Action films, especially of the martial arts variety, are primarily about one thing: display. The entire point is to watch people perform insane stunts and choreography, while also realistically portraying brutal fights to the death. As filmmaking technology, especially editing, has improved, action filmmaking has only improved along with it. You can capture more of the action, thus capturing more of the brutality. Unfortunately, a majority of action filmmakers, especially in the United States, abuse this great technology, and we normally end up with shakily shot, choppily edited disasters. Sometimes, you need films like The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal to come in and show everyone else how it’s done.

The Raid: Redemption follows an Indonesian SWAT team as they infiltrate a run down 30-story apartment building, in order to arrest the drug lord who lives at the top. After the plan abruptly falls through and they’re mercilessly attacked by the residents, Officer Rama (Iko Uwais) finds himself to be one of the only officers left alive. With nowhere to go, he does the only thing he can: fight his way to the top and complete his mission.

The Raid 2: Berandal is a bit more complicated. Taking place right after the events of the first film, Rama finds himself being recruited by an honest police officer to go undercover. His mission is to infiltrate a crime family, who has dealings with a corrupt police commissioner, and bring them down.

The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal are ironically the work of Welshman Gareth Evans. Having an Indonesian-Japanese wife, he travelled to Indonesia with her where he first witnessed their cultural martial art, pencak silat. He was quickly entranced by this unique form of combat he had never seen before and immediately set out to make a film about it. After making a documentary on the subject, he forayed into the narrative format with his debut feature Merantau. Merantau also stars Iko Uwais, in his debut performance. Here, a beautiful relationship was born.

The Raid films aren’t just perfect examples of masterful action filmmaking, but they’re also fantastic examples on a how a sequel should be handled. The Raid: Redemption is a non-stop adrenaline rush of an action film, through and through. The entire film is based around a SWAT team that needs to fight their way to the top of a building to achieve their objective. Once the action kicks off, and it kicks off very quickly, you’re barely given any room to breathe. No matter where Rama turns, somebody could be around that corner, ready to fight to the death. The film is all about constant escalation. The story isn’t completely inert, as Evans injects some twists and turns, and some family drama for Rama, such as a pregnant wife that is waiting for him to come home. It’s enough to keep the audience invested and want to see Rama make it out alive. Evans stated he didn’t just want to make an action film, but a survival horror film, and both aspects are nearly flawless in their execution.

The Raid 2: Bernadal is a completely different film, but also the perfect companion piece and follow up. Instead of being trapped in a building and fighting for his survival, Rama finds himself stuck in the middle of sprawling crime drama epic. Imagine if Die Hard was followed up with John McClane as Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Departed. There’s so much more going on this film, that if you’re not truly paying attention to the events (especially keeping track of the numerous characters), you’ll be completely lost. While the characters and story are interesting, I couldn’t help but feel at times that Evans’ reach exceeded his grasp, cramming in perhaps a bit too many elements. The story occasionally gets a bit confusing, with some scenes not getting the necessary development, while others drag on a bit too long. The overall narrative never loses its intrigue, though.

Regardless of some shortcomings, if the constant action of The Raid: Redemption wasn’t your speed, there’s a lot more going on in The Raid 2: Berandal. When people aren’t punching each other in the face and breaking bones, we’re treated to a gripping crime drama about an undercover cop who has nowhere to go, as he watches these criminal gangs tear each other apart. The emotional core of the film is the character of Uco (Arifin Putra), the son of the crime boss Rama is investigating. While he is completely merciless, there’s an air of sympathy surrounding him as you can see he’s just a product of his environment and trying to survive the only way he knows how. He’s a brutal and violent man, but also a somewhat tragic one.

Every single action sequence is expertly crafted. The films aren’t chock full of quick cuts and shaky camera work. Yes, the scenes are insanely fast paced and the camera does get a little frenetic at times, but the key is that you can still see everything. What sets The Raid films apart from Hollywood action fare, for example, is that The Raid films have legitimate martial artists in them. These people are martial artists first, and actors in a distant second. Uwais was even just a delivery boy for his day job, before working with Evans. Uwais and many of the martial artists featured in these films have trained in this art their entire lives and it shows. These people are okay with hitting each other, throwing each other around, and performing daring feats. You don’t need a crazy camera and choppy editing to hide obvious stuntment in wigs. These people are really doing it.  It also helps that they’re all incredibly charismatic and fun to watch.

After recently rewatching these films, I watched them again with commentaries from Evans. The passion he exudes when talking about making these films clearly comes across on screen. He cannot praise his cast and crew enough, constantly reminding us that they’re the real stars of the films, and he’s absolutely right. Action films are built around the action, and if you don’t have a cast and crew that won’t commit to doing amazing feats, we end up with the lackluster fare that Hollywood usually offers. The people in The Raid films looks like they’re actually getting pulverized. Obviously, we want the actors to be okay, and they go through all of the safety measures to ensure that, but we also want the action to come off as realistic as possible. It’s a compromise, but if you have people that are willing to do it (and a country with extremely lax film safety regulations, like Indonesia), beautiful, visceral violence can be achieved.

There’s almost nothing but pure ambition and artistry to be found in The Raid films. It’s common for sequels to up the ante in almost every department, but when it comes to the story, they normally just copy and paste the script from the original, with some added tweaks. Evans specifically wanted to make a film that felt completely different than first, but exactly the same. The Raid 2: Berandal has the same type of action, but it’s completely different in terms of scope and tone. Gone is the survival horror feeling from the first film, as we delve deep into the criminal politics of the various gangs. While Evans certainly does ratchet up the choreography and brutality to insane levels (featuring an astonishing car chase), it’s at no sacrifice to the story. As Evans stated, every action scene has a purpose in terms of moving the plot forward, building relationships between characters, or establishing motivation. It’s not action just for the sake of it.

That’s another important aspect of action films, right? Of course, we’re here to see people get punched in the face and things blow up, but even then, it still has to have some sort of meaning. Otherwise, it’s really just empty excitement. Why is Die Hard considered such a classic? Because John McClane is a fun and interesting character, and we can relate to him and his situation. We feel just like him while watching the film, like the odds are continually getting stacked against us. It’s that feeling of empathy. Being along the same journey with the characters you’ve learned more about and grew to like, fighting to survive with them. It’s that emotional hook. It’s the same reason we still talk about films like Aliens, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and many others today. We feel like Ripley, Indiana Jones, Sarah Connor, John McClane, and Rama while watching those. Is it scary? Yeah. Is it awesome, though? Oh, hell yeah.

Will we ever get The Raid 3? Who knows? Evans has seemed pretty quiet on the prospects, saying he has some ideas brewing around, but it probably won’t happen anytime soon. To be honest, I’m perfectly fine with it. The story of The Raid and Rama seems finished to me, with not much else to explore. I’m sure the action would be as fantastic as ever, but if the story isn’t there, what’s the point? I’d rather see Evans move onto other projects he wants to do, such as his next film Apostle, that was recently acquired by Netflix. The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2: Berandal are not just two of the best martial arts films ever made, but they’re two of the best action films ever made. Not just in the 21st century, but of all time. Ever since the release of both films in 2012 and 2014, I’ve only seen the audience for them grow and grow. A mark of some true classics.

The Raid: Redemption – 9.5/10

The Raid 2: Berandal – 9.5/10

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