By Simon Miraudo
March 25, 2014
The world of cinema is full of many wonders, chief among them in 2014, writer-director Gareth Evans‘ unending well of inventive ways to kill people on screen. Berandal – the sequel to his murder-a-minute action spectacular The Raid – showcases perhaps the best martial artistry ever committed to celluloid, as well as a slew of the most incredible gasp-and-groan-and-guffaw-inducing deaths. Its format has been altered significantly from its predecessor’s, dropping the single-location setting and instead sprawling out across the streets of Indonesia, as well as spilling into its prisons. The passage of time is also greater: whereas Part One took place over a day, Part Two spans half a decade. Evans’ desire to make the Indonesian Godfather – evidenced by the bloated 150-minute length – keeps The Raid 2 from surpassing its leaner, meaner parent. Still, it delivers some of the finest, rawest fight sequences ever filmed. Surely that’s what we’re paying to see.
Iko Uwais reprises his role as Rama, Indonesia’s last good cop, and one of the few survivors of the first flick’s suicide mission. Having been rescued by the chief of Jakarta’s anti-corruption task-force, Rama is sent to prison under the name Yuda, tasked with a new mission: to befriend the well-coiffed Keiichi (Ryuhei Matsuda), son of mob kingpin Goto (Kenichi Endō). If Rama can get in close with the family and discover which cops and politicians are in on the take, the task-force can bring down corruption for good (err…) and get our hero safely back to his family. Only problem is, ingratiating oneself with Keiichi is not necessarily as simple as sparing him from the occasional shiv. To gain his attention, Rama has to fend off an army of assailants. For access into his inner circle… well, Rama practically has to break the neck of every inmate and guard during a muddy, prison-yard riot. That last sequence is just one of Berandal‘s many impossible-seeming shots; a prolonged single take of unbridled, bone shattering devastation. (Evans surely cheated by working a few cuts in, but no one watching the thing could possibly care.)
I’ve barely covered the opening act in the above synopsis. Oh, how I wish I could explain concisely the way in which bloodthirsty-siblings ‘Hammer Girl’ (Julie Estelle) and ‘Baseball Bat Man’ (Very Tri Yulisman) factor into the climax, though I’d have to break down the rest of the tortuous plot (a feat I’m not sure I’d be able to accomplish if I tried). Of the criticisms that might be levelled against The Raid by someone uncharmed by its non-stop butchery, “convolution” isn’t one of them. Evans might have bitten off more than he could chew in this follow-up, producing no less than two rival gangs for the Gotos to conspire against, as well as a series of back-stabbings and betrayals that, frankly, lose potency as the picture becomes more distended. Eastern Promises got the same job done in 90 minutes (and David Cronenberg managed to squeeze in a naked, gory fight scene too).
What Evans is unsurpassed at, however, is crafting memorable set pieces, and he’s aided superbly by fight choreographers Uwais and Yayan Ruhian. (Ruhian’s ‘Mad Dog’ was handily dispatched in The Raid, yet he’s back once again playing a much nicer, equally effective assassin here.) Each battle is punctuated with comic beats and builds to a wrenching climax; as they layer upon one another, the film reaches an absurd crescendo of carnage. Fearless cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono are right there amongst the action, miraculously not getting themselves killed even when it looks like they’re doing more dangerous stuff than the stuntmen themselves. At one point the camera jumps through a window in hot pursuit of a fleeing criminal; later, the camera exits a moving car only to find its way into another moving car. Yes, it’s probably all a fakery; movie magic at its most magical. The Raid 2: Berandal is so astounding you’ll eagerly believe it’s happening for real. Never before has the bloody slaughter of dozens provided such delights.
The Raid 2: Berandal arrives in Australian cinemas March 28, 2014.