July 1, 2014 – 4:53 am

Banned in Malaysia, Gareth Evans’s The Raid 2: Berandal (2014) cements the Welshman’s reputation as the action filmmaker to watch as he continues to tackle police corruption in Indonesia, on screen, that is. Stephen Tan reviews.

Before it could open in Malaysia on March 27, 2014, Gareth Evans’s The Raid 2: Berandal (2014) was banned - till today, reason/s for the ban has yet to be disclosed. Almost as interesting as the film’s violence is Raid 2’s take on corruption, particularly in the police force.

It might not be too far off to say that a society’s maturity can be seen in the movies and programmes that can be locally made and shown. Take South Korea for example. In the 2011 TV drama, City Hunter, the president was among a group of five people who killed 20 soldiers for political expedience and a chance at the Blue House [Korea’s equivalent of the White House]. In Three Days (2014), the president is targetted for assassination because of a cover-up that killed or injured 24 people. And in the currently on-going Doctor Stranger (2014), the Korean prime minister is in cahoots with North Korea and aims to put the incumbent president into a coma so that he can take over the country.

In these TV shows, it is those in power who are the bad guys and it is left to the heroes - often ordinary people, unless they are super-trained like City Hunter - to bring them to justice. It is one thing to enjoy these shows from Korea but can anyone imagine such shows or movies being made in Malaysia or $ingapore? Corruption in high places? Where got? Or a show about the police chief in league with the mobsters? To even suggest such a thing is already heretical in the first place. Imagine a show in Malaysia or $ingapore where the prime minister, albeit fictional, requires a cover-up for his crimes? There is no way such a project can even get to the “OK” stage.

But corruption in the justice sector in Indonesia is recognised as such and Welshman Gareth Evans [currently based in Indonesia] has made two movies on it (effectively there are three but the first Raid movie - Merantau - doesn’t really count). The Raid 2: Brandal (Thug) continues where Raid: Redemption (2012) left off. Unlike your Star Wars films, it is not necessary to have seen Redemption to enjoy Raid 2.

In Redemption, police officer Rama and his SWAT team take down a crime lord who uses an apartment block as his hideout. Rama survives the raid and before he can get any rest, in Raid 2, he is asked to go undercover to expose the link between police commissioner Reza and the Bangun and (Japanese) Goto families. To ingrate himself into the Bangun gang, Rawa gets himself jailed in the same prison as Bangun’s son, Uco, and earns Bangun’s respect as he protects Uco when the latter comes under attack from rival gangs.

When he is released, Rama is tasked with looking after Uco. However, Uco comes under the influence of rival gang leader Bejo and feels that together, they can eliminate the Goto gang. But Uco has to take out his father first. Hearing that Bangun has been killed and they themselves blamed for other killings, the Goto gang prepares for war. Discovering that Bejo is setting him up, Uco kills Reza and Bejo before Rama finishes him off and prevents a total shakedown with the Japanese.

There is some speculation that Raid 2 is banned in Malaysia because of its violence. There are some extremely violent movies out there and Raid 2 might be violent but it isn’t as graphically gory as it could have been. The simple reason is cost. It is doubtful that Evans and his producers were keen to spend more (the film already has a US$4.5 million budget) for an R-rating. Scenes of extreme violence such as throat cutting and shotgun blast in the face either take place off-screen or shot from a distance. [To be honest, after one too many such shot-from-a-distance “gory” scenes, you just wished that the director had bitten the bullet and delivered the goods just once!] And the English subtitles betray a tad more expletives than heard on the soundtrack [perhaps Bahasa Indonesia is less kasar (rough)].

That said, Raid 2 is still a pretty violent film and, given the lack of competition currently in the market, is also one of the best action movies around. It certainly beats anything from Donnie Yen. If you’ve seen The Raid: Redemption, you would have seen silat exponent Iko Uwais (Rama) in action [silat is a Malay form of self defence]. Like Bruce Lee and Lau Kar Leung (Liu Chia-liang), Uwais’s specialty is close, hand-to-hand combat, not those requiring wirework (like some of Jackie Chan’s or Yuen Woo-ping’s). At the beginning of Raid 2, Uwais gives a demonstration of his prowess in hand-to-hand combat in close quarters - in the toilet to be precise. It is a showy display that’s disappointing simply because it’s rather “brief” (another couple more minutes would have been more satisfying) and it certainly ranks alongside the memorable Gordon Liu-Wang Lung-wei alleyway fight in Martial Club (1981).

The Raid 2 has two other showstoppers. A highway chase that’s efficiently executed - it’s remarkable because you seldom find scenes this well done in local (Indonesian) cinema - though this would have been par for the course in a Hong Kong or Korean action movie. Then, there is the duel-to-the-death against The Assassin (Cecep Arif Rahman), who uses a pair of Minangkabau/Sumatran curved daggers called kerambit.

While the overall action sequences in the film are intense (and bloody, especially those involving the Hammer Girl and the Baseball Bat Man), Evans’s take on fight scenes remains his very own - you get the “punch” landing in; and - here’s the Evans touch - there is a little follow through, which tends to make the viewer winch, if not wonder, “now, that’s going to really hurt”.

This is what Evans told Interview magazine:

One of the things we do on purpose is, every fight scene we make, we have to have a punch-line element. What I mean by that is, we have the normal choreography and then we have these one or two moments, which are very big gestures - big, extreme moments. We hit you with them, but only for a split second. You get shocked by it, and then we move on. The idea is that it creates a certain amount of levity in the scene; if you can put something up there and the whole audience responds in unison - if everyone gasps at the same time - then you realize you’re in the safety of a cinema because you’re hearing everyone else make the same noise.

Then suddenly, the natural instinct is to laugh because it’s the absurdity of it - the “Oh my god, how crazy was that?” moment and now we’ve shared it. It’s a communal experience where people feel free to react as big as they want, and to laugh as loud as they want, that makes it entertaining. It stops being violent on a repugnant level; it’s not repulsive. The last thing I want to do is make people feel disgusted by what they see. What I want to do is present them with something that is just so absurd that you can’t help but laugh - you can’t take it too seriously.

The Raid: Redemption was a taut and claustrophobic film. It’s what John Carpenter might have attempted if he only had someone of Iko Uwais’s calibre. If there is a downside to Raid 2, it’s that the film is a tad too long at 150 minutes (you don’t really need to spend 30 minutes in the slammer) - that’s what you get when you have a bit more money to spend; the introduction of Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man are more for comic relief; and the death of Bangun’s hired-killer, Prakoso, would have been more poignant if he had bonded somewhat with Rama.

While Quentin Tarantino and RZA are avowed genre fans, it is perhaps Gareth Evans who has really made THE genre film - where there are bits of The Godfather (Prakoso’s death recalls Luca Brasi sleeping with the fishes; and Uco’s killing of his father is like Fredo Corleone suddenly finding a backbone); John Woo’s heroic bloodshed (the buddy-buddy scenes between Rama and another undercover cop Eka); and, of course, those Infernal Affairs films about, what else, but cops who go undercover to fight corruption.

There are (at presstime) 154 user reviews of the film at the IMDB - fairly impressive, given that many consist of lengthy, considered comments; and the generally good word-of-mouth for both Raid: Redemption and Raid 2; together with Joshua Oppenheimer/Christine Cynn/Anonymous’ The Act Of Killing (2012) have certainly put Indonesian cinema in the limelight, quite a feat considering that these are indie films with no state sponsorships.

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