Now this is refreshing, a B-movie proud of its origins, offering no social commentary, nor a desire to be anything other than pure schlock cinema. In accepting its limitations rather than fighting against them it instead delivers in spades – this is by far the most thrilling, visceral film for years, an absolute roller-coaster of a film that sets it stall out early and then continues to push the limits of common sense and decency in a way we just don’t normally see. It’s the sort of film you watch mouth open at the sheer balls of everyone involved, but with a hand over your mouth to stifle the comments you’ll inevitably make at the toll that it must have had on the stunt men involved.
It’s the sort of film where the list of doctors involved is longer than the effects technicians.
Plot? Boiled down to the barest of needs; the police are sent into a no-go tower block to arrest a drug lord, mayhem ensues. It really doesn’t need any more than that, but it still provides twists and turns along the way to ensure that the interest is held. Characters? Sketched lightly enough to make you root for them, helped hugely by the physical charisma of its star Iko Uwais, who may not say much but has a sort of intensity which means you just cannot take your eyes off him. There’s a real old-school vibe to the film, a sort of throwback to the seventies in terms of intensity & viciousness that we just don’t get these days. There’s not even recourse to throw away humour, villains are taken out with a brutal efficiency before moving on, no glib one-liner to relax the audience, just a relentless series of assaults. Dialogue is kept to a minimum, but is never just exposition, instead continuing to distil the story down to its bare bones.
This focus is key to the films success – director Gareth Evans and choreographers Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian have concentrated on delivering one superlative action sequence after another, without the use of CGI or wire work, just old fashioned stunt work and a sense of keeping everything as real as possible. Every sequence feels fresh and inventive, both in terms of the action itself or the direction. This is of particular note due to its simplicity, there’s no attempt to either soften the impact of the violence through editing or hide what is going on – this is a film that accepts that sometimes an action film shouldn’t be aimed at the teen market (there were walkouts due to the intensity of some sequences) and treats its audience as adults. Nor does it fall into the trap of inscrutable foreign memes, this is a distinctly western aimed film rather than a cross-over hit, aimed at the Friday night crowd rather than the aficionado’s, but with a sense of delirium you just don’t see from western studios, an unwillingness to compromise to normal audience demands.
The intensity runs throughout, the driving electronic score increasing in tempo as the film progresses, working perfectly with the rest of the film to tell the story. Even the limitations of the budget work in its favour, the limits of the location being accepted and not hidden. Apart from the opening scenes we see nothing of the outside world, no contact is established, no aid is coming – everything increases the sense of threat the film seeks to create. The whole film seems intent on being distilled to a single sentence description, no unnecessary flab.
Hollywood is already looking at a remake; no doubt it will soften the ferocity of the film in order to give it a wider appeal, loosing its grimy edge. For now this sets a gold standard for action thrillers and is probably the nearest thing to a future classic we’ve seen released this year.