Archive for April, 2012

Review: My Kingdom (2011)

Posted in Sammo Hung, Yu Rong Guang, Yuen Biao with tags , , , on April 27, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Chun Wu, Han Geng, Barbie Hsu, Yuen Biao, Yu Rongguang

Fight Choreography by Sammo Hung

Directed by Gao Xiaosong
The Peking Opera dances have been a staple of many martial arts films over the years, but usually is part of a set piece or scene. Rarely is it woven as part of the main plot of a film. Prodigal Son is one of the few examples, and My Kingdom will join it as another. Both star Yuen Biao to varying degrees.

My Kingdom begins at the end of the Qing dynasty, and the new Prince Regent is having the Meng families beheaded. Watching all of this is Northern Peking Opera Master Yu (Biao) and his student Yi-Long (Wu), who take note of Er-Kui (Geng) a boy in the Meng family, slightly younger than Yi-Long, who is about to be put to death. Er-Kui sings a song as his sister is being beheaded, and this causes Master Yu to save him. Later, Master Yu is given the Golden Plaque, recognizing him as the greatest of all Opera Masters. During the celebration of the Plaque, Master Yue Jiang-Tian (Rongguang) comes to challenge Master Yu for the plaque. The rules among Opera performers is that if they lose the duel, they are to break their spears and never take the stage again. Master Yu reluctantly duels with Master Yue, and is defeated while trying to save one of the boys. Master Yue takes the Plaque, and the boys vow revenge for their Master, and take it years later, drawing the ire of Master Yue’s protege Madam Xi (Hsu), but little do any of them know that their lives are about to play out not unlike many of the tragic operas they perform…

My Kingdom has a story that is simple, and while not exactly predictable, you can get the idea of where things are headed. This story is ultimately about loyalty to one’s family. Every main character, in some way, is acting out of loyalty to their families. Everyone wants revenge, but at the same time they are part of each others’ “families”, which leads to much hand ringing and angst between them as each try to take revenge for their loved ones, which may mean destroying each other in the process. The leads do a good job, with Barbie Hsu being standout as the one enigma. Her character seems simple at first, but as the film goes on she becomes more complicated as she finds her own struggles with revenge. Han Geng does a great job as the most conflicted one of the group, as Er-Kui plans to exact his revenge for the murders of his family by killing all of the sons of the Prince Regent. He is the most sensitive one, and the most dutiful, and always walks around with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and Geng pulls it off nicely. Chun Wu also does a good job as well as Yi-Long, whose motives are probably the most straightforward of anyone in the film.

Once again Sammo Hung comes through with great fight choreography. I don’t know how adept any of the actors are in regards to martial arts, but they did a good job. There aren’t many fights, but the two best fights are Yuen Biao versus Yu Rongguang, who show they’ve still got the right stuff, and the fight between Yu Rongguang and the youngsters. The fights are fast-paced and have some really good movements, even if many of them are wire-assisted, but Sammo’s choreography masks some of the more obvious wire harness scenes, as does the excellent cinematography. The one piece of choreography that can’t mask the performer is the fight between Madam Xi and Er-Kui. It’s obvious that a stunt person was used for most of Barbie Hsu’s fights, and when the camera shows its her she is very rigid and, well, just looks uncomfortable in her movements.

Overall My Kingdom is a pretty good film that tells a unique story about the Peking Opera school and the dangers of revenge. It truly is a dish best served cold.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) There aren’t many fight scenes in this film, but what’s there is done well. Of course Yuen Biao and Yu Rongguang provide the best fights in the film. The film needed more like that.

STUNT WORK: (7) The stuntmen do a good job subbing in for the actors, which is apparent in some scenes due to the way it’s shot. The Opera performances and battles are well done.

STAR POWER: (8) Yuen Biao and Yu Rongguang are as good as always. Too bad they weren’t the main characters. Barbie Hsu is as good as always. Han Geng and Chun Wu look as if they may have what it takes to be future stars.

FINAL GRADE: (8) My Kingdom tells a solid story about the Opera warrior’s culture, and the tragedy that unfolds for those who desire the Golden Plaque.

Advertisements

Review: Ong Bak 3 (2010)

Posted in Dan Chupong, Panna Rittikrai, Tony Jaa with tags , on April 22, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Tony Jaa, Dan Chupong, Petchtai Wongkamlao

Fight Choreography by Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa

Directed by Panna Rittikrai and Tony Jaa

Before I delve into this review, let’s go back over the events that led to Ong Bak 3:
Tony Jaa, coming off of the success of The Protector, wanted to direct and star in his own martial arts epic, even though his industry friends Panna Rittikrai and Pratcha Pinkaew warned him not to, that he wasn’t ready to take that kind of a step yet. Tony moved on without them and started shooting Ong Bak 2. Everything seemed to be going well enough until disturbing news trickled out concerning the production: Tony needed more money to finish the movie, and Sahamongkul Films balked at this, since the film was running far over schedule, it was over budget, the film was already clocking in at four hours, and Tony still wasn’t finished yet. They had a right to be worried, and their fears were soon justified…

