This ultra-violent Indonesian martial arts fight fest will definitely awaken your senses and have you swinging your arms and kicking your legs as you leave the theatre. Part Ong-Bak (2003) part Elite Squad (2007) and part Attack the Block (2011), it depicts a gritty urban war between machete wielding slum gangs and a special forces SWAT team inside a rundown housing block apartment building controlled by a local war lord.
The movie is basically a showcase for a new Indo-Malay action hero, Iko Uwais, whose fighting style is called Silat, a traditional form of martial arts practiced in Southeast Asia, which consists of using any object at your disposal as a weapon. It also has a lot of kicking and punching while throwing and pushing your opponent’s body into things. After the bullets run out and the knives are eliminated it’s down to hand to hand combat and anything else that can be found at arm’s length; tables, chairs, glass, you name it.
This movie combines the police action/suspense genre like the Hong Kong thriller Infernal Affairs (2004) on which The Departed (2006) was based, with a unique martial arts style of street fighting in a claustrophobic environment. The story is about a team of 20 well equipped Special Forces police sent into a tower block in downtown Jakarta which is occupied by a powerful crime lord who controls the entire building with his crime gang of hundreds all living in the complex. Their mission is to take the building, floor by floor and capture the gang leader while fighting off his henchmen.
This is the perfect set up for a visceral non-stop action fighting movie and the fighting gets brutally bloody and ugly. Combining a documentary style of filming with the suspenseful story of an out numbered group of rookies trying to survive against a gang of sadistic criminals inside a darkened maze of hallways, apartments, doors and windows from which the enemy can attack, is so compelling that the audience I saw it with were cheering and clapping whenever a bad guy was dispatched in a particularly violent manner.
The bad guys are very scary characters and you definitely feel like cheering for the good guy who finds himself caught in the middle of this hellish situation. This movie really knows how to ramp up the suspense with character development and tense quite moments, and has raised the bar for the action/suspense martial arts genre, but beware this film is definitely not for the squeamish.
Sequels are already in the works and a Hollywood version is also being developed.