In order to protect his family and expose the corruption in his own police force, Rama (Iko Uwais) must go undercover and infiltrate a dangerous Indonesian crime syndicate.
Fans of action movies tend to recount their favourite films as sequences of extreme, inventive and kinetic violence. And so the Indonesian gangster/martial arts film The Raid 2 will be fondly remembered for a number of unforgettable and breathtaking fights and chases. These include a muddy orgy of prison warfare (featuring hundreds of guards and prisoners cracking each other’s bones and skulls in a pit of slippery brown); a couple of hugely entertaining car chases around modern Jakarta (incorporating the most confined hand-to-hand combat in the back seat of a car that you’re ever likely to see); and a stunning finale of vicious and perfectly matched one-on-one fist-and-blade fighting, perfectly choreographed within a stainless steel restaurant kitchen.
If you blanch at the sight of blood or faint at the sound of bones crunching (or faces sizzling as they’re pressed up against a hotplate) you’ll obviously be avoiding this film – and make no mistake, it is really very violent. But for fans of the genre, The Raid 2 is the highly anticipated sequel to the breakout international success of 2011’s The Raid. Both films are written, directed and edited by the Welsh-born Indonesian-based action wunderkind Gareth Evans (Merantau), who skilfully applies his genre storytelling nous to Indonesian locations, stars and martial arts expertise. Here that martial art is Pencak Silat – a particular Indonesian style of hand to hand combat incorporating single-edged weapons – and the star of all Evans’ features (and also his in-house choreographer) is martial arts champion Iko Uwais.
"Desperate not to repeat himself, Evans takes this movie out of The Raid’s confined single location"
With his compact, muscular body and mournful eyes, Uwais gives surprising depth to his characters – who are honourable peace-loving men forced to fight against their will. The pleasure, of course, lies in watching the way, when he’s forced into violence, he’s able to singlehandedly fight off hordes of the most accomplished and highly-trained assassins. A signature shot repeated again and again, is the aerial view of the chaotic crowd, swarming like angry ants, with our lone hero taking them on, 10 at a time.
In the first Raid film, Uwais played Rama, a rookie cop fighting his way out of a 30-story building filled with Jakarta’s meanest and most mercenary crims. Here, he’s forced to go undercover, ingratiating himself with a mafia family in the hopes of unearthing police corruption. Befriending the insecure mafia prince (played superbly by pretty-boy Arifin Putra), Rama must prove his loyalty and give himself over to a double life in order to protect his wife and baby.
You don’t need to have seen the first film to make sense of this wildly different sequel. Desperate not to repeat himself, Evans takes this movie out of The Raid’s confined single location, spreading the story out to emerald green cane-fields, sleek boardrooms, sleazy brothels and abandoned tenements.
The plot too is expansive – and sometimes unwieldy, in contrast to the refreshingly simple premise of the predecessor. Instead of being pure action, this two-and-a-half hour sequel draws inspiration from classic crime dramas and gangster plots, including most notably The Godfather trilogy. It’s crowded with complex diversions, sub-plots and outrageous characters popping in for a scene or two. The wiry little assassin played by a grey-bearded Yayan Ruhian almost steals the show as a hobo killer with a heart of gold. And the much-discussed-by-fans ‘Hammer Girl’ (Julia Estelle) and ‘Baseball Bat Man’ (Very Tri Yulisman) seem to have wandered in from a Tarantino film, intent on bringing some kinky weapons to the otherwise quite solemn party.
We see so little of Indonesia on our screens so it’s a rare treat to see films made and set there, infusing local flavour into the well-worn Asian crime drama genre. Beautifully shot (by cinematographer Matt Flannery), and edited with panache (by Evans, who does a rough cut on location as he shoots), this is stylish action cinema that, like its musical score, is an enjoyable and highly effective fusion of Asian and western elements.