Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Review: The Raid 2

Version I Watched: Theatrical in it's original Indonesian (among other) language with English subtitles. I'm sure a dub will happen with the DVD release but bleh.

History: While a sequel, it was written before the first movie was made. Mostly because this was meant to be the movie made in the first place. After funding fell through a smaller project was put together which became the first movie, The Raid: Redemption. The movie premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival with a limited theatrical run after. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reviews it didn't get a lot of money back and some theatres closed it's run after one week. Still it currently holds an 80% on rotten tomatoes.

Personal History: First viewing of this title. Am familiar with the first film which I saw sometime last year. The first film I was so blown away by I ranked it as one of the top 5 action films of at least the last decade, if not longer.Wait til you see what I thought of this one.

Review: There are plenty of genres and styles of movie that have gotten worse over the years. Many would argue horror, the lack of sci-fi (with the exception of roughly the last year and coming months), and so forth. Usually it's based on nostalgia cause the movies of today don't give them that same excitement as when they were a kid, understandably. But then blame the lack of skill of modern filmmakers even when in some cases they're doing it better than ever. The action genre is definitely one of those genres that has improved. The obvious example has been the rise in quality super hero movies when as recent as the early 2000s were turning out almost nothing but crap. But the action genre generally speaking has been amazing over the years while also pretty crap. I can't count how many times I've watched any old action flick only to find out there's next to NO ACTION. Outside of some quick, random gunfights or maybe a standoff at the end. Yet the last ten years or so has been an incredible rise in quality in action flicks.
A part of that is the increase in technology. New styles are opening up, more creative minds are making action flicks more of an art than a body-builder's cash in or a reason to make a wrestler an actor, and even with the improvement of CG comes the improvement of using it in an unnoticeable way, or the overuse of CG in some is making the non-CG ones even more impressive by still going through the organic effort instead of taking the easy way out. And of course with this increase in technology and creativity is the ever improving far eastern action movies. Kung fu, or in a more proper term, martial arts movies have always been impressive. These days they're better than ever. Two of my bronze/silver/gold action flicks are from that part of the world. One being the first Raid (at the moment, that may change by the end of this), The Protector, and then my non-Asian favorite is Crank (an action movie that promises non-stop action and actually delivers!)
So how does one of the best action films in the last decade (that was made with a million dollar budget) improve in a sequel? Well, I'll try and tell you.

The Raid 2 does what every sequel should. It uses the first as a jumping off point by taking the original story and concept and improving on it. It was made bigger, more exciting, and added much more story. The first was a pretty straightforward story. A S.W.A.T. team raids (as you would expect) and become trapped in a large apartment building run by a powerful mobster. They spend the entire story fighting and surviving (which doesn't end well for most). It's an amazing action movie with awesome stunts and fights. And the fact that it all takes place in one location in somewhat real time is something I go crazy over. Simple concept, simple story, incredible execution.
The sequel does many things similar but instead of one location they expand much further. When the story gets going in 2 you realize that the first movie was pretty much a 100 minute prologue to everything that happens next. Which makes sense because the sequel was written first, obviously not intending to be a sequel in the first place. When funding fell through the writer/director was able to fund a less expensive project that would become the first movie. I thought that was really cool when I found out. Especially since the second movie was far more massive in story. So if anything the first movie showed restraint despite being absolutely incredible in damn near everything! SO THEN despite that one would imagine the sequel would be crap since passion projects tend to be the most pretentious. Not quite. So much work went into the sequel before it became the sequel that it was finely tuned. Even the choreography was done to a point!
Now when I say the does everything every sequel should I am not kidding. In short it takes the first movie and BLOWS IT OUT OF THE WATER!

The Raid 2 takes place within a couple hours of the first Raid ending. Try not to take that too far with you because it doesn't take long to jump further than that. Anyway, within those two hours the hero from the last Raid, Rama, is approached by the police to go undercover and take down the same mob that controlled the apartment building that was just raided. Rama agrees which starts with him going to prison so he can get close with the son of the mob's head. Now this is something that could have been the whole movie. We've seen it before and it wouldn't be surprising if it was done again. This was only the beginning. He becomes close to Yuda and it grants him parole (the police are definitely not as involved as you would expect) after two years instead of the few short months he was promised.
I don't think I'm spoiling anything major when I say the rest of the movie is somewhat standard mobster fare. And that's okay. It's always an exciting move because of the unpredictability with who will live, who will be knocked off, the betrayals, double crosses, deals, hits, and the list goes on. And while it's always cool to see they can tend to look samey. Last year I got the chance to see a Korean mobster movie at the WI Film Fest, Nameless Gangster. It was a good movie overall but since it was a pretty standard story of gangsters it didn't make it as exciting as it could have been. What makes The Raid 2 so much better a mob and action movie is how it adds style over the typical mobster story. And by style I mean kick fucking ass fighting!

