A brilliant ballet of brutality
Take every one of kung fu legend Bruce Lee's films, combine them with Muay Thai master Tony Jaa's body of work and the entire Die Hard series, and you might get an approximation of the sheer level of martial arts mayhem, gun-and-knife play, car chases, explosions, murder, and general bloodletting in The Raid 2: Berandal.
A brilliant, dazzling, and devastating 21/2-hour ballet of brutality that's more ordeal than entertainment, The Raid 2 is the third collaboration between Welsh-born director Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais, the Indonesian actor, stuntman, and silat fighter who stunned fans with his hand-to-hand combat style in 2009's Merantau and 2011's The Raid: Redemption.
Uwais has single-handedly put Indonesia on the map as a serious contender in the martial arts action film world. His choreography is so intense, the action so rapid, it all but evades the camera. For his part, Evans is smart enough to avoid burdening the film with baroque Tarrantino-esque stylings. He lets the action speak for itself.
The first Raid film, about a police raid on a Jakarta high-rise filled with villains, was something akin to pornography: constructed of little more than action scenes - brilliant, awe-inspiring fights, and set pieces - strung together by a skeletal plot.
The Raid 2 picks up hours later. The lone survivor, rookie cop Rama (Uwais), is persuaded by his commander to go undercover to destroy three loosely knit criminal gangs, one of which is a coterie of dirty, deadly cops.
There's far more story here. Rama has to muddle through a byzantine jumble of criminal plots, counterplots, and double-crosses to achieve his aim.
But the real story and the real hero is Indonesia's homemade martial arts system, silat, and its deadly application by Uwais. He performs death-defying stunts and full-contact fights with dozens of foes armed with a catalog of fighting styles and weaponry.
Kung fu, karate, and muay thai were arts developed to serve a range of uses, including combat. Silat is more akin to Israel's krav maga, a martial art crafted specifically for warfare. Its objective is simple: To neutralize, maim, or kill the opponent with ruthless efficiency.
The Raid 2: Berandal is itself ruthless. We're afforded little respite between dizzying set pieces that top anything Hollywood directors have conceived, much less executed on the big screen.
You'll need a nap - and a good dose of therapy - when this one's over. But don't be afraid to suffer the pain: This film's worth it. And how.
The Raid 2: Berandal ***1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Gareth Evans. With Iko Uwais, Arifin Putra, Oka Antara, Tio Pakusadewo, Alex Abbad, Julie Estelle. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. Indonesian with English subtitles.
Running time: 2 hours, 30 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sustained bloody violence, sexual situations, drugs).
Playing at: Area theaters.