Yakuza Apocalypse: a virus that turns everyone into a yakuza mobster is sweeping through a sleepy Japanese town; along with some vampires, goths, and a ninja frogman. There are two fairly major signs that you’ll either love or hate this film: firstly, the ‘Manga’ logo guarantees some mental Japanese stuff; secondly, Takashi Miike directing is another indicator of mental Japanese stuff. Suffice to say that there’s so much silly, random, and mental Japanese stuff (like a bird goblin man, kung fu frogman in a frog suit – mostly for no obvious reason) that it becomes a chore to keep up with. You get the feeling that Miike was going for a ‘Happiness of the Katakuris’ vibe, but got bogged down in the randomness and forgot about the plot. It opens with an ultra-violent bloodbath, but stalls immediately after and never really hits the top gear again: even the anti-fight at the end is a disappointing reductive idiom gag (massive build up / deliberately rubbish fight). A disappointing non-film from one of the most hit-or-miss directors on the planet. One for the Manga / Japanese / Miike fanboys only.
The Raid 2: Berandal (aka The Raid: Thug): following on directly from events in The Raid… after his brother is murdered the rookie SWAT member goes undercover in order to flush out the city’s dirty cops. It feels like director Gareth Evans is “doing a Tarantino” here, drawing from a lot of established Asian movie elements: the story is essentially Infernal Affairs; the themes feel like those of a fairly standard Japanese – notably Takashi Miike – gangster flick (internal power struggles, territorial battles, OTT Violence, honour, betrayal, black humour); and the visuals feel like you’re watching a modern Korean movie – e.g. Park Chan Wook – as it’s loaded with rich imagery and patterns (like the art deco ballroom and bar, sterile kitchen, snow fight) and some cartoonishly menacing enemies (‘Hammer Girl’, and the ridiculous side-combed, cane-wielding baddie) – there’s also a shitload of nods to A Bittersweet Life, from the Car/Warehouse fight to the impeccably dressed mobsters. The action scenes remain unbelievably entertaining, expertly choreographed and jaw-droppingly inventive – although shaky cam is used a lot more in this one. You never get tired watching Iko Uwais play human pinball with dozens of henchmen, exploiting the various locations, and through most of the big fights you can’t help but grab your equivalent body part that has just been mangled on-screen and shout “fuuuuck!”, every 20 seconds. Once again, there’s a good peppering of ultra-black humour to provide a little relief from the action. At 150 minutes there’s a lot that could have been cut out and not missed – from developing minor characters through to shots of nails, water, snow – although it is rigidly punctuated with big set-pieces so you never get the chance to nod off. The Raid was a powerful, gritty, relentless and raw 90-minute virtually dialoge-free history-making fight-fest that raised the bar for all action movies – and although I can understand why Evans didn’t want to just do the same again, in ‘beefing up’ The Raid 2 he has leaned a little too heavily on other director’s works, taking the edges off – and diluting – the 90-minute, 10/10 movie that’s contained in here. Niggles aside, the film is still packed with genre-defining action, cutting edge fight-choreography, and more hard-18-rated violence than you could shake a poorly-aimed shotgun at.
Merantau Warrior: a young rural martial artist must head to Jakarta as part of his coming-of-age ritual, but when his plans fall through he soon gets caught up in some grotty business. The story takes its time to warm up, but from the first frame the it looks great, with guerrilla location use of the vivid & vibrant countryside, and the city’s graffiti, buildings, clothes etc. The film really comes to life when the fighting starts – it remains intricate, innovative and entertaining through all of the set-pieces; and nothing beats a good-old showdown in an industrial shipping container yard! Iko Uwais shines brightest when kicking and punching his way through every extra in the country, but he can also hold a scene; If there’s any justice he will be the next action mega-star in the vein of Tony Jaa / Donnie Yen. An added benefit is that Silat is such a visual fighting style, and with no-nonsense, non-shaky camerawork it’s a treat to watch. Other than the slow-start, gratuitous cheesy love angle and a sloppy undercurrent of Western people taking liberties, Merantau Warrior lands every punch. Between this and The Raid – that Gareth Evans is now 2 for 2 in my book, and with the obvious improvement between the movies, I’m super-pumped for the final installment of this trilogy.
The Raid: Redemption – a team of elite cops storm a high-rise building in the hopes of capturing a vicious crime lord. I walked in expecting a decent action film, didn’t think I’d be watching cinema history. There’s around 10 minutes of story scattered through the film, and it rarely drops below a sprint for the 80 minute runtime. The cast are championed by a few unbelievably talented action/fighting stars – who deliver scene after scene of lengthy, intricate, and phenomenally choreographed fights, with moves that make you shout ‘HOLY FUCK’ about every 30 seconds. There’s machete fights, close combat, martial arts, wrestling, SWAT raids… it’s all there, in abundance. The violence is pretty brutal, explicit, 18-rated gore – matched by some body abuse from the most insane, dedicated (potentially stupid) stuntmen. Some decent tension is built up in parts, and overall the film is well-shot and stylishly directed – it’s also breaks up the relentless action with flashes of dark humour. With 5 minute long action scenes every 6 minutes and a pile o’ bodies left on every floor The Raid is an action film that truly delivers – it completely re-writes the book on action cinema by cutting through all the guff we have come to put up with and by being all killer, without a single frame of filler. It raises the bar, then kicks it in the face, stabs it, shoots it, loads it into a bazooka and blasts it in to space. I sincerely hope that this opens the floodgates to a barrage of awesome Eastern action flicks, as it beats the shit out of every big-studio Hollywood / UK action movie I’ve ever seen. The Raid‘s better than fantastic; it’s the best, and most important action film I can ever remember watching.