This is a seriously well made, kick-ass martial-arts action movie that fans of the genre will absolutely adore. The energy of the film bursts through the screen like a boot through butter, and although it’s more violent than the MA15+ rating suggests, the fight choreography is so fresh and frantic and the pacing so careful that it makes Die Hard look try hard.
Set in Jakarta, the story follows an Indonesian SWAT team who have been assigned by Lieutenant Wahyu (Pierre Gruno) to clean out the bad guys from a run-down fifteen-storey apartment block which doubles as the headquarters of nasty drug lord Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Leading the team of rooky policemen into the villa of death is Jaka (Joe Taslim) and second in command Rama (Iko Uwais), both of whom are pretty nifty in a scrap. Armed with machine guns, helmets and body armour, the team find getting into the building relatively easy. Once the bullets run out after the first fire-fight and the remains of the squad have been separated – somewhere about level 5 – Rama has to decide whether to go on or go back. Neither option is easy as the building is now in lock down, completely controlled by Tama who has been watching events with his more sophisticated than meets the eye surveillance system. With the good guys trapped on the inside, Tama sends in wave after wave of grimy, machete-wielding henchmen – all highly athletic martial arts experts willing to fight hard and fast to the death – which many do in gruesome style.
Although the fighting gets a little repetitive by the 60 minute mark, writer/director Gareth Evans keeps the interest high as he carefully reveals both unexpected plot developments and some emotional angles for a couple of central characters. The cinematography (often handheld), editing and music all add to the rush, and the pacing of the film allows for a few quiet moments before the relentless action picks up for another round of mayhem. The ensemble Indonesian cast are all excellent, mainly chosen for their fighting skills, with veteran star Ray Sahetapy a clear stand out as the quiet and deadly mastermind. But the stars of the film are the superbly well staged and expertly shot fight sequences – with the endless supply of fighters committed to head-on, bone-crunching battles that will have you wincing with wonder. Dialogue – what little there is – is in Indonesian with English subtitles. It’s a blast.