Action movies tend to be accused of being style over substance. In a way The Raid 2 has that. But what it has that other "style over substance" movies is the style itself has substance. The fight scenes are absolutely top notch. Again it took the already incredible fight scenes from the first Raid and amplified it. And don't take the lack of fight scenes in the first good chunk of the movie get you down. It may not have an amplified, ninety miles an hour start like Crank does. This is closer to a train engine. It takes a little while to get going but once it's going it is GOING GOOD! But this isn't meant to be a fast paced action thriller. This is a crime drama with some kick ass fight scenes. And the thing I love about overseas action is that they can do martial arts right. These are people who trained for months, in many cases years to master their moves they bring to the screen. Some do it for the show, some do it because it's a part of their life. Either way it translates very well and the variety included here is all over.
One of the first fight scenes we get literally takes place in a bathroom stall. Rama is still a newbie in jail but he managed to piss off one of the gangs. Said gang rallies up in the bathroom while Rama waits for them to break through the door. When they do he starts throwing punches and kicks at speeds I didn't know a human could. I sat in awe seeing him pull the moves he did, throwing enemies far into the air, beating the shit out of all of them single handed with the only handicap being the small entrance into the stall. A mind-bending introduction to the even more incredible fights we'll see coming up.

Yes, I specifically stated I was impressed by the actor doing the moves, not necessarily the movie makers in this case. While I do like the gritty look and feel (and some amazing uses of the color red later) if it weren't for the martial artists doing what they're doing this would almost look like any other action flick from Asia. What makes this special, much like Ong-Bak, The Protector, and so forth is the moves are real. So real to the point that they had to control their speed and landings so they don't legitimately hurt each other. They also spent a lot of time bonding with one another so the psychological reactions don't go overboard and start punching back out of frustration. So no wires, no CG, all real people fighting the way they learned how. Well... obviously they don't kill people for real. That should be understood. But all the moves choreographed are all them and DAMN does it look good!
Other fights range in expanse and tightness from scene to scene. I of course mentioned the bathroom stall, but later in the movie there's a fight, I kid you not, in the back seat of a four door. These small fights look great but also the big fights. While Rama is still in prison a huge battle royale takes place. Dudes getting killed left and right all out in this open, outdoor common in the mud/clay. It's pretty intense especially when everyone gets so messy you can't tell who is a guard and who is a prisoner. These fluctuation of fight size range constantly so you never know what's coming next. Lots of weapon fighting other than fists, a fantastic car chase, and so much more!

In second place for making these fights look their best is tied between the cinematography and editing. This movie is brilliantly shot and put together. In an age where majority of action movies are shaky and quickly cut every other frame this kind of movie stands out by not doing that... for the most part. Yes there are sadly moments where it falls into those tricks. For the most part it does not. It has longer shots than your average action flick. This helps emphasize the realism of the real fighting going on, on screen. The long shots mean you get to see every punch as it happens, not just how they organized it. It never reaches the length of the five minute single shot seen in The Protector but the look and feel of these lengthy scenes with lengthier shots make the fighting that much more intense.
Going to the cinematography itself, the way they use it was very unique. One thing I likes was how it followed the fights very naturally and in ways you wouldn't expect. You feel more like an eye witness to these fights when it's not doing quick cuts or extreme closeups. Like you're caught in the middle trying to dodge punches, kicks, throws, and getting caught up generally speaking. Not only that but the way it follows gives somewhat a perspective of the fighter itself. A few times a shot is used (as you'd see in the trailer) where it follows the fighter upright even if they've been thrown or fallen to the ground. For example, a guy jumps through a window but doesn't land on his feet. The camera turns sideways, making it appear he is laying against a wall. Similar shot when a man's face is thrown onto a table. Simple idea, really effective.

And that's one of the best things about this movie. It does have a big story but the concepts are all simple, straightforward, but done so well that it's impressive to see. Many people complain about the over use of CG in modern movies. You really don't think about it as much as you think you do until you see something like this. Something so polar opposite that you wonder why you ever watched anything unlike it. Why you bothered paying up to see some of the more popular super hero movies when you could see someone who could actually kick ass for real, not just realistically fake.  It's great how this movie is absolutely top notch with the fighting but is unafraid to be clumsy.
One of the reasons I can't stand some modern action or the "super-spy" shows is because it's too polished while trying to force clumsy goofs for the sake of a good laugh. Like that scene towards the end of Iron Man 2. Black Widow is taking out bad guy after bad guy while her secret agent buddy is having trouble with just the one out front. Don't get me wrong, for that movie the scene works yet it still gets too corny for me. And of course The Raid 2 is something totally different. In these more realistic fights we've got the incredible martial arts. But my favorite is how clumsy they are in the fights. The minions, even the heroes and bad, bad guys don't have perfect style and stance. They trip, stumble, some go down in one bad punch and for obviously good reason (the blows hit hard!), and damages are carried instead of walking away like it didn't happen.
It's one of those things where it's hard to go back to the cornball, overly produced action after you've seen action that's the exact opposite.

A part of me wishes more movies like this are being made but I also wish the opposite. Over saturation can and usually is a bad thing. The reason this is so good is because there's so many unlike it. Back to super heroes, everyone was really excited when the newest generation of these movies came out. Batman Begins, Iron Man, The Avengers, and I don't know how comic book fans feel (probably not the way I do) but I feel there's so many coming out that it's hard to be too excited anymore. They've all been really cool, but few have "blown me away." And that's because it's the same tricks over and over, and in the comic book movie case is to appeal to as many audiences as possible. Whereas The Raid and The Raid 2 are exactly what the creators wanted and it just so happened to appeal to a huge audience. The perfect hybrid.
There's talks of a third movie and that has me worried. I was open to the first sequel despite the first being so good. But this one was so much better than the first that I find it hard to believe a third Raid would be anywhere of equal value. I can't see it staying level, only going down. Probably not a lot. I can imagine it would be of higher value than most action. I'm just hoping the over saturation doesn't set in.

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