Glenn Close from the movie “Low Down.”(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, with the film “Frank.”(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)
PARK CITY, Utah -- Many who came to Sundance for the jam-packed first weekend had already departed Park City by Tuesday night, which left a difficult decision for those who remained: the world premiere of “The Raid 2" or a secret screening, which turned out to be the much anticipated “Nymphomaniac, Vol. 1.”
Plenty of folks got an eyeful at “Nymphomaniac,” but those who chose “The Raid 2" got even more, as the Indonesian action-thriller crime story sequel featured wild fighting and graphic violence, with more kicking, punching, gouging, body-ripping, shotgun-blasting, car-crashing excitement than the already-amped audience expected.
“You guys get to see it before the MPAA have a heart attack,” said writer, director, editor and action choreographer Gareth Evans before the screening.
His earlier film was released in the U.S. as “The Raid: Redemption,” so Welsh-born, Indonesia-based filmmaker joked that even though the title card on this new film as screened would read “The Raid 2: Berendal,” the American title would be “The Raid 2: More Redemption.” (For the record, the official U.S. title is just “The Raid 2.”)
Partway through the film, a staggering 148 minutes that feels like a fraction of that, a commotion began in the auditorium at the Eccles Center. A man had a medical emergency and the house lights came up, the film was stopped and he was escorted from the theater by staff and volunteers, walking on his own. The film restarted. (Altitude sickness, not the intensity of the film, was thought to have triggered the episode.)
The film features an astonishing number of action sequences -- a prison fight, a nightclub fight, a car chase, a subway fight, scenes in all manner of hallways, restaurants and alleyways, with all sorts of weaponry, punches and kicks. None of it sacrifices story.
Undercover police officer Rama (Iko Uwais) finds himself in the middle of a power struggle in the criminal underworld. Evans also creates an array of memorable characters, who audiences will soon be calling “hammer girl” or “machete man” with perhaps even the Halloween costumes to follow.
“The Raid 2" is a sprawling crime saga in action overdrive. During a post-screening Q&A with nine members of the cast and crew onstage, Evans revealed that a prison fight took eight days to shoot and a car chase about two weeks -- all part of 132 shooting days, up from a scheduled 106.
A question from the audience asked Evans whether he could teach classes to American action directors, to which he responded by mentioning his love of Sam Peckinpah and John Woo, adding, “I steal from everybody. Just tell them to steal from better filmmakers.”
Other questions: Can Uwais really punch as fast as he does in the film, and would he put on a demonstration to prove it? After a few moments, Uwais removed his jackets, the others onstage made way and Uwais briefly transformed himself into a whirling dervish of swinging arms and legs. Yes, he really is that fast.
The screening caused an explosion of excitement and enthusiasm for the film on social media. It will be released March 28, and distributor Sony Pictures Classics wisely released a new trailer to keep fans excited after the buzz-building premiere Tuesday.
Follow Mark Olsen on Twitter: @IndieFocus