Suddenly, and without warning, Tony walked off the set one day into the woods. Two months later he turned up on a radio show and cried (literally) about the amount of pressure he was under. If that didn’t get the studio scared, nothing else could, but luckily cooler heads prevailed. Tony was ordered back to the set, and was told that the budget would be increased a little, but on the condition that his old friend Panna Rittikrai step in to help him finish the film, and that last point was non-negotiable. Panna looked at the mess before him and decided that the film needed to be split into two films, and the majority that Tony directed was Ong Bak 2. Most of the reshoots that Panna directed were for Ong Bak 3. And so here we are…

Ong Bak 3 picks up where Ong Bak 2 left off, with Tien (Jaa) having been betrayed by his surrogate father Churnung, now captured by Rajasena, the man who ordered the deaths of Tien’s parents. Tien is tortured, and has most of the bones in his body broken. A message from the King spares Tien of execution, and orders Tien to be brought to the King. The King’s messenger and a group of royal soldiers take Tien to a small village where they are tasked to heal Tien. But Rajasena isn’t content to let this stand, and sends a group of assassins to kill Tien and the royal guards. The assassins fail, but all of the royal guards are killed, leaving Tien in the hands of the villagers, one of which was his childhood sweetheart Pim. Soon the villagers are able to heal Tien physically, though he is crippled. Tien must take himself on a spiritual journey to heal himself both within and without, just in time to face Bhuti (Chupong), the crow-like witch that led to his defeat in Ong Bak 2, and now has designs on taking power by killing Rajasena…

Ong Bak 3 has problems that mar it from the great finish it should have been. The first and most glaring problem was the story itself. Ong Bak 2 established the world, the characters, and the parameters they existed in. There were no supernatural shenanigans there, unlike here, where it is clear that Bhuti is some sort of supernatural non-human creature. If Ong Bak 2 had established this, then it wouldn’t be an issue, but they didn’t, so now it becomes a jarring difference. They changed the rules that governed that world, and in telling a story you just can’t do that. An argument can be made that it was hinted at in part 2, but if that was the case then it should’ve stayed that way for part 3, not having black gas invading people’s bodies and Dan Chupong on wires flying around (it was only one scene, but still). The way the story dealt with Rajasena also left a lot to be desired, and had no real emotional payoff. Neither did the fates of the rest of Tien’s pirate friends, who are quickly brushed aside, making their appearances in Ong Bak 2 feel somewhat like a waste of time and potential.

Tony Jaa did a good job as Tien, this time getting to emote a bit more than in the previous film. Wongkamlao was his old comedy self as Mhen, but he needed to be in the film more. Dan Chupong was great as Bhuti, but seemed to lose his menace as the film went along.

The fight choreography was a mixed bag. It was technically good, and the stunt men did some crazy things but overall there was a been-there-seen-that feeling I got as I watched. No fight in the film came close to the fight at the end of Ong Bak 2. The fight that should’ve was the long-awaited battle between Jaa and Chupong, but due to story constraints both men are not allowed to really show their stuff when they finally come face to face. The scenes where Tien trains in the new style he uses, coming from a dance Pim teaches him, is better than nearly everything else in the film.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) It was okay for what it was, but didn’t raise the bar above any of Tony’s–and Panna’s–prior efforts. The fights somewhat suffer due to the change of style from Ong Bak 2, and seemed to just expand on fights you’ve already seen. Maybe the budget and time constraints kept them from coming up with something better?

STUNT WORK: (8) Yeah, the film falters, but not because of the stunt men, who toss themselves off elephants and trees and everything else with a great amount of verve and energy.The elephants also deserve a lot of credit for putting up with all of them.

STAR POWER: (7) Tony Jaa’s reputation took a sure hit from this one, and while he made this film new, exciting martial artists came out with great films of their own, raising the bar to a place he has to reach. Chupong was good but an argument could be made that he should’ve been on-screen less. Wongkamlao wasn’t used nearly as much as he should’ve been.

FINAL GRADE: (6) Ong Bak 3 is a passable film but ultimately disappoints in what should have been a rousing conclusion to Tien’s story. Hopefully this will dissuade Tony Jaa from stepping behind the camera for a very long time–until he’s truly ready.

Kiai-Kick! Op/Ed: Where Did The Energy Go?

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on April 19, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

By Santanu Rahman

 

Late 80’s and 90’s Hong Kong Kung-Fu films – that’s where it’s at, for me. The martial arts choreography was innovative, exciting, fast paced, hard hitting, and intense. Even the B-rate movies had decent choreography! I don’t even mind the undercranking technique (speeding up the film ever so slightly and tastefully) used frequently in those times, it actually enhanced the action.

