Starring: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim and Ray Sahetapy
Distributor: Madman Entertainment
Runtime: 100 mins. Reviewed in Mar 2012
This film is an Indonesian martial arts movie, written, edited and directed by the Welsh film director, Gareth Huw Evans. It focuses heavily on the traditional Indonesian martial arts form, Pencak Silat, but uses different martial arts techniques, including Judo, in its action mix. In several film festivals overseas, it has been hailed as one of the best action films in a long time. Its plot is simple, and the impact of the film lies mainly in its dark visuals. But they are visuals with a difference.
A broken-down building in the middle of Jakarta’s slums, which takes on a sinister character of its own in the movie, has become a safe house for criminals. A sadistic drug lord rules over it, and is ruthless. The building is home to vicious gangsters, pushers, and an army of killers and thieves. No police want to risk their lives by penetrating it, but it is decided something has to be done to try and close it down. An elite police SWAT unit is formed to attack it, and put a stop to its evil.
While the assault is under way, the unit’s cover is blown by a spotter on the sixth floor. The team, commanded by Jake (Joe Taslim, who is an expert in Judo), and including a new recruit, Rama (Iko Uwais, who is an expert in Pencak Silat), decides to complete what it began. The mobsters, ruled by Tama (Ray Sahetapy), know that they are under attack and that their building is under siege, and defend their building. Suddenly, the assault team finds itself stranded on the sixth floor with no way out. The mobsters block all exits, and extinguish the lights. The SWAT team must fight its way up, or out, in semi-darkness to survive. The team tries to push through the building, but as it does so, the mobsters deliver what they have planned, and all but three of the assault unit are killed on the way.
The film supplies some 80 min of very strong violence. Bloody action occurs relentlessly. Adults, who like violent action and excitement, won’t be disappointed. The action sequences are intense, and well-choreographed. The fact that everyone in the movie – police, and mobsters alike – seem to be experts in martial arts stretches credibility; and the fighting, gunning, skull-crushing, and knifing never stop, despite the stylized routines. It needs a plot change to stop it all, and when that arrives, the violence ends.
This is not a thought-provoking movie, and for the most part it stays away from any character development. Its fighting sequences fit very well into the particular genre of “quality martial arts cinema”. It is rare to see police trembling with fear, as the film shows, and Rama becomes the hero of the movie, as he explores the building to find his brother, who has sold his soul to the criminal world.
The choreography in the movie is unusually good. Action sequences start off with blazing guns that create a lot of carnage, and the violence graduates to choreographed, man-to-man combat. All the way, there are gun-killings, multiple stabbings, and blood spurts, and the action scenes are directed intentionally with stylised sequencing.
One would not call this movie entertaining. It is too violent for that. Fast action is equated entirely with killing, and the extent of the aggression hardly justifies the sub-title of “Redemption” that the movie’s distributors have given to it, but the film is a spectacular martial arts movie, and its tension never lets up. The hand-held camera work and pulsing music further accentuate its dramatic impact.
If gruesome action cinema is what one wants, there is extraordinary energy in the package that this film delivers. However, one has to understand that there are many reasons why such a movie as this one might be very hard to forget.
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