Ever wonder what a rated R action movie is supposed to look like? Now you can find out.
Wow. That pretty much sums up this movie in a word. Easily the best action movie I have seen in years, possibly decades. On par with Die Hard, First Blood, Lethal Weapon, or any other top action movie (even the Road Warrior, and if you know me you know that is saying a lot). This film takes the crime action and martial arts genres and melds them seamlessly with great characters and some of the most amazing action camera work ever.
Let me talk a little about the camera in this film. Most action films plant the camera at mid range and then use dumb quick cuts to generate action. If they want to make the audience feel like they are in the scene they don’t use a steady cam and let the Blair Witch effect take over. However, as jumbled up as you may be in a fight scene your eyes don’t really jitter around like that. What this movie does is incorporates the camera into the fight choreography, dodging in an out, panning with the fighters, diving in, and placing you in the action better than anything else I have ever seen. The last time I felt that close to a fight I was one of the ones fighting. Truly great.
The martial arts is also great. The film is Indonesian (with my new favorite director Gareth Evans. Sorry Scorsese. He has also done Footsteps and Merantau, both of which I am going to track down) and most of the stars are experts in Pencak Silat. There are no dumb wire fight scenes. All the fighting seems really cool and brutally realistic. Even the gun action is great.
The story is of young Rama (Iko Uwais-Merentau is his only other film credit), a new officer leaving his pregnant wife after a short training montage to join his team of elite cops. They are raiding crime lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy-Dilema, Demi Dewl, Jinx), a brutal man who rules his 30 story slum tenement filled with the scum of the earth with an iron hand. He has two main henchmen: amazing martial artist Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian-Merentau. He and Iko did the fight choreography) who lives only to fight, and brain man Andi (Doni Alamsyah-Fiksi, Merentau, Hearts of Freedom), and an army of thugs and psychopaths. The cops stealth into the building, taking out spotters and guards as they progress, but are spotted. Tama wakes up the whole building and all hell breaks loose.
After the initial gun fight sequence (started off in the dark in the coolest way possible) this movie shifts gears smoothly from action to survival/horror. Granted, none of the bad guys are zombies (that we know of) but a lot of really cool horror elements are incorporated, like good guys hiding around the corners while the bad guys are tapping their machetes along the wall looking for them. The survivors of the first big fight split up. Rama is trying to save the life of his injured friend Bowo (Tegar Satrya-Negeri 5 Menara) while his Sergent Jaka (Joe Taslim-Rasa, Karma) head in a different direction with Lt. Wahyu (Pierre Gruno-True Love, London Virginia, Ekspedisi madewa) and another red shirt (Dead Man Walking image courtesy of the Star Trek T-Shirt category).
This is where the martial arts action really unfolds. Rama kicks and punches his way through a corridor of bad guys (and to anyone who thinks there was too much of the fighting, or that some of the fight scenes went on too long, it is obvious you have never really developed an appreciation for martial arts movies. Perhaps you should go see the Lorax). Some cool plot twists develop, although if you are here for an amazing story I think you walked into the wrong theater.
The stars. Amazing action. Three stars. Really great camera work. Three stars. Fight choreography that is second to none. Two stars. For the most part really good characters, especially the villains. One star. Overall a wonderful film experience. Three stars. Total: twelve stars.
The black holes. I hate giving any, as I loved this movie on almost all levels, but have to be honest. The story was pretty simple and even the plot twists no big deal. One black hole. Some of the dialog felt forced and artificial, especially the cussing. This film was written in English and translated for the actors to speak in Indonesian. It felt culturally out of place. One black hole. I could give a third for some cheesy CGI blood, but honestly it was hardly noticeable. Two black holes.
A grand total of 10 stars, one of the best scores I have given in a long time. Should you see it? Abso-freaking-lutely. You will have to look hard for it since American theaters won’t show anything that doesn’t have Brad Pitt or the like in it, but it will be worth the search. See it in a theater to encourage other good movies to be made and released here. Date movie? Hell no, but drag her ass to see it anyway. If she puts up with it you know she’s a keeper, and who knows? You might awaken a sleeping love of martial arts movies in her and you next date could be a Bruce Lee marathon. Even if she dumps you at least you have exposed her to a great film, thus incrementally increasing the culture level of this country.
The one thing that drives me nuts about this film is not the movie itself but rather that it painfully illustrates how lame the vast majority of Hollywood action extravaganzas are. Action isn’t about how many explosions you can fit into ten minutes of film or who has the biggest CGI budget. It’s about the action. This film is like the svelte, athletic person entering a room full of fat people. All of a sudden everyone in the room just looks fatter. They are already working on an American remake and I would bet a large sum of money that it will not be half as good.
Thanks for reading. Go see this movie. Follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu or email me with suggestions or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a comment about this film feel free to post it here. Something came out recently called Intruders with no fanfare that looks creepy as hell. I might go see it tonight. Talk to you soon.