The Raid 2 (2014)

The Raid 2 (2014) movie poster

director Gareth Evans
viewed: 08/10/2015

A friend described The Raid 2  “like sex on a bed of money”.

High praise indeed?

I’ll leave my witty or unwitty rejoinders and say simply that I didn’t find The Raid 2 to be as good as The Raid (2011).  The Raid was a lot leaner of a film, involving of course, a raid.  A raid by a police force on a tenement building with villainous baddies inside.  And it quickly evolves into a stunning martial arts showcase for star Iko Uwais and director Gareth Evans.  It was probably, perhaps even certainly, the best of that type of film that I’d seen in years.  I even thought that the very good Judge Dredd (2012) seemed to owe a lot to it in concept.

The Raid 2 doesn’t actually feature a raid, per se.  It seems to pick up right where the last one ended but then turns into a deep cover mission for Iko Uwais, who has to join a criminal gang starting with two years in prison, away from his family.  The story turns on the loyalties and battles of the gangs for power and a father-son relationship that goes south.

Sure, there are some great set pieces of action.  The battle in the mud in the prison yard was probably the best.  But at two hours, there is a lot of somewhat convoluted story stretching between these scenes and not an overarching propellant for the narrative.

Sex on a bed of money might be great.  The Raid 2 not so much.  It’s not terrible.  But it’s by no means as good as the original.

Mystics in Bali (1981)

Mystics in Bali (1981) title card

director H. Tjut Djalil
viewed: 12/30/2013

When you’ve seen one Indonesian exploitation horror film from the 1980’s, you’ve….well, you’ve only seen one.  And that is exactly where I’d been sitting since watching Lady Terminator (1988), oddly enough, another film by director H. Tjut Djalil.

And oddly enough, though perhaps less so, considering it’s the same director, we’ve got a sort of similar theme running here.  An American woman comes to Bali to investigate the native black arts of the island, known as “Leyak”.  She has an affable, knowledgeable guide, a romantic interest fellow from Bali, who introduces her to a witch queen who initiates her into her wildly cackling brand of dark magic.

The theme is similar in that in Lady Terminator, we also had a foreign woman come to investigate a traditional mythological idea as well, only to become eternally embroiled in the native evils.  According to the notes on the DVD, the Indonesian exploitation movies started as films for the local market and so focused on local lore and stories, but toward the end the films tried to get marketed abroad and so brought in actors from outside the country.  And thus, these gems of strangeness.

Mystics in Bali is crazy camp hilarity.  The German actress who plays the American is easily the worst in the film.  Between her and our hero, we have two people out of whom it’s very hard to get a decent reaction.

But the best camp is in the special effects which are wonderfully lo-fi and yet quite involved and relatively evocative.  We’ve got a long prosthetic tongue drawing on a leg, two women transforming into pigs and then snakes, and best of all, a head that detaches (along with what I guess is the spinal column) and flies through the air, eating babies out of the birth canals of pregnant mothers.  And lots of little animated zaps and magic bolts.

It’s clunky, cheap and brilliant.  As bad and laughable as it is, it would be totally ruined with some Mystery Science 3000 “laugh track”.  This film needs to be seen to be enjoyed.

The funniest line from the movie, and I hope I get this right is when a group of elder mystics are sitting around discussing the strange attacks and one guy says, “The accounts say…that it’s a flying head.”  To which everybody nods, as if he’d just said it was a bunch of wild teenagers.  I don’t know.  File under: needs to be seen to be believed.

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

The Raid: Redemption (2011) movie poster

director Gareth Huw Evans
viewed: 08/16/2012

An Indonesian action film par violence.

An undercover raid of a Jakarta tenement which houses the city’s most brutal criminal goes insanely awry, leaving a squad of SWAT police in the lurch, while they are annihilated by the bullets and machetes of an endless array of bad guys.  Iko Uwais stars and assisted in choreographing the fervent, blinding action, combining gun play and martial arts in copious quantities and with visceral brutality.

