Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The Raid 2: The Beat Goes On

The Raid 2  is the exact opposite of a date movie, so it sounded weird when some of the nervous laughter echoing around the cinema in the final act had a decidedly girlish tinge to it. The film fails the Bechdel test so hard it almost goes into another dimension. Two female characters with names? No. Having a conversation with each other? No. About anything but a man? No. In fairness, conversation is pretty much a last resort for everyone in the world of The Raid, but it says a lot when the only female character with agency has no name and is a deaf mute. This is a man’s movie. I’m not sure I was manly enough to watch it. Well, I wasn’t. I kept closing my eyes at the gory bits.

Everyone will have their own lesson from the movie; mine was pretty much “Well, now I see why we invented guns.” Your mileage may vary. As always, I did a bit of poking around on the intarwebz after the fact to see if I could find any little nugget which might give me a new angle, and I discovered something which turned my preconceptions on their head.

I had figured, going in, that The Raid 2, what with the number in its name and everything, was the inevitable cash in on the unexpected success of The Raid. So I was expecting kind of a mess; more movie, more punch-ups, but less point to the whole thing as the writer and cast struggled to put together the difficult second movie. 

Not so much. Turns out that The Raid 2 was the movie which Gareth Evans had originally wanted to make, but couldn’t get the money for. So having worked out the script and the fight choreography for that, he put it in a drawer and hustled the much smaller money he needed for a shorter movie with one big endless fight in a slum tower block. The Raid was, if you like, a really long form trailer for The Raid 2. I still prefer the first movie, largely because the second one’s got more of the stuff which was hard going in the first movie and goes on with it for much longer. There’s something numbing about extended silat fights, no matter how well choreographed, and for me the three best sequences in the movie are a wonderful punch up cum car chase, and two short bits of horrible but imaginative violence involving a) the deaf mute girl - and two hammers - and b) her sidekick and a baseball bat.

The new story is; hero - and sole survivor - of the first movie is talked into going undercover among Jakarta’s gangs to expose police corruption. Two and a half hours later, almost everyone else in the movie is dead and I didn’t see a single crime being prevented. If there was anyone left to sit down and have an after action report with, topic one on any sensible agenda would be “On balance, did this operation have a positive effect on Jakarta’s crime figures?” Seriously, Iko Uwais is like Ebola in sneakers; everywhere he goes, everyone else falls down bleeding from every orifice. If you think about it as a crime reduction strategy based on reducing the number of criminals, I suppose it makes sense, but I hate to think what the unexplained deaths numbers looked like at the end of the quarter.

Other than the useful lesson that guns are just so much more relaxing than beating people to death (As far as I can tell this scene was deleted from every copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark ever shown in Indonesia), the other big takeaway in The Raid 2 is the importance of team work. Again and again the big ticket fighters get into rumbles with mobs of opponents, who come at them one at a time so that they can get taken out piecemeal. The Raid managed, with its tight budget and tight framing, to make this less noticeable, but The Raid 2 is playing out in much wider spaces, and the choreography gets too hard to ignore. The best fights in The Raid 2 all happen in tight places; Hammer-fight happens in a tube train; baseball-carnage is a rapid run through a scattered gang who’ve been taken unawares; and the car-fight happens INSIDE a car (I was watching it thinking of Alfonso Cuaron’s reaction when he gets round to seeing it).

Points to ponder; if you like beat-em-ups, watch The Raid; if you really liked that, you’ll love The Raid 2. If you found The Raid hard going, but you want to watch a movie about oriental cops infiltrating oriental criminal gangs, watch Infernal Affairs, passing in silence over the real cultural and physical distance between Hong Kong and Jakarta being rather greater than the distance between Ireland and Poland. But above all, remember the golden rules; bring a gun, and remember the importance of team work. 

No comments: