Forget every action movie you ever seen. Forget all of the explosions, damsels in distress, and fighting with aliens. A few years ago an Indonesian film graced screens by the name of The Raid: Redemption. After seeing that film it is hard to imagine how it can be pushed further. Director Gareth Evans has gone far beyond a push further in what may be the greatest and most unique action movie ever made, The Raid 2 (The original title is The Raid 2: Berandal). The plot of the film may not be the most unique, but there are no other action scenes that can even come close to the ones in this film. Others merely stand in the shadow.
The first film follows Rama (Iko Uwais)and his team of fellow police officers trying to get to the top floor of a building to arrest a drug lord. Through countless gun and machete fights it is clear that Iko Uwais is here to stay for many films to come. The brutality of his fighting style is expressed more and more as the scenes unfold. Gareth Evans captures this in a way that only him and his team can. With every step you feel as if you are right there in the middle of the blood soaked fight. With the first film having a lower budget Evans was constrained cinematically and also to one location in the film. That didn’t stop him from giving birth to a whole new category of action movies though. After the success of The Raid: Redemption, having a bigger budget for the sequel was a certainty. The Raid 2 picks up right where the first one left off. This film is a lot more complex having a much larger number of characters as well as a plot that branches out into all parts of the city. Rama is thrown out of his comfort zone right away as he agrees to go undercover to weed out all of the corrupt cops in the force and at the same time take down all of the organized crime in the city. He is pretty much a one man army. Unlike the first film he is on the other side of the law this time around.
Rama is thrown into prison to make his background look legit for the people he works for when he gets out. While he is in prison he meets Uco (Arifin Putra) who is the son of Bangun, a local crime lord. To gain Uco’s trust, Rama protects him in an extravagant prison riot. He sees his way in to working for Bangun and does every thing he possibly can to get to that point. This riot is so chaotic and will have your eyes submerged in the thick mud it is unfolding on. I thought the mud was an interesting choice to throw into the mix. It shows how Rama can adapt to every environment he is placed in. With prisoners stabbing whoever is near them and SWAT teams taking out prisoners, Rama still finds a way to fight his way all the way across the yard to protect his mission. There are a lot of shots in this scene that are so long and continuous that it feels as if there are no cuts at all. The time and effort placed into a scene like this is inspiring. Every detail and ever angle is considered so that the perfect fight can be produced. I have enormous amounts of respect for the men and women who have worked on this film and its predecessor. They aren’t trying to make it good, they are trying to make it the best that they absolutely can. That is what makes this movie so special. Not only is it phenomenal, but you can clearly tell how much care was given into the making of this film.
Once Rama is out of prison he begins working for Bangun (Tio Pakusodewo). This is where the story becomes much more extensive than the first film. It is basically Rama against the whole city. You have the crime group that is controlled by Bangun which covers most of the city. The other large crime group is the Japanese. The two groups have a peaceful relationship and stay out of each other’s way. However, there are always smaller fish trying to control the action. The police are just as corrupt and the leader Reza is always trying to strike deals with the crime lords in his city. With all of the power and land these leaders rule over there is one that wants to take it all for himself by starting a war between them. This devious individual goes by the name of Bejo (Alex Abbad). He manipulates everyone around him into getting what he wants. Abbad plays the character perfectly. He is always calm and collected, but there is a small feeling given by his mannerisms that he could snap at any given moment. When he is shown on the screen the character manifests a form of fear and evil that simmers below his calm demeanor. It is almost if it is not there at all, but you can’t deny what is truly there. With all of these groups bound to clash it only means one thing is coming, pure violence.
In the first Raid film, Rama is pretty much unmatched. His skills in combat come across as far superior to the people he is fighting. In The Raid 2, that is not the case at all. Many unique and astounding characters are introduced to make Rama fight for his life like never before. One of the cool parts of this sequel is that it focuses on these many characters as well as Rama. Before they all get to go toe to toe with Rama, they all get their own fight scenes to show just how brutal and vicious they are. My two favorite new additions are Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man. No two siblings have ever been more scary than these two. Hammer Girl’s introduction takes place on a subway train and puts her up against a dozen men with knives. Her weapon of choice, given away by the name, is a hammer in each hand. The fight is breathtaking and doesn’t let up for a second. Her savage nature of the way she fights makes her seem as if she is enjoying it just a little too much. Her brother is just as bloodthirsty as she is. A baseball bat may seem like a normal, boring weapon. When put in the hands of Baseball Bat Man, it becomes a death sentence. He doesn’t just beat people with it, he destroys them. The way he handles it is barbaric and with no mercy. When he strikes a person with his bat he ends up hitting them another few times before they even hit the ground. It is so fast and well choreographed that it feels like a dance fueled by aggression.
