The Raid (2011, directed by Gareth Huw Evans)
When Ong Bak hit the scene a decade or so ago everyone flipped out over Tony Jaa and the awesome brutality of the muy thai fight scenes, but the film itself got a few fanboy sneers for not being the polished production you might expect out of the more established film industries of the east.
The Raid might end up having just as big an impact as Ong Bak did, but the fanboys are gonna have to find something else to complain about.
Telling the story of a botched police raid on the tenement stronghold of a Jakarta crime lord, The Raid featured basically everything you could possibly want in an action film. Simple yet propulsive plot? (It's basically a Die Hard riff). Check. Charismatic star? (Iko Uwais carries himself on-screen like the Indonesian Ryan Gosling, if Gosling could kill a man with his bare hands in under five seconds.) Check. Worthy opponents? (If Uwais is the Indonesian Gosling, Ray Sahetapy as Tama the crime lord might as well be the Indonesian Benicio del Toro. And the nastier of his two main henchmen gets played by the film's fight choreographer, Yayn Ruhian, and is simply called Mad Dog.) Great fight scenes? (Silat, the Indonesian house brand martial arts style on display here, comes across like muy thai's vicious cousin.) Check. Massive body count? (This isn't a 'tap and you fall down' martial arts movie. Even beyond all the machete action, automatic weapons fire, exploding refrigerators and close-range bullets to the temple, an awful lot of people get stabbed in the throat in The Raid.) Check check check asterisk asterisk holy shit exclamation point check.
What sets The Raid apart from the recent wave of muy thai films like Ong Bak, Tom-Yung-Goong and Chocolate though is the story-telling. Welsh transplant writer/director Gareth Evans does a fantastic job of showcasing the fight scenes while still keeping the film moving relentlessly forward. The quiet moments are few, far between and placed with precision, and the rest is thunderous bloody mayhem, with none of the set pieces feeling like they were shoe-horned in just because they looked cool. It's Evans, just as much as Uwais, who's the real breakaway star here, and he's established himself as a young action director who demands that you pay attention to whatever project he's taking aim at next.
If anything The Raid feels like a next step forward down the path Ong Bak opened up. Ten years ago, the idea that there even could be an 'undiscovered' cinematic martial art style was a mind-blower. The Raid can't blaze that trail twice, but it doesn't need to, and doesn't even try. Instead, The Raid just focuses on kicking your ass so hard you're shitting out of your nostrils for a week.
And really, isn't that what we all want from our action flicks?