It's only April, but The Raid 2 is the action movie of the year
FILM There are action films. And then there's The Raid 2. One need not have seen 2011's The Raid: Redemption to appreciate this latest collaboration between Welsh director Gareth Evans and Indonesian actor, martial artist, and fight choreographer Iko Uwais — it's recommended, of course, but the sequel stands alone on its own merits.
Overstuffed with gloriously brutal, cleverly staged fight scenes, The Raid 2 — sometimes written with the subtitle "Berendal," which means "thugs" — picks up immediately after the events of the first film. Quick recap of part one: a special-forces team invades an apartment tower controlled by gangsters. Among the cops is idealistic Rama (Uwais). Seemingly bulletproof and fleet of fists and feet, Rama battles his way floor-by-floor, encountering machete-toting heavies and a wild-eyed maniac appropriately named Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian), as well as his own older brother, who's a high-up in the organized crime world. Rama also realizes he's been unwittingly working for a corrupt police lieutenant, who's got a personal beef with the bad guys. The Raid's gritty, unadorned approach (streamlined location and cast, gasp-inducing fights) resonated with thrill seeking audiences weary of CG overload.
"Before we'd screened the first movie anywhere, we watched it to do a tech check on it. After we finished, we thought, 'Ok. We have ... something,'" Evans recalled on a recent visit to San Francisco with Uwais. "But we just kept kind of focusing on, 'There's pixellation here, the picture's not great there.' We were looking at all the problems that you do when you're deep into production on something. Then, when [the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival] happened, it was like, 'Holy shit!' We had no idea it was going to get received like that. And it kept growing! For us, it was this weird experience where something that we'd made within our own little creative vacuum was suddenly being accepted by people."
A second Raid film was inevitable, especially since Evans — who became interested in Indonesian martial arts, or pencak silat, while working on 2007 doc The Mystic Art of Indonesia — already had its story in mind: Rama goes undercover in the underworld, a ploy that necessitates he do a prison stint to gain the trust of a local kingpin. Naturally, not much goes according to plan, and blood is shed along the way, as multiple power-crazed villains set their sinister plans into motion. Evans originally wanted to film it after making 2009's Merantau, his first action film with Uwais, but it proved too costly for the then-unproven team.
"For two years, we were looking for financing, but were not able to get it. So we did the first Raid because it was lower budget. It was like a plan B," Evans said. "After that, our investor was willing to help finance the second one. It bought us better equipment, more time to shoot, better sets. All of that stuff that we spent extra money on went up on the screen."