The idea of an Indonesian film directed by a Welshman and showing at a multiplex near you may seem like a belated April Fool's joke, but believe me, it isn't. Instead this is a film which can justifiably be said to have raised the bar on action movies by several inches – if not feet.
The great (or awful) thing about action movies is that because they are all based around the visual rather than the verbal, they translate into any language. Hitting people is like having sex, it's something that everyone understands. So although it will be a little peculiar to have a subtitled film showing in your local Odeon/Showcase (assuming they don't subtitle it), it is more at home there than it would be in an arthouse cinema.
The story is elementally simple. A group of specially trained police drive through the early morning rain on their way to storm an apartment building infested with gangsters. Their job is to clear the building starting at the bottom and working their way up. I'm not giving too much away if I tell you that this is easier said than done. While the lower floors are easily secured, things get seriously tough as we hit the fifth floor, and from then on in, it's one long fight.
Which is the point of the film. True, we might read a political subtext about the need for the forces of law and order to purge the state which is corrupt and incompetent, but I suspect that that may be something that is lost outside Indonesia itself. For your average cinemagoer, this is kick ass stuff, and if you like asses (or any other part of the human anatomy) being kicked, then this is definitely your kind of film. Even I, who am not a great connoisseur of jumping, kicking, biffing, stabbing films, found myself engrossed not so much in the story of the film – there isn't one – but at the sheer athleticism of the actors, or more likely, martial arts experts.
Steven Soderbergh did something similar with Haywire, hiring MMA champion Gina Carano to play the main role, thus ensuring that when she laid into Michael Fassbender or Ewan McGregor, we were in no doubt that this was a woman who knew what she was doing. It's almost like a more violent version of Pina, a ballet of violence, in which everyone appears to get hurt, but of course they don't because, hey, it's only a movie.
And what about the Welshman, you ask? What's he doing there? Well, his name is Gareth Evans (appropriately) and he lives in Indonesia and is responsible for introducing the world to Silat, the form of martial arts on display here, as well as Iko Uwais, the action hero who is the body and soul of the film – well, the body, anyway. The film deserves to do well, because it's light years ahead of what passes for a Hollywood action movie, and because there's something rather wonderful about an Indonesian film at the multiplex. It's strictly a film for boys and violent girls, but it does have to be seen to be believed.
By Phil Raby
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