This seems to be my season for watching challenging films. I’ll be the first to admit that martial arts/action films is not my favourite genre. I never even saw CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON for that reason. So, it was with a huge grain of garam that I chose to watch the Indonesian film, THE RAID 2.
As the title suggests, the film is the sequel to a story that saw rookie Jakarta policeman, Rama (Indonesian traditional martial artist/actor Iko Uwais) take on that city’s underworld. THE RAID 2 begins, apparently (because I never saw the first one), hours after its predecessor ends. In this installment (yes, THE RAID 3 has already been announced), Rama is informed by the city’s anti-crime and corruption boss that he had only cleaned up the inconsequential scum in the criminal pond. The big fish are still there swimming around. Rama is asked to go underground to infiltrate one of Jakarta’s two crime families with the goal to ultimately wipe out both groups. Of course, Rama is not too keen on that plan so soon after his first foray into serious crime busting but he has no choice. If he doesn’t act now, the lives of his wife and infant son will be at risk by the family he dissed in the first film.
So Rama says goodbye to his wife and goes to jail for – get this – two years. Now that’s commitment! And this is no ordinary jail either. There is hard core and then there is this place. Within minutes of his arrival, he is set upon by 20 angry inmates, whom he quickly subdues with his rapid-fire punches and high kicking acrobatics. This feat grabs the attention of Uco (Arifin Putra), who is the imprisoned son of the boss of the targeted crime family, and the two of them soon form an alliance of mutual need. Rama is “in”.
Two years and a spectacularly choreographed mud fight later, Uco, who is already free, comes to pick Rama up from the jail. He offers Rama a job in his father’s organisation and for the next 90 minutes it’s basically one bloodfest after another with Rama taking on the minions of not one, not two, but three crime syndicates. (Wait! Didn’t the anti-crime guy say that there were just two groups controlling the city?) Meanwhile, Uco has ambitions to take on more responsibility, though his father, Bangun, thinks it’s too soon. Uco is too hot-headed and Bangun thinks his rashness will only lead to their demise. Unfortunately for Bangun, Uco forms an alliance with the head of the third syndicate that is seeking to change the criminal landscape in Jakarta. As each player jockeys into position in this all-out turf war, Rama finds himself in the middle of it all and must pull out plenty of tricks from his bag of martial arts manoeuvres to stay alive.
Considering I don’t really like this genre of films, I’ve got to say that it wasn’t too bad. The martial arts choreography was top notch. There is one scene at the end of the film between Rama and a character known as “the Assassin” (Cecep Arif Rahmani) that is like watching a master class. These two men are amazingly agile. Rahmani is apparently a trainer in the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat. One of the weapons the practitioners of this art form use is a tiger claw-shaped blade known as a karambit. In the film, the Assassin attaches one of them to each hand and turns feral. You definitely don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of those babies!
Another enjoyable scene is the car chase through Jakarta. If you have ever been there, you know that the streets are never that empty. They surely had to shut down huge sections of the city to film these scenes but it was worth it. There is great action and great photography.
This is not a perfect film by any means and the plot does have some gaping holes in it. Maybe it’s just me but it seems a bit far-fetched to think that one guy can singlehandedly bring down a whole crime syndicate let alone three. And the business about Rama’s family being in mortal danger never seems that apparent. But if you’re prepared to suspend all logic and reason (like seeing snow in Jakarta’s streets), and endure a lot of blood and gore for 2-1/2 hours, you’re in for a good time.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 41:35.)