Film Review: THE RAID 2: BERANDAL

Hello, once again.

THE RAID (aka THE RAID: REDEMPTION) (2011, Gareth Evans) was a piece of jaw-dropping extreme cinema. A martial-arts film that dispensed with almost anything that resembles a plot, within the first few minutes of the movie’s 101-minute run time, and then went into scene-after-scene of jaw-dropping violence. (The plot is so threadbare, that you can sum it up in ten words: Indonesian police infiltrate apartment block, then slaughter and get slaughtered.) There we had a film pared-down to its most basic of elements, refined and honed to within an inch of its life, and the result was one fine piece of movie-making, breaking out into the World Cinema scene.

Three years later, and THE RAID 2: BERANDAL (2014, Gareth Evans), which translates as “Thugs” in Indonesian, makes it to select cinemas around the globe, but with a much more complex plot line, and even more vicious violence.

Continuing-on, about 30 minutes after the end of its predecessor, we find our hero Rama (Indonesian superstar, Iko Uwais) having killed crime-lord Tama Riyadi, and now – having luckily escaped the apartment block – Rama’s brother Andi is quickly terminated by young, and influential gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad). Rama meets with honest cop, Bunawar whom his brother had sent him to meet at the end of the first film, and he is coerced into joining an Anti-Corruption Team out to infiltrate Commissioner Reza’s less-than-honest actions, to protect his family and his own identity. Rama is then forced to deliberately commit a criminal act, in order to be placed into jail, to infiltrate another gang, in order to then meet-out justice to the gang’s fatherly leader.

To those of you who have seen the film already, I know my description above only skirts around the full plot line, and for that, I apologise, but it’s so complex to try and explain it all, that I’m afraid I have to admit defeat here! What does follow, is 150 minutes of carnage and brutality on a scale I think is unparallelled in recent cinema! Yes, you did read that correctly: this film runs to two-and-a-half-hours! It’s very long, but – by God – this has some hellishly strong scenes of violence that shocked even me at times!

In fact, the violence has already caused problems. In Malaysia, the film has technically been banned. For reasons unknown, the Malay Censorship Board have refused to state why the film has not been granted a certificate for public screenings. Even in the USA, the MPAA have demanded some cuts for the prolonged scenes of violence, to make it acceptable for an R-Rating! Welsh director Evans said that the cuts were only minimal, amounting to a few frames here-and-there, specifically in the infamous Claw Hammer / Baseball Bat sequence. Here, in the normally censorious United Kingdom, we are the first country to see the film completely uncut-and-uncensored in a theatrical environment! The BBFC even kindly responded to an e-mail I sent to them, asking for their view on the prolonged and extreme violence depicted, and they said:

At 18 violence can be strong and be portrayed with strong detail. The strongest gory images are permitted at this category. Accordingly, THE RAID 2 was classified 18 indicating it is only suitable for adults. The Guidelines also state that adults should be free to chose their own entertainment, provided the material in question is not illegal or likely to cause harm. We do not believe there is anything in THE RAID 2 that is likely to be harmful to the adult audience for whom it has been classified.

When I went back to see what the BBFC said on their website, about the film’s content, it says:

There are a number of protracted fight scenes, featuring the use of knives, guns and other weapons. One character uses claw hammers against her enemies. There are frequent gory images, during and in the aftermath of these fights.There is also strong language (‘fuck’) and a sex scene.

That’s not entirely true, which is why I shall now elaborate. This film is one of the most brutally violent films I’ve ever seen! I say this, even as someone who has seen (and owns) material the BBFC have banned outright! So, I say this, with my eyes completely open! This is NOT your run-of-the-mill violence. In both screenings, I saw hardened adults cower, wince, and cover their eyes at some of the brutality on show. None of what I am about to say will spoil things for anyone here, but let me just say, you won’t truly appreciate the sheer balls-out nature of what the film depicts, until you see it for yourself. This is the kind of film that the Daily Mail will go positively apoplectic over!

There are three major sequences in the film, which in chronological order, are:
1) A rainstorm prison fight, between rival gangs and prison staff
2) The infamous Claw Hammer / Baseball Bat sequence
3) The Kitchen Fight sequence, and finale!

Now, if you thought the first film was barbarous, trust me, you ain’t seen nothing yet! Here we have a film that – rightly or wrongly – positively revels in the violence! It is a film that will become infamous in years to come, for the on-screen slaughter you are served-up with. Quite simply, I think this is a game-changer for the BBFC and their censorship rules.

In each of the three key sequences, there are the usual martial-arts style violence – kicks to the head, the body; arm chops; punches to the groin, face, etc, etc. What makes the film’s violence so utterly sadistic and uncompromising, and what you get here, is martial arts action amped-up beyond anything you can imagine, and you do see some truly grim moments. Several characters have their faces and heads, pushed into concrete walls, repeatedly, until their jaws crack or the faces collapse in a bloody pulp. Some have their heads pushed into walls, and then they have their faces dragged along said walls, tearing all the flesh off. One man has his throat torn out, windpipe-and-all.

We see another character have their face placed against a hot, flat, metal cooking griddle, and their face “seared” for over 20 seconds non-stop, whilst the skin blisters and burns. (This occurs both on- and off-screen!) A man has a baseball bat embedded so deeply into his mouth, the bat stays wedged into it! Arms and legs are broken, or wrenched from their sockets. Ankles are gouged with wooden spikes. Another character has their neck exposed, and a half-broken bottle is repeatedly thrust into their throat, until they bleed to death. One character has a sawn-off shotgun placed a few feet from their head, and the trigger is pulled, and you see the after-effects of such a shot! (And it ain’t pleasant!)

