the plot, I could hear the anger in his voice when he's chewing out his superiors for putting an obvious wire on him, or his sadness when, in the very next scene, he's talking to his wife for the first time in two years. If the first film proved that Uwais was an action hero in the making, this one proves that he could be a genuine star. Easily matching him, though, is Arifin Putra as the hotshot Uco, an utter sleaze of a man who you can't wait to get his just desserts. Everything Uco does feels almost like a calculated attempt to get you to hate his guts, and even then, I was shocked at some of the depths he went to. Putra (a fitting name for someone playing an asshole) stole the show with his depraved and evil performance. Between them, Uwais and Putra nailed my ass to the seat hard enough that I didn't care about the comparative lack of big action scenes in the first half of the film -- I was really interested in the story here.

Of course, this is still a Raid movie. That poster up there, after all, is covered in people in martial arts poses wielding hammers, bats, and mini-scythes (called kerambits, apparently), and if it didn't deliver, I would have left the theater very disappointed. Fortunately, this movie delivers and then some in the second half, with multiple scenes that each match the famous (if it ain't famous yet, there's something wrong with this world) two-on-one fight at the end of the first movie. Seriously, at the end of one of them, I wanted to shout "fatality!" as loud as I could, my fellow moviegoers be damned. Gareth Evans delivers again here, proving just how desperately Hollywood needs someone like him who can shoot a proper action movie. He sets up bigger fights and action scenes than in the last movie, demonstrating that he can easily take on a bigger action pic than the comparatively small-scale first film. When the fists started flying, I started munching on my popcorn, and later wishing that I had more because this was one of those movies where you need to go jumbo-size. (But seriously, $2 Concessions Tuesdays at Cinemaworld... thank you!)

Score: 5 out of 5

Once more, a big, hearty HELL YEAH to the makers of this film. Now let's see Evans get the Hollywood work he deserves!

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