ASIAN FILM - Review
12:00 - 28th September 2014, by Calum Waddell

The Raid 2

Set in Indonesia, The Raid – directed by British-born Gareth Evans and released in 2011 – was a phenomenon on DVD. After some well-received film festival dates, it became a must-see bout of mayhem, although, critically, the sanguine-spilling shocker attracted some naysayers (yours truly included). Indeed, generally, the ‘thumbs up’ tended to come from the mainstream press who seemed starved of a basic education on eastern action cinema. Certainly, make no mistake, the plotless, soulless and senseless mayhem of The Raid was not exactly The Killer (1989) insofar as accomplished heroic bloodshed goes. Yet, as boring and bloodstained as Evans’ original opus was, it was enough of a box office presence to warrant a sequel.
Ultimately, if The Raid felt like an overextended showreel in which a director shot men killing each other in an apartment block for the best part of two hours, then The Raid 2 is something else entirely.

Forget what came before – this is an in-name-only follow-up and, more to the point, it is fantastic.

Picking up moments after the first, but bearing little narrative similarity, The Raid 2 continues the adventures of actor Iko Uwais – portraying the hard-fisted police investigator Rama. In this stylishly directed second chapter, Rama is sent undercover into prison in order to befriend the son of Jakarta’s main crime lord. Once the man in question (extremely well played by a sneering Arifin Putra) is released, he takes Rama as his proverbial ‘number two’ – even though he is secretly planning to overthrow his father and start a turf war against some Japanese Mafioso.

That, in a nutshell, is your plot.

However, the magic in The Raid 2 comes from Evans’ cinematic inspirations: there is a splatter-splashed sequence involving one lone female and a hammer pitted against a gang of thugs that is taken from Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003). In addition, Evans films his interior sequences with bright primary colours – and blood frequently spills against bright white locations – bringing to mind the eerily atmospheric early giallo movies of Italian horror masters Dario Argento and Mario Bava.

Add to this set design inspired by Wong Kar Wai, plot points which acknowledge everything from Hard Boiled (1992) to Infernal Affairs (2002) and even a few nods in the direction of A Bittersweet Life (2005) and you have a powerful proverbial love letter to some of the best examples of modern genre-brilliance.

Best of all is Evans’ decision to bring The Raid 2 into the city and the bars of Jakarta itself. The predecessor to this plasma-packed pot-boiler was stuck in a dingy apartment block, but this time we get widescreen battles in street cafeterias and on the highways and byways of the Indonesian capital. Meanwhile, a bevy of new supporting characters, including a skull-smashing femme fatale and a baseball bat wielding thug, are pure comic book excess – nudging and winking towards the Hong Kong heroic bloodshed era of old.

Furthermore, less anyone write-off The Raid 2 as ‘all surface, no feeling’ let it be maintained that, given Indonesia’s fiercely capitalist system of government – and support of gangster activity – there is quite obvious comment on the perils of anarchy in here. Whilst is doubtful that Evans has been directing his latest celluloid coup with a copy of Das Kapital in one hand and the collected works of Noam Chomsky in the other, it is to his credit that the immorality of conglomerate mentality does float to the surface. In a country where communist parties remain illegal, there is something – maybe not anything especially weighty but at least something – of a critique of the free market in The Raid 2. That factor may, at the end of the day, be Evans’ most impressive coup d’état.

In amongst the spiralling subplots and the scenes of male infighting there are, of course, the fight sequences. For a film clearly inspired by such auteurs of excess as Argento and Park Chan-wook, it goes without saying that the end result is messy – but there is a bloody beauty on offer here. Only occasionally does Evans cross the line from comic book bombast to cruelty – and such a distinction is purely subjective anyway – but generally he hits the right notes. In short, The Raid 2 is perhaps a little too long for its own good, but when the all-important action arrives it is nothing less than gripping.

A final nod of the hat also goes to a genre-subverting opening reel in which Evans takes the B-movie tropes of the women in prison genre and swaps oestrogen for testosterone. The dubiously intentioned sight of beautiful babes behind bars infiltrated Hong Kong cinema with the Shaw Brothers’ 1973 gem Bamboo House of Dolls but the trend is generally more associated with Roger Corman and his Philippines-set shockers such as The Big Doll House (1971). Seeing the muscle-bound lunks of The Raid 2 wrestle in the mud – instead of the usual busty beauties of yesteryear – shows that even the most ancient facets of sleazy filmmaking can still warrant updating and reappropriation.

The Raid 2: just wonderful.

Fans of The Raid will get their money’s worth from this superior sequel, and naysayers will likely be surprised at the beauty and complexity of what is on offer. The boy done good.
SCORE: 4/5
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