I could go on, and on, and on! Never have I seen a film on the one hand so incredibly exciting, and yet so utterly unrepentantly brutal as I have when watching THE RAID 2. My heart was beating faster than normal, and I genuinely felt exhilarated! In effect, I was seeing how film violence can genuinely turn an audience on…

…And I wasn’t the only one.

As I mentioned earlier, I scanned other viewers in the audience I was watching with, and there were smiles of excitement and happiness at the on-screen carnage. It was as if we were all participating in the same computer game level, and revelling in the butchery, together – as one! That shocked me! My own reactions to what I was witnessing on-screen shocked me too! I can’t recall any film that has had that kind of effect on me, since first seeing James Cameron’s TERMINATOR 2: JUDGEMENT DAY way back in 1991. The major difference here, was that most of the violence in that film was clearly special effects – two robotic beings. So there was a real detachment from reality.

Not in THE RAID 2!

Evidently, (and in spite of what it may seem, I do know this), the actors didn’t actually hurt or kill anyone, and that’s a major testament to the skill and talent these men and women have in the perfectly choreographed fight scenes, but the emotional effect on the audience, was that the sheer visceral impact on us was such, that we felt like we were actually right there, in the heat of the moment, watching real people in actual hand-to-hand combat, slaying one another! In all my years of seeing films in a cinema, this film – to write that oh-so-cliched statement – really does pack a punch – literally!

Was it the fighting doing this? Was it the sheer ferocity of violence on show? Was it the combination of editing and choreography, skilfully combined with another pulse-pounding, throbbing score from Joe Trapanese? If I’m honest, it was probably all of these and more! If you can see this on a big-screen, with a big crowd, this is where the film will certainly work best for an audience. On DVD and Blu-Ray, you are unlikely to experience the same “hard-hitting” effect.

The film is in a wide 2.39:1 Cinemascope ratio, and outside of one or two moments in the film, it’s not really used to make the film feel epic, in the usual sense of the word. There are almost no Panoramic vistas, other than the opening few moments. However, Cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono have maximised the ‘Scope frame, to make the fighting – which constitutes 90% of what you see – as visceral, as bloody, as hard-hitting and ultimately, as effective as they can. You will feel every punch and kick, and I defy anyone to say that this film did not effect them.

So, is the film worth your time or hard-earned cash? Yes, absolutely, but with a couple of reservations. Firstly, the violence. Be warned, this is really, really tough-going at times, and some of the violence is unbearably nasty! Combined with the bone-crunching score and Sound Effects, you will feel like you’ve been put through the wringer on this. It’s not an easy or comfortable watch, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all, if more countries end-up censoring or banning the film outright.

Secondly, the plot is very complex! Even after having seen it twice, I’m still not 100% certain of who was who in the various gang affiliations, though it did start to make more sense on the subsequent viewing. So don’t worry too much, if you can’t quite get your head around things. You probably won’t be the only one. Simply be prepared to just go with the film’s natural, and high-octane flow, revel in the violence and the spectacular Pencak Silat style of martial arts unique to Indonesia. This is a film you will inevitably want to come back too, even if only to confirm what you think you saw on a previous viewing. And once you’ve confirmed that seeing was believing, you may be able to try and get your head around who all the various gangsters and assorted characters are, and how they relate to each other. (I’m sure someone enterprising on the Internet, will eventually develop a Raid Character Flowchart to explain who everyone is and their relationship to each other!)

All-things-said, the film is very, very good. I can see why some have accused it of being “bloated” and “confusing”, but this sequel is better than it had any right to be. Just one of the key action scenes would have made any other martial-arts movie pretty bloody spectacular, but having three in the same film, will take your breath away.The director has already announced that THE RAID 3 will eventually be written and filmed, but not for another two or three years, as he wants a break from martial arts film-making. Allegedly, the sequel takes place (somehow) in parallel to the second film, and will be set two hours after the end of the first one! Whatever it is about, I’m sure it will be tough to top the first two. I just hope that THE RAID 3 will be the final one. I would hate for the franchise to become as tired and cliched as so many other previous genre franchises have done.

Is it the “Greatest action film ever made” as Internet Blog site We Got You Covered claims? It comes very close, but in my view, it doesn’t quite reach those very lofty heights, because the violence is so extreme and the plot so convoluted, that it sometimes feels like it’s purely a showcase of action scenes, with little cohesion to make it into a fully-formed filmic whole. (For my money, John Woo’s HARD BOILED (1992) is the quintessential action film of recent times, that has yet to be topped. The 17-minute “Hospital Massacre” finale sequence is simply action-nirvana that has been unsurpassed!) With that said, it’s definitely a 9/10 job!

THE RAID 2: BERANDAL is currently showing in selected cinemas around the globe, though you may have to do some digging (and possibly, some travelling too) to get to see it on the Big Screen, and has a provisional UK DVD and Blu-Ray release date of Monday 8th July. I’ll add any additional info r.e. censorship issues for the home-viewing releases, once they are announced. The US DVD and Blu-Ray release is going to be the cut R-Rated version. So, at the moment, the UK release will probably end-up being the first uncut home-viewing release anywhere in the Western world!

Pre-Orders now up on Amazon UK, for those who wish to own it!

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Film Review: THE RAID 2: BERANDAL

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