Film review: Indonesian thriller is bloody good

Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world, so it's not surprising that they have an indigenous film industry and, in fact, have had one since 1926. But you wouldn't know it around here.

As far as I can determine, no Indonesian production prior to “The Raid: Redemption” has ever received a real American release, let alone from a prestigious art house distributor like Sony Classics. Calling a film (or anything else) a “first” is an invitation to contradiction, so I welcome your corrections. In any case, it can safely be said that this new action opus is Indonesia's breakout film in the U.S.

It is, in fact, a break-in film as well. The plot revolves around a SWAT-like team charged with bringing in Tama, a crime boss (Ray Sahetaphy) who operates out of the top floor of a shabby 15-story apartment building, which he also owns. In addition to his full-time minions, the building houses a variety of thugs and murderers of every sort, as well as numerous innocent, mostly poor, families. Early on, Tama announces over the P.A. system that anyone who helps him defeat the intruders can live there rent-free for life.

Tama also has a comprehensive video surveillance hookup, linked to his penthouse headquarters. Somehow, the good guys have to break in (which will instantly alert him), climb 14 flights of stairs through a small army of heavily armed opponents, get to the top, arrest him, and bring him out. It is, in short, a suicide mission. And it becomes more of one when the squad's head (Joe Taslim) is almost immediately killed, leaving a rookie named Rama (Iko Uwais) in charge of the whole operation. At each level, more and more cops are slaughtered.

The plot setup is reminiscent of “Assault on Precinct 13,” “Die Hard” and the scores of other films about besieged fortresses, but plot is hardly the point. Neither is characterization, despite attempts to infuse Rama's back story with emotional weight. It's about action: chase, fight with automatic weapons, evade, fight with feet and fists, and on and on. The gunfights are good, but the hand-to-hand combat episodes are better. As one villain explains, tossing aside his weapon at the start of a fight, “Squeezing the trigger. It's like ordering takeout.”

This is the second Indonesian action film (and third feature overall) written, directed and edited by Gareth Huw Evans — unquestionably the greatest director of such movies ever to have emerged from Wales. (That claim I'm willing to stand by.) Star Uwais — along with Evans and Yayan Ruhian — are credited with the action choreography, which, as in many martial arts and action films, is at least as important as the rest of the direction. In this regard, they really deliver.

The fights are essentially nonstop; the only breaks we get are suspense scenes where cops are hiding from the killers or bracing themselves for battle. Everything builds toward the amazing final sequence, pitting Rama and his brother against Mad Dog (Ruhian).

As exciting as the whole package is, I would be remiss not to give a warning to those who are at all squeamish: This may be the most violent movie I've ever seen. Sometimes the IMDB's “plot keywords” feature tells the whole story. Here is a solid block of 10, chosen randomly from the middle of 106 such descriptors: Shot Through A Door, Assault Rifle, Martial Arts, Police Officer Shot, Beaten To Death, Explosion, Brawl, Thrown Through A Window, Hand To Hand Combat, Broken Back.... You get the idea.

ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on “FilmWeek” on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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