NB: these are my notes on the film, not a review – so you might not want to read them if you’ve not seen it yet.
An Indonesian action movie from Welsh writer-director Gareth Evans, this sets some kind of bar for non-stop martial arts/gunplay violence. It’s not plotless, but it is premise-driven with characters just distinctive enough to register – though everything is subordinate to punching, kicking and shooting. In the middle of the city is a block of flats which is the domain of crime kingpin Tama (Ray Sahetapy) who offers sanctuary to all manner of lowlives and runs a drug lab on site. A team of SWAT cops, including the cleancut and martial arts proficient Rama (Iko Uwais), goes into the building to take down Tama, only they’re on their own since corrupt cop Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) has backed the raid as part of a power-play. The team get in fairly easily, but then the building shuts down and Tama announces that anyone who kills the intruders will get free rent. There is some conspiracy movie-style complication with Wahyu, who sacrifices his own men and manipulates the situation to his own obscure ends, and a broad strokes melodrama bit as it turns out that Andi (Doni Alamsyah), one of Tama’s two lieutenants, is Rama’s estranged brother – which sets up a few agonised dialogue exchanges and a set-piece three-way bout with Jaka’s other lieutenant, the aptly-named (but not gigantic) Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian).
It’s a brilliantly-staged movie, using the enclosed setting – dilapidated corridors, dingy lighting, drab apartments, a brutalist stairwell – brilliantly, especially when desperate folks start making their own trapdoors and doors by smashing through walls and floors. There’s something of Assault on Precinct 13 in the villains, who spray gunfire and waste their own lives as they try to wipe out the invading cops – though, in an unusual frill, the building has as many sorely-injured, out-of-the-fight baddies lying about groaning after the melées as machete-carved corpses. Uwais has the fight moves (the style is an elbow-heavy Indonesian martial art called silat) but is a deliberately boyish, bland, clean-shaven hero (he has a pregnant wife at home in lieu of much character) to contrast with the variously scowling, hairy, subhuman killers he faces off against. Strikingly edited, with a thump-heavy soundtrack that ramps up the wince-factor (oddly, a new score has been commissioned to replace one that sounds pretty good to me). Yes, it’s secured a US remake. 2011.
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