The Raid 2 never went anywhere near Swedish cinemas. It´s a real shame and a betrayal. You might think they´d screen it on an art house cinema of sorts, but no. Real ignorant basterds in my opinion. Anyway, I decided to revisit Gareth Evans first collaboration with Iko Uwais upon the dvd/bluray release of The Raid 2. And from what I gather of peoples reactions to The Raid 2, I think perhaps Merantau as it has perhaps a bit more fleshed out characterization besides the incredible martial arts might have inspired Evans to approach a sequel to The Raid in a different way.
Iko Uwais plays Yuda, a country bumpkin that is forced to go through a personal journey by leaving the village to become a man. On a personal note I left my town at the tender age of 32 and has yet to become a man but I am working on it.It´s part of my own personal journey but I am just to damn lazy. I also can´t fight for shit.
The personal journey takes him into urban Indonesia where Yuda meet a pair of siblings, down on their luck. They were also unfortunate enough to go through a personal journey. Being sold by their parents and now they have to rely on one another to get by.The sister is forced into strip teasing and a life in the seedy underworld of Indonesia City. Jesus, talk about bad parenting. I hope they at least got good money.[UPDATE! Upon rewatching Merantau I discovered the pair was abandoned by their parents, not sold by them. It´s a difference, but still shitty parenting. Also shitty writing. I need to have a film fresh in mind before writing about it.Good job,idiot.]
Yuda finds a way to apply his martial arts by rescuing the siblings from the despair of urban Indonesia City. and in the process makes enemies of a band of slavers which ends up being Yudas personal journey. Using his powers to save others. Just like Uncle Ben always used to say before he was brutally murdered; "With great powers come great responsibility".* You always remember dead peoples quotes for some reason.
Unfortunately it also leads to Yuda sacrificing himself to save them. Personally I can do without powers if it means I have to sacrifice myself. Because I am a coward and a serious misanthrope. But I certainly admire it in films and it works really well on an emotional level. This is what separate it from other Asian action cinema like Ong-Bak that had rubbish plot and you could not wait for the boring ass drama and dialogue to end. Here it is different. The martial arts is also better. Ong-Bak were too dependent on spectacular stunts than actual choreography, which is why I like the sequels better. They are more weird, less generic and more vibrant films, plot and action-wise.
A really interesting character that Yuda meet early in the film is Eric, played by Yayan Ruhian ( Mad Dog in The Raid, and co-choreographer), who recognizes Yudas personal journey. He´s been there but instead become cynical, selling out his skills to organized crime and the same slave dealer assholes Yuda is up against.It later turns out they have to fight each other, but Yayan redeem himself in the end by sacrificing himself to save Yuda. Wonderful symmetry there, since that is exactly what Yuda does in the end. Indonesian personal journey leads to suicide is that it? Is that a cultural thing? If so, that´s depressing!
Merentau not only kicks ass as a martial arts film, but the characterization is surprisingly good. Even the villains seem to have a legitimate back story that is more subtly hinted at. As an origin story to The Raid I might have bullshitted my way here, but as an introduction to the skills of stars Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian it is an excellent one and one of the last decades best hardcore actionfilms. Well done, Indonesia!
*Spider-man, Dir:Sam Raimi, Columbia Pictures, 2002