Back when newspaper movie critics thought it was their duty to give jovial and slightly demeaning nicknames to violent new movie genres from across the oceans, the jocular and thoughtless word “chopsocky” was affixed to Eastern martial arts movies the way “Spaghetti Westerns” became a cynical way of lumping together all Italian Westerns, including the visionary masterworks of Sergio Leone.
One of the weirder – and indeed more comic – rituals of Asian martial arts cinema could be seen back then: to wit, the attack on a single mind-boggling martial arts virtuoso by a bunch of bad guys who seemed to line up single file to await their turn to get the stuffing smashed out of them as if awaiting their turn in the teller line at the bank.
The comic, show business unreality of it is, as always, patently ridiculous choreographic stylization in a movie genre that otherwise takes great pains to realistically portray bloodshed and the sounds of bones crunching – all of which is withstood by the martial arts masters to an impossible degree.
There’s a lot of that in “The Raid 2” by Gareth Evans, the Welsh director who discovered the various Indonesian forms of martial arts and brought them to the world in action extravaganzas as relentless as any. But then in Evans’ sequel to his original “The Raid: Redemption” there’s a lot of almost everything. It’s two and a half hours long for pity’s sake.
When the original “The Raid” opened, we had just seen the Farrelly Brothers “The Three Stooges” movie and it occurred to me that in a diametrically opposite way, the constant violence and assault on the human body of Evans’ blood-choked Indonesian martial arts exhibition was as unreal as all the slamming and eye-poking in a Three Stooges movie. The huge difference, though, is in both affect and effect. All the mayhem is supposed to be truly injurious in martial arts and we in the audience are nevertheless supposed to celebrate the continual bone-crushing, blood-gushing orgy of it. All 148 minutes of it in this case.
It is part of the legend of Evans’ “Raid” movies that the Welsh director found his star Iko Uwals carrying mail in Indonesia.
I wouldn’t have dreamed of telling you that if there aren’t scenes of truly astounding fight choreography all the way through “The Raid 2.” But you’re not watching dance. You’re watching the supposed destruction and the defilement of human bodies with all the techniques of Indonesian martial arts, in this case including by a beautiful young woman in shades (Julie Estelles) who wields two claw hammers and another guy who, with deliberate comic effect, wields a metal bat and a baseball. (He asks his victims for the ball back so he can hit a better and more head-squishing shot at their noggins. It’s probably the only truly comic moment of “The Raid 2.”)
In the original “The Raid,” our hero, the cop Rama (Uwals) was fighting his way out of an armed urban fortress filled with the craziest thugs in the city. This time, he’s gone undercover after two years in the joint to insert himself into an all-out gang war instigated by the betrayal of a philosophical Jakarta mob boss by his stupid, crazy, greedy, paranoid and ambitious son.
The plot then is a decent, sometimes even stately, set of B-movie variations on “Godfather” themes. Imagine if Don Corleone’s impetuous son Sonny were as vilely disloyal to the family as Fredo.
That’s just the skeleton on which to hang the nonstop action, much of it in the most ridiculously stylized martial arts mode, e.g. bank teller lines of marauders taking their turns at getting crushed heads and slit innards and colliding into cement walls with sickening thuds.
I thought the original “Raid” may have been the most violent film I’d ever seen. And to the degree that could be quantifiably disputed, the whole question seemed to me a distinction without a difference. In its epic length “The Raid 2” that’s still true.
After “The Raid,” you needn’t have been a genius to know a sequel was coming. I dreaded it. I’ve now seen it and I was right to dread it.
The action and choreography are indeed amazing. But an infantile celebration of brutality is the movie’s only point. We’re watching cartoons that pride themselves on giving you real blood and gorily split craniums.
Does anyone mind if I ask why? If you can sit through it, the movie also seems to want to know just why at the end.