Double bill time, Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans has made a big splash with his action one-two punch which puts the Indonesian martial art "Pencak Silat” on a bigger map. Swimming against the tide of an inexorably digitized world, since the noughties, action movies have been experiencing a somewhat fundamentalistic revolution ushered in by ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (2003), where a more tactile, point-blank and lethal combat style greatly relying on the performers’physical prowess sounding the death knell for a plethora of CGI-heavy schlock, andGareth Evans takes the revolution further down that road,at any time of the day, it is more than welcoming
Blanketed in its slate blue hue, THE RAID: REDEMPTION has a setting like a single-location entrapment horror flick,a catastrophic heavy blow incurs toa team of elite squad when they raid inside a tenement tower block owned by the crime lord Tama Riyado (Sahetapy)inJakarta’s slums, it turns out to be a set-up as a corollary of corruption among police top-brass. Assailed by not zombies but practically zombie-looking inhabitants (bedraggled drug addicts mostly) and a cohort of Tama's henchmen, they might find some painful irony (if they are still breathing) from recollecting the paradoxical pep talk of Sergeant Jaka (Taslim), who is leading the raid, paraphrasing here: it is a highly dangerous mission, but I don’t want to see any of those seats empty when we return.
The one who is bestowed with a protagonist nimbus is Rama (Uwais), a tyro in the forces and has an ax to grind in the game, when all the ammo is expended, his killer martial art skill starts to tip the scale in the bloodshed. Since its no-account story-line seldom fluctuates with plot development (barring a fraternal reunion), and although many tropes of suspense routinely deployed to the hilt,it is the action pieces taking our breath away, the go-for-the-jugular (joints, limbs, and other more cardinal parts) pragmatism and Evans’ lenience on blood and guts, skewered together one set piece after another, our rapt attention becomes a given, and the brutal aesthetics reaches its crescendo in the close-range combat between Rama, his brother Andi (Alamsyah) and Tama’s top muscle,a disheveled Mad Dog (Ruhian, who is a martial art virtuoso and the fight choreographer for both movies, also plays a completely different character in the sequel).
After REDEMPTION successfully testing the water, THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (which means thug in Indonesian) is expectedly souped up by a significantly boosted budget and an ampler length (150 minutes, 50 minutes longer than the first installment). Mapping out an ambitious gangster turf war saga, Evans’ script swiftly sends Rama to the joint to befriend Uco (Putra), the son of Bangun (Pakusadewo), one of the two kingpins of Jakarta’s underworld, where a muddy mêlèe during a downpour set alight the first frisson of excitement (it is a virtue Evans doesn’t overuse the worn-out slo-mo shtick, after THE MATRIX 1999 and its countless emulators, enough is enough).
In fact, the resultant story veers more towards Uco’s ill-conceived subversion, and Putra, not quite a martial artist himself but commendably takes up the gauntlet as a pompous gilded youth, too thrusting and wanting both wits and patience to mellow into a rightful heir of his father’s cosmic empire, particularly when there is nothing to imperil his standing, what is the fuss anyway? Maybe like in every patriarch’s incubus, he is just a bad seed and driven at lengths to carry out a patricidal sin, Putra’s performance is vehement, visceral and transforms Uco as the film’s heart of matter, a grab bag of what is wrong with today’s youngsters.
In the action section, on the one hand, Evans continues choreographing striking fighting sequences of Pencak Silat, and playing up the possibility of orchestration within atwo-by-four space (a prison bathroom, or inside a barreling car);on the other hand, in tandem with an enclosed fistfight,he also cuts his teeth into a sterling car chase set piece with an ace in his sleeve, and what an adrenaline rush it spurs! Althoughit would be remiss of me to not mention a congenital hiccup rather common in action fares, those conspicuous ready-to-take-the-hit poses or caesuras, mostly from foot soldiers during their fleeting screen-time, it immediately dispels the“realness” of all the onerously rehearsed teamwork.
The most pyrotechnic eye-catcher is indubitably the final showdown between Rama and the karambit-knives-wielding killer, credited as the Assassin (Rahman), which makes Very Tri Yulisman’s Baseball Bat Man and Julie Estelle’s Hammer Girl quite bathetic in their gore-fest, not to mention the boss who prefers heavy weaponry but is inept enough to toss it to the wrong one when the crunch comes.
Both movies are cracking genre pieces made with labor of love, devotion and dexterity, and Evans’ directorial flair takes a crucial peg up under the sequel’s grander scale, blissfully, one can see the potential in a filmmaker which can unbridle the genre parameters.
referential points: Prachya Pinkaew’s ONG-BAK: THE THAI WARRIOR (2003, 6.4/10), John McTieran’s DIE HARD (1988, 7.1/10)