So much has been made of the graphic violence in this film that we really must start with a note about films in the days before movies existed. The Iliad, written somewhere between 760-710 BC, is one of the most graphically violent tales ever written. And if the technology had existed, Homer would have been happy to write it as a screenplay, then direct it and accept a cameo in exchange for hot sex with an actor or 2. It's a simple, streamlined tale about a few final weeks in the Trojan War. And the battle scenes aren't pretty, to say the very least: spears through the ears and mouths, cloven skulls...The crowds then didn't cotton to action off the page or discreetly edited bloodshed. They wanted it heavy and heavy they got--for all of which the epic stands as a glorious work of art.
Just bear that in mind before passing on a truly sensational film--one of the finest, and most important, martial arts films ever made. It tackles a long divided, much maligned tradition: on the left side, thousands of Golden Harvest chopsocky films with Wire Fu, crap dubbing and badly edited fights...on the right side, the romanticized and stylized Crouching Tiger school.
Keep the tradition in your minds as well. For The Raid 2 is neither a gangster movie with some Kung Fu nor a Same Old Same Fu movie with a tagged-on gangster story. The director, Gareth Evans, set out to top his indie cult hit The Raid with a seamless blending of the best martial arts ever filmed and a well-written, nicely acted crime film Scorcese could admire. And you needn't have seen the original Raid to be blown away by Raid 2: twice as good in every way. The 'sequel' picks up shortly after The Raid with two characters meeting grim ends--then we're off and running in a new direction.
We can forget almost every martial artist actor since Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan with the arrival of Indonesian star Iko Uwais...and the phenomenal Yayan Ruhian, who does villain star turns in both films. Each man equals Lee and Chan in physical prowess and screen charisma. All the dreadful cinematic sins of the past forty years are washed away by the brilliance of Gareth Evans, his cast--and, lord God, his cinematographers. No night fights with the best moves lost in darkness and shadows. No quick-cut editing to obscure the logic and flow of the moves. Almost no slow motion. No wires for high flying kicks. Again and again, viewers' jaws will be dropped by the power, grace and beauty of the actors' moves--and the brilliance of the camera work (one man fighting several within a tiny car--the action filmed through the cutaway roof).
One other radical departure: after forty years of Chinese and Japanese-based martial arts films, it's cool to see the Indonesians finally get their due. Think Thai kickboxing mixed with loads of knives.
The story? An accomplished riff on Internal Affairs. The greatest gangster picture ever? Noooo. But the greatest martial crime film? In my own opinion, yes.
Definitely worth your while. Read the Iliad first if you need to prepare for the mayhem.