The Raid 2, and things about snow
For those who watched the violence-fest that is The Raid back in 2011, the Gareth Evans-led action flick was a not-so-gentle reminder that Indonesian movies can fare much better in the right hands. It was indeed catered to a specific audience and not exactly a Sunday family treat, but it was a boom anyway. Everybody watched it and left thoroughly impressed — regardless of whether they actually enjoyed the bloodbath or not. In this spirit, Evans returns with a sequel that once again reminds us that we can actually watch quality entertainment with Indonesian faces on a big screen.
Now, I’m gonna spare you some story spoiling: Rama (Iko Uwais) returns to infiltrate the Jakarta crime syndicate led by Bangun (Tio Pakusadewo) by befriending his son Uco (Arifin Putra), while eyeing the up-and-rising gangster Bejo (Alex Abbad) who plans on taking over Jakarta from Bangun and the Japanese gang led by Goto (Ken’ichi Endo). That’s about as concise as you can get to know the story without ruining the fun. The story isn’t caged within an old building like its predecessor, and it’s the best part of the whole package: instead of repeating the old formula, Evans takes pieces from Hong Kong crime thrillers like Hard Boiled and Infernal Affairs and made it distinctively Indonesian (or, probably, Jakartan). Scenes between Uco seeking affirmation from his father to run the business are genuinely touching and tense, thanks to the immersive talent of Arifin Putra transforming his character from a spoiled brat to a shotgun-toting menace as the film goes. He is a proof that acting in FTVs and sinetrons doesn’t necessarily corrupt your capabilities as an actor, and that we’ve got a ready stock of actors and actresses ready to up their ante from cheesy TV dramas.
One noticeable comment from the audience is how the roads were so empty to provide a comfortably crazy car chase scene, notably the SCBD and Blok M areas. Or how a murder rampage could happen in a train usually packed with people at weekdays. Of course, it’s tolerable and it should be, because it’s not Jakarta, it’s fictionalized Jakarta. Vehicular manslaughter between rival crime syndicates don’t happen daily either in Los Angeles, but people are already so used to it thanks to numerous Hollywood action blockbusters. In that case, you better get ready, because Jakarta and maybe even Medan, Balikpapan or Bandung will be witnesses to epic car chases in future movies (crossing fingers). Who knows? If anything, the weakest link of the whole package is the two-dimensional characterization of Rama, who seems to be nothing more than a pawn in the huge game of killing — that somehow gets the closure through the usual blood spillage, because he’s still the biggest face in the movie poster.
Oh, and the snow scene. It’s not much of a plothole. There is nothing better to demonstrate the visionary ideas of Gareth Evans than the dramatic killing under the falling snow in front of noodle carts that boggles the thousand minds of the audience: 99.999% of Indonesians (except those that have been to Mt. Jaya in the eastern end of the country) have never experienced snow anywhere within the borders of Indonesia. Snow is an alien thing because it’s a goddamn tropical country. However, I didn’t believe the scene was included without reason, and fortunately at the screening I was on, Mr. Evans himself was present for a little Q&A session. According to the man himself, (a bit paraphrasing here) he intended to create an allusion that Bejo’s presence in various scenes is associated with temperature drops. It’s also the reason why Uco’s breath was visible when he took a phonecall from Bejo, as if it were freezing in the karaoke. But then he said beforehand that it was the ‘bullshit’ version and the real version is simply because blood just looks fucking good on snow, so there’s that. Can’t argue with that, Gareth. I’d say it’s more of a metaphorical choice, demonstrating the overwhelming presence of the rising gangster in town that it even created an impossible situation that anyone haven’t ever encountered before in Jakarta.
That kind of potentially fourth-wall-breaking anomaly is also ultimately a show of transcendence of The Raid 2: Berandal, from movie as an art form, into excessive violence, into an art form again. The fight scenes are almost poetic, like the ones with Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man (never thought Julie Estelle could break off her typecast), and especially the last true-to-form silat battle with a gamelan ambient in the background. The movie as a whole is a testament that Gareth Evans is a well-versed filmmaker that incorporates influence from many other auteurs before him, something that many Indonesian filmmakers could learn from. The train fight scene (and other Hammer Girl scenes) will evoke memories of Park Chan-wook’s legendary Oldboy, and strong use of wallpaper patterns is reminiscent of A Tale of Two Sisters (Kim Ji-woon) and Lady Vengeance (Chan-wook). Even the familial clash takes a bit from Godfather as many other gangster movies that follow. Excessive as it is, this action movie staple is already a memorable piece of Indonesian movie history, and hopefully nudges a right direction in the future of Indonesian cinema.