I’ve not seen the film to which this is a sequel, but I had heard it was very violent. Maybe you’ve heard that said about this sequel. It’s been mentioned quite a bit in reviews, and it’s worth repeating, because this is extremely, incredibly, punishingly, brutally violent. The row of lads sat behind me in the cinema were fighting for breath at times; it’s not for the squeamish. That said, it’s quite fun.
There’s some kind of plot which has our hero Rama (Iko Uwais) infiltrating a criminal organisation to extract vengeance for his brother’s death (which we see in the opening sequence). His target is a renegade criminal, who has allied himself with the son of a local mafia-like don, who is making a power play for his father’s empire by antagonising a Japanese clan. Around the edges of this battle are corrupt police and many, many expendable thugs. It’s the latter who make the most impact — taking their turns being beaten to a pulp in successive martial arts fight sequences — because the intricacies of the story take some time to become clear. Then again, all you really need to know is that Rama is the hero and everyone will submit to the beating he doles out.
There’s filmmaking skill here, though, because you can’t have so much frenetically-paced action fighting without a good sense of how to choreograph and edit such a scene (well, you can try, but it ends up being incoherent, as in all too many recent Hollywood flicks). So there’s fighting, armed combat, and a fair bit of body horror (the film doesn’t shy away from gore), but it stays grounded in the hero’s vigilante revenge quest, as we vicariously imagine ourselves having his skills in exacting punishment for his anger. In amongst all that there are some nice little sequences that have a go at pathos, and which incidentally lift motifs from some of my own favourite films (use of Händel’s Sarabande in one emotional scene recalls Barry Lyndon, while one death communicated via blood spattering across a blade of grass in the dying light of day suggests The Thin Red Line), though this is all quite incidental to the core of the film.
As an action film, it’s a brutally elaborated, if rather elongated, revenge fantasy put together with a fair amount of technical craft. It’s hardly like to win awards from those not already partial to a spot of the old ultra-violence, but it will keep you entertained.
Director/Writer Gareth Evans; Cinematographers Matt Flannery and Dimas Imam Subhono; Starring Iko Uwais; Length 150 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Haymarket, London, Wednesday 23 April 2014.