I’m pretty sure that director Gareth Evans has earned the respect and admiration by now of every studio, critic and fan alive today who are witnessing the magic happening over in Indonesia with his star, actor Iko Uwais. Following the 2009 action adventure thriller Merantau came the production of their second stint together for Seruban Maut, a.k.a. The Raid. I saw the film on a whim back in 2012 at a last-minute discovery while sifting through movie listings, and lucky enough as I was to have caught it in my local theater, for this, I was also invariably overjoyed and overwhelmed.
Only a small handful of people were in the theater with me where I attended, but it was one of the most unforgettable big screen martial arts action spectacles I had ever witnessed. That same evening, I left the theater completely fulfilled with high hopes that a quality director like Evans was out there making great movies like this, and I didn’t have to wait for them to come on DVD to see it. And two years later on the heels of seeing the already highly heralded sequel, that sentiment remains to this day more than ever.
Evans places a lot of focus on character development, enhancing the dramatic as much as needed, and there is never an embalance of any kind during this process while delivering the appropriately-timed action. On top of Uwais, The Raid: Redemption introduced a slate of really talented physical actors, including Joe Taslim who has since made a gradual transition to Hollywood co-starring in Fast And Furious 6 last year, with another lead role on the way very soon. For many, watching Taslim act and perform on the set of such a spectacular film was a first, featuring in one of the most brutal cinematic fights in movie history with Merantau Films regular, Yayan Ruhian, whose own acting, choreography and screenfighting capabilities continue to be pivotal in designing the very brand of action Evans presents in his films.
Sahetapy and fellow actor Pierre Gruno do an amazing job as the antagonistic backbone of the first film setting up the very narrative of the franchise as a whole for Uwais, whose transition as an actor since Merantau has granted him a continually evolving skillset as a premier action star who knows how to design fight sequences as well as act. And it certainly shows in both movies, especially in some of the more poignant split-scene moments with actress Fikha Efendi who plays his wife, as well as scenes with Alamsyah who plays Rama’s estranged brother, Andi.
The story’s expansion in the sequel is layered with so many variables, with interpersonal relationships and friendships on display that invoke a lot of the intricacies that exist in the criminal underworld, particularly with the unique friendship shared by Bangun and Uco with loyal family friend, Prakoso (Ruhian), whose scruffy appearance may lead you to believe him of a lesser civil, more brutish killer than that of his previous achievement as Tama’s insane right hand man, Mad Dog in the first film. Instead, we are offered an extremely flawed-yet-sociable character whose toxic, conditional interpersonal relationships and struggles are the only real thing he has going for himself; It is just this kind of poignancy that helps further drive the root of the film, drama, and not necessarily added as a mere attempt to bring empty drama into an action film. And adding to this is actor Oka Antara‘s portrayal of Eka, whose supporting role as one of Bangun’s men proves influential in its own way toward the sequel’s climax, as well as that of co-star Ryuhei Matsuda who plays Keiichi, one of two of Goto’s lieutenants next to Ryuichi (Kazuki Kitamura).
The action in the first film pushes boundaries and techniques to places that have not been exhibited on the big screen in a really, really long time, most notably in age where watered-down PG-13 action seems to dominate the executive decisions of most film studios. As for the sequel, Evans and his team took what they did in the first movie, and they let out all the stops, with more set pieces and bigger locations to suit a much larger scope for the action and story alike, with a level of choreography, violence and action performance that, in my filmgoing history, has not generated such a level of noise within the crowd since Jet Li intimidated an entire police station in the 2001 thriller, Kiss Of The Dragon; While watching The Raid 2, there were even points in some action sequences of the new sequel where I was literally screaming “BUT THAT’S HIS FACE!!!” before I digressed and said to myself, “Well…at leaat that used to be his face! :-/”.
I will even go as far as to say this: If Picasso were a Southeast Asian gangland enforcer before he became an artist and decided to tell his life story on canvas, that is exactly what The Raid and The Raid 2 have accomplished, and that is no exaggeration either. When you read reviews about The Raid and its new follow-up calling it a “masterpiece”, you are talking about a film from a director that has taken the genre world by storm and redefined what it means to direct an action movie. And the results have proven to be more than prudential.
Not to undercut what some PG-13 flicks have been able to achieve in terms of action; sometimes for certain films, after all, what works works. But in other cases, what doesn’t work won’t. And fortunately, Merantau Films and XYZ Films figured this out early on. Hardcore genre fans want gritty, unabashed R-rated action in a film that simply hits all the right notes in all the right places (some harder than others). The ever-increasingly uplifting and positive responses to Evans‘s work in the last five years should serve as a mighty example of that. And to the aspiring director/action aficionado out there who feels she or he can own up to the task of creating something equal in force and delivery, if not better: consider yourself challenged!
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.