Preview: Berandal

The follow-up to ‘The Raid’ promises to be the coolest film of 2014…

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2014 is a big year for the Hollywood sequel. Whether preordained due to an existing novel or simply another money-spinner produced to milk a popular series for every last penny, next year will have it all. The sequel from which I anticipate true unparalleled greatness however will not be coming from Hollywood, or even the UK. Well, at least not directly. Instead, it will be coming from Indonesia…via Wales. That’s right, Welsh director Gareth Evans’ Berandal, his long awaited follow-up to 2011’s The Raid, is almost upon us. Evans, originally from Hirwaun, South Wales, would seem to be the unlikeliest of gunplay/martial arts directors to make a name for himself globally by working in Asian cinema, especially in Indonesia, a country not exactly recognised on the world stage as a cinematic powerhouse. However, he has already proven himself a unique filmmaker with a fresh approach to action direction. For those unfamiliar with his breakout picture, The Raid, the premise is simple: the Jakarta police dispatch an elite 20-man squad to take out the city’s most notorious crime boss, who sits atop a tower block infested with armed and dangerous subordinates. The police are forced to penetrate his seemingly impregnable stronghold floor by floor and, of course, violent chaos ensues. Whilst on the surface it sounds like your standard, run-of-the-mill shoot em’ up, in reality it is so much more. Quite simply, it is the greatest action film to be released since The Matrix.

The background to The Raid’s success can be partly traced to Thai superstar Tony Jaa, who put Thai cinema on the map in one fell swoop with his ground breaking 2003 hit, Ong-Bak, and bone crunching 2005 follow-up, Tom-Yum-Goong (a.k.a. Warrior King/The Protector). Jaa’s success was fuelled by a willingness to escape from the shadow of Hong Kong and Japanese action filmmaking, both of which had dominated the Asian market for decades whilst his own country’s projects were seen as something of a laughing stock internationally. The key to his success was the use of Thailand’s distinctive national martial art, Muay Thai, without the aide of wires, doubles or CGI. In an era when decadent wuxia pictures were all the rage, such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) and Jet Li’s Hero (2006), which contained extensive wire work and epic yet graceful flying swordplay battles taking place in treetops and on water, the gritty, ruthless nature of Ong-Bak sent shockwaves through the action community. Muay Thai is a brutal fighting style, all elbows and knees, and when unleashed with full force by Jaa and his stunt team, the world took notice.

No doubt encouraged by Jaa’s accomplishments, Evans went on to become the catalyst for global recognition of Indonesian cinema. Whilst filming a documentary on pencack silat (Indonesian martial arts) he discovered a charismatic expert of silat, Iko Uwais, who at the time was a driver for a local telecoms company. Just as Jaa had done, Evans and Iko set out to demonstrate the potential of Indonesian cinema and proceeded to not only show off Indonesian culture in the form of silat, but to make it as real as humanly possible on screen. Following their 2009 cult debut, Merantau, the duo began work on a gangster epic, entitled Berandal, to really show what they could do. Budget-wise however, it simply was not feasible to make. Instead, Evans decided to use the same silat action principles, but to scale the production down to a more contained story. His claustrophobic shooting style lent itself perfectly to Iko’s gripping screen presence. Together, they nurtured the true star of the film: silat. Whilst, like Muay Thai, elbows and knees play a big part, silat is a more fluid fighting style as opposed to Muay Thai’s rigid brutality and on camera it is a joy to behold. To supplement the raw stunt work and superbly choreographed silat set pieces, gunplay was not only included but intrinsically intertwined. This created a pulsating throwback to the heroic bloodshed genre made popular by Hong Kong cinema in the late 80s/early 90s, including films such as John Woo’s The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992). The supporting cast, led by two frightening villains in the form of Ray Sahetapy and Yayan Ruhian, as well as a deep, pumping soundtrack, which enhanced the action perfectly, rounded everything off. The result was The Raid, and the rest is history.

The monumental worldwide success of The Raid (when its budget and cult status are taken intro consideration) allowed Evans to finally press on and make Berandal, which he converted into the first sequel of a planned trilogy. Reportedly set two hours after the conclusion of The Raid and once again starring Iko Uwais as elite police hard man Rama, Berandal, which is Indonesian for ‘thugs’ (so fucking cool), promises to be as hard-hitting, if not more so, than its predecessor. Armed with a significantly larger budget this time around, Evans will be thinking big in terms of characters, story and of course, action. Exact details of the plot are currently unknown, although the tentative title of the film in the United States, The Raid: Retaliation, suggests the network of crime lords in the remaining sprawl of the Jakarta underworld have not exactly taken kindly to the actions of Rama and his fellow officers, forcing our hero to bring it down from the inside out.

The recently released, rather intense and quite frankly awesome trailer seems to support this. It depicts a more epic scale and hints at the same eerie but cutting soundtrack. Best of all, the film just looks so damn cool. The trailer alone is a checklist of ultra-cool moments. Dude boxing a prison wall at breakneck speed? Check. Old boy gangster sitting in the corner of a room illuminated by red light? Check. A character named Hammer Girl (yes, there is a character named Hammer Girl)? Check. The amount of action is limited in favour of these quick-fire shots, which is a shrewd move. At a time when trailers reveal far too much, the less action we see before the finished article the better. The cinematic experience itself will be the beneficiary.

Due out late next year, Berandal is shaping up to be nothing short of a masterpiece and is poised to be one of the finest films of the coming year. It will no doubt slip under the radar of many due to stiff Hollywood competition, but thanks to its predecessor it at least has a head start and will only win further fans through word of mouth thanks to its inevitable cult, and subsequent ‘classic cool’ status. One thing is for certain; following the international breakout of first Korean and then Thai cinema since the turn of the century, Indonesia has now officially joined the party in Asia. With Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais leading the way, the future of the nation’s filmmaking looks very bright indeed.

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