Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The Raid 2: Berandal (2014): Review

The Raid 2: Berandal is a 2014 Indonesian action film. Directed by Gareth Evans (The Raid) starring Iko Uwais (The Raid), Arifin Putra (Macabre), Julie Estelle (Kuntilanak) and Yayan Ruhian (The Raid). The film is a sequel to the original cult classic from 2012.

The film picks up straight after the events of the first movie with Rama (Uwais) and his fellow survivors approaching a police contact with hard evidence of corruption given to him by his gangster brother Andi. Head of the top secret anti-corruption squad Bunawar explains to Rama that unfortunately his evidence is not good enough and in order to prosecute the corrupt police chief Reza, he must infiltrate Jakarta’s criminal underworld. Upon threat to his family’s safety Rama agrees and after being sent to prison to befriend Uco (Putra), heir to one of the largest gangs in the city, manages to climb to the position of trusted hired muscle. All that remains is for Rama to jump through Bunawar’s hoops to collect necessary evidence before fragile truce’s collapse and Jakarta is plunged into widespread gang warfare.

As you can tell the one thing that has been drastically improved from the original is the plot. Part of the beauty of the first Raid was its refreshing simplicity and focus on visceral action set-pieces rather than overcomplicating things. But, as with so many sequels to extremely popular films, the idea here is very much “bigger is better” and with a runtime of two and a half hours, timespan of over two years and multiple locations all over Jakarta a truly epic film has been lovingly crafted. Also, the undercover cop/gang politics plot is brilliantly woven and serves to pick up any slack between the jaw dropping action sequences, which occur at perfectly timed intervals.

Another feature that has been retained and built upon is the video game style enemies and levels that Rama has to navigate in order to reach his goal. It’s no surprise that there has been an accompanying Streets of Rage style game released as a marketing tool as there are bosses and mini-bosses aplenty here. Crafting henchman characters is a lost art rarely seen since the James Bond films got so serious and Evans presents an array of exaggerated villains in the form of “Hammer Girl”(Estelle), “Baseball Bat Man” and “The Assassin”. And if you thought that the violence would be toned down for a wider cinematic release then think again, somehow The Raid 2 is even more violent than its predecessor whilst still managing to present the mayhem in a stylish South Korean arthouse style.

If you take the simple concept of the first film, mix it with one part Infernal Affairs, one part Oldboy and pump all of the elements up to a sensory overload level then what you get is The Raid 2. Effortlessly grand, beautifully shot, intricately plotted and heroically violent Evans has raised the already high bar set by the first film and created a new benchmark in martial arts, action cinema that both East and West will now struggle to surpass. This is what a sequel should be, this is what an action film should be and this is what a martial arts film should be!

***** 5 Stars

What did you think of The Raid 2? Did you prefer it to the first film?

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Rare Imports #5: Infernal Affairs (2002) Review

Infernal Affairs is a 2002 Hong Kong cop thriller. Directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak the film stars an ensemble cast of Andy Lau (House of the Flying Daggers), Tony Leung, Anthony Wong (Hard Boiled) and Eric Tsang. The film would go on to spawn 2 sequels and an English language remake, The Departed, which would win the best picture Oscar.

Centering around its two main characters the plot follows inspector Lau (Lau), a triad mole in the HKPD, and Yan (Leung), a police mole within Hon Sam’s (Tsang) Triad division. We initially see the characters in their younger form being selected for infiltration but then fast forward to the modern day where both organisations begin to suspect the traitor in their midst. This leads to a cat and mouse chase with each mole attempting to identify the other before their respective organisations find out, resulting in a shocking climax.

Infernal Affairs plays on its complex and cerebral plot with great flair and style. Creating maximum tension from its premise, the film challenges you to think about the situation at all times and subverts the notion of heroes and villains. At various points of the plot you’re required to think about whether the mole is acting in the interests of their undercover organisation, their original organisation or, indeed, their own interests and this makes for a crime thriller far more gripping than most.

To compliment this, the film is beautifully shot against the neon Hong Kong backdrop and perfectly scored with a dramatic stringed score reminiscent of the finest mafia films. The actors on display, well known to the Hong Kong market but lesser known in the west, turn in outstanding performances. From the morally conflicted Yan to the manipulative Lau, from the battle worn superintendent Wong (Wong) to the explosive Sam, all the characters are incredibly well crafted and portrayed.

It’s very predictable to say that a foreign language original is superior to its western remake, but when you consider that The Departed is a critically acclaimed film beloved by most, you start to get a sense of how special Infernal Affairs is. Rarely do cop thrillers (eastern or western) require quite so much concentration and even more rarely are they so rewarding in return. Ingenious in its concept and flawless in its execution, Infernal Affairs demands to be watched.

What did you think of the film? Do you prefer the departed?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New DOTPOTA Poster and TV Spot

Two new pieces of DOTPOTA marketing have emerged today in the form of a new poster and first tv spot. The poster seems to echo baby Caesar from the first film whereas the tv spot only contains one thing you need to know about...apes on horseback! Yes, after a fleeting reference in the first film, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes appears to bring back the Ape cavalry made famous in the original series.

What do you think of the new poster? Are you glad to see the horseback apes return?