Cool fights and interesting characters make this a great action film. However, it is the cinematography and locations combined with those aspects that make it the best action film. The way they film all of the action is unlike anything anybody else can pull off. A large portion of the film is all handheld. They use what is called a Fig rig. It is essentially a steering wheel that you mount a camera on in the center to give the user very fluid mobility. This is how the feeling of being in the fight is created. In most of the action sequences the camera is in the middle of the fight. They choreograph every step so that it can be smooth and become one single fight. The camera is constantly moving in and out from between people that are beating each other to death.
One of my favorite aspects of the way they film these sequences is the way they pass the camera between operators. In some of the fights the actors are flying all over the room and going places where a normal camera movement could not. They use the Fig rig to incorporate a way to keep the handheld feel of the action intact. What they do is simply place another camera operator where the camera needs to go and then they hand the rig to the other operator, but keep a smooth transition between the two because of the “steering wheel” like aspect of the rig. During an epic car scene in the film look for the camera moving from car to car. This is an example of what they can achieve with that technique. They literally pass it from the back seat of one car and into another which has another operator attached on the side that then passes it through that car and to the other side where a third operator waits. The shot is fascinating the way it plays out as well as the way it was created.
One of the differences between this film and the first is that it is not confined to one location. The first film was pretty much Rama’s skills caged in one cinematic setting. The world opens up much wider in this one. The different locations showcased in this film give both the director and actors more room for creativity with plot and the way the fights play out. The locations are truly magnificent for the fights that take place in them. One in particular is the scene where an assassin named Prakoso is swarmed by an arm of thugs inside a club. Prakoso is played by Yayan Ruhian, who interestingly played a different character called Mad Dog in the first Raid film. The club is very vibrant with different colored laser lights shining everywhere. The structure of the club is what makes it so special. There are large circular booths that surround the club and each one is higher than the other. Prakoso is sitting in one of these booths when the fighting starts. Since each is higher than the other he is constantly jumping through bars and levels as he plows his way through the onslaught that is trying to defeat him. Some cool movements with the camera on the Fig Rig are used here. In this scene the camera is passed between bars from the ground level up into the different booths numerous times. The fight eventually ends up breaking out into the back alleyway behind the club. The scene takes place during the winter time so there is snow on the ground giving a nice backdrop for all the blood being splattered everywhere. The fight ends with a beautiful death that you will have to see for yourself. One other scene to look for is the kitchen fight scene. I don’t want to give much away about this one other than it takes place in an all white kitchen, lots of blood is spilled, and it is perhaps one of the best hand-to-hand fight scenes ever accomplished.
When picking up your copy of The Raid 2 be sure to get the Blu-ray because it includes tons of special features that are not to be missed. There is a five minute deleted scene titled “Gang War” that didn’t make it to the final cut. It is definitely worth checking out and provides a little more action that focuses on the lower level characters. There is plenty more content as well including three featurettes titled, “The Next Chapter: Shooting a Sequel”, “Ready for a Fight: On Location”, and ” Violent Ballet: Behind the Choreography”. Each one of these is compelling in it’s own way. Part of the magic of this film is not only the film itself, but how the film was made. It is not your typical film set. Everything has been rehearsed a million times before anybody even sets foot on set. Every shot and movement is planned months ahead of time. Seeing what goes on behind the scenes really proves that these are all professionals who care about performing their job to the absolute best of their abilities.
With so many action films flooding cinemas each year it is very refreshing to see a foreign film such as The Raid 2 surpass every single one of them. Originality seems to be fading out these days, but Gareth Evans showed the whole world how untrue that is. Violence and merciless action has never been so divine. Every aspect of the first Raid film is brought to a whole other level in this sequel. Each fan of the original film will receive everything they could ever wish for. Evans and Uwais have earned their places among the top of their respective craft. Even if you don’t enjoy foreign films that much, this is one that is worth sitting through. There were times I forgot it was even in Indonesian because of the way it flows so well from scene to scene. If there is one action movie that ever needs to be watched it is this film. The Raid 2 burns with a fire that will transcend the viewer into the new age of action films.