It’s all about the action and the fighting here, which is well-shot and well-choreographed, and like I said, fast and furious.  Strip back to the storyline, the logic and cohesiveness quickly disappear, but as is true in many action films, only needs to hold the thing together for the otherwise non-stop fists, kicks, bullets, and blood.  The action makes great use of the limited space of the interior of the rotting building, from flinging bodies down stairwells, bashing faces into doorjambs, hiding in paper-thin hidden rooms.

Beyond that, Ray Sahetapy who plays the merciless top gangster and Yayan Ruhian who plays his top fighter and enforcer,”Mad Dog”, are very good.  It’s always important to have good villains.

The film has been a huge hit and is being re-made for Hollywood, while Gareth Huw Evans and Uwais are planning to shoot more, perhaps into a trilogy, meaning that this film will have legs and perhaps influence beyond itself.  When it comes down to it, it’s the action, the fighting, the cinematography and choreography.  That’s what this film is all about.  It’s pretty breath-taking at its best.

Lady Terminator

Lady Terminator (1988) movie poster

(1988) dir. H. Tjut Djalil
viewed: 03/31/09

After watching the sanitary Twilight (2008), I felt like I needed to cleanse my palate with some good old trash cinema.  As I’ve mentioned before, the Castro Theatre has a series of films that they call Midnites for Maniacs, which is curated by local Jesse Hawthorne Ficks and leans toward films from the 1980’s, pre-digital FX and lost “treasures” of camp and horror.  When I’d read about the feature showing of Lady Terminator, with which I only had the vaguest of familiarity, I knew I’d have to queue it up, since I wasn’t too likely to make it to the midnight showing there.

It’s probably more bizarre than he even plays out in his promo description.

It is an Indonesian film, apparently one of many Indonesian horror/exploitation films made in a brief heydey in Indonesian cinema that ran roughly from the 1970’s to the 1980’s.  The company that released the film on DVD provided an informative documentary on the disc, so this is where my information comes from.  Starring some Causasian actors (who according to IMDb never made another film), the film is populated with many Indonesian actors as well.  It doesn’t really situate itself in Indonesia in the narrative, so it’s just kind of a guess where all this is taking place and why there are so many Polynesian-looking faces in the film.

What is interesting is that it’s a mixture of traditional mythology and 1980’s cheap special effects, guns, and a straight-up female twist on The Terminator (1984), a good 15 years before the American series gave us a female “terminator”.   There is the South Sea Queen, a succubus-like character, who lives at the bottom of the sea who cannot be sexually satisfied, but is voracious.  And when she terminates the sex act, an eel comes out of her vagina and bites off her lovers’ penises.  When she is tricked by one lover, who captures the eel and turns it into a dagger of sorts, she curses his family and leads us to the present day.

In the present day, we have the Caucasian anthropologist (“I’m not a woman, I’m an anthropologist”), who scuba dives to discover the legend of the South Sea Queen, only to become her eel-in-the-vagina terminator slave, who seeks out the progeny of the aforementioned lover, to exact revenge.  While at first she runs around naked, finding men and snatching their penises, she eventually grabs a machine gun and a leather outfit and goes all Arnold Schwarzenegger on the whole world, shooting and shooting and killing everyone.  She’s also indestructible, but not because she’s a robot, but because she’s some reincarnated evil goddess.

The film is hilariously bad, with laugh-out-loud dialogue and camp up the yin-yang.  It’s a terrible movie indeed, but a pretty damn entertaining terrible movie.  It’s little wonder than none of these people ever went on to other films, though whatever happened to them, one has to be curious.  And while the documentary on Indonesian cinema was intriguing (it seems there are many more films out there like this), one has to expect that they are all of the catalogue of camp and comedy, the kind of films that are fun to laugh at but aren’t necessarily so rewarding.   Still, my kudos to Jesse Hawthorne Ficks.  He’s got a good eye for the lost effluvia of 1980’s cinema.