They were constantly pushing the boundaries, and basically trying to “out-stunt” each other.

Today, while Hong Kong’s film industry still thrives, and produces big budget martial arts films, it feels like a lot of that energy and spirit has left them and gone to other countries.

So allow me to give a listing, by country and films, who has inherited this energy:

THAILAND

With Ong Bak 1, 2, and 3, Chocolate, The Protector, and Bangkok Knockout, the Thai film industry are proving themselves as up and coming leaders in the martial arts cinema genre. Tony Jaa has tremendous ability and star power. Panna Rittikrai has proven he knows how to choreograph innovative fight sequences. Prachya Pinkaew has proven his abilities as a director and producer of this genre. It is now up to them to start making strong business decisions to keep climbing up. Their combination of that Hong Kong energy with Muay Thai and Krabi Krabong gave cinematic accessibility to the Thai arts.

KOREA


With films such as Fighter in the Wind and The Man from Nowhere, the Korean film industry has proven that it can stage martial arts fight scenes in a compelling way. It will be interesting to see how and what they produce in their action film industry. The combination of that Hong Kong energy with the Korean arts makes it more fluid and dynamic to showcase their arts’ skills.

USA


Director Isaac Flourentine, and martial arts actors Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White have inherited this energy as well, and it is apparent in films like Undisputed 2 and 3, Ninja, and Blood and Bone. Sometimes, they produce hits, and sometimes misses. My personal opinion is that they’ve done enough of the tournament movies. Keep moving forward, and don’t pidgeon-hole yourself. The combination of that Hong Kong energy with American kickboxing, Karate, Jujitsu, and MMA has definitely drawn a line in the sand of how to make western martial artists look explosive.

INDONESIA


The latest newcomer to the martial arts cinema scene, they proved worthiness with Merantau. Director Garreth Evans, martial arts actor Iko Uwais, and choreographer Yayan Ruhian have magical combination that rivals Thailand’s Pinkaew-Jaa-Rittikrai’s team. Merantau was distributed on Netflix, a very smart first move, and then they exploded the martial arts cinema genre with The Raid. The combination of that Hong Kong energy with the brutality of the Indonesian martial art Silat, they are showcasing not only their skills, but busting the stereotype that fluid, dynamic, explosive martial arts choreography has to tame the brutality in favor of athleticism. I think martial arts cinema fans are sort of jaded with the gymnastics of it all, and ready to see some real applications of real self-defense techniques.

Perhaps the ongoing success of the films coming from Thailand, Korea, USA, and Indonesia will feed the energy back to Hong Kong. That would be great! But for now, I’m happy to now know who and where to follow for the next over-the-top martial arts film!

-Santanu

Review: Ip Man 2 (2010)

Posted in Darren Shahlavi, Donnie Yen, Fan Siu Wong (Louis Fan), Fung Hak-On, Lo Meng (Turbo Law), Sammo Hung with tags , on April 13, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Darren Shahlavi, Simon Yam, Terry Fan, Fung Hark-On, Turbo Law, Xiaoming Huang

Fight Choreography by Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung

Directed by Wilson Yip

Donnie Yen, after years of failure to live up to expectations, finally starting living up to his potential starting with Killzone, and then Flashpoint, which finally led him to what will become his signature film, Ip Man, which was wildly successful. So of course there would be a sequel, but could it live up to what the first film delivered?

The film returns us to the world of Ip Man circa 1949. Ip Man (Yen) had escaped his home in Foushan with his wife and son during the war with Japan. Fast forward some time later finds them living poorly in Hong Kong, nearly as bad off as they were in Foushan, and Ip Man slowly but surely finds students to train, especially one young fool named Leung (Huang). This gets him into trouble with the local martial arts schools, all part of an association run nearly gangster-style by Master Hong Zen Nan (Hung) who in turn help stage fights for the British there, headlined by their champion Twister (Shahlavi), an overconfident boxer who doesn’t respect Chinese boxing. Ip Man first finds himself at war with Master Hong, but the greater threat of Twister emerges, and the legitimacy of Chinese kung fu rests on Ip Man’s shoulders once again…

Ip Man 2 has a far denser story than the original, as we are not only introduced to a slew of new characters, but are reintroduced to some of the other characters who escaped Foushan, and how their lives have changed, such as Jin (Fan) who was one of Ip Man’s enemies from the previous film, but a wife and child have changed him into a decent guy, one who now wants to help Ip Man. Simon Yam also returns as Zhou Quan, who goes from businessman to a homeless thief after a bullet to the head he suffered during his escape from Foushan damages his brain, and now cannot recognize anyone. Now his son does his best to care for him. There is something to the structure of the film that echoes the first, such as the story line changing from Ip Man dealing with a local thug to defending the Chinese martial arts from another occupying force, in this case the British.

Donnie Yen once again plays Ip Man with the same calm grace he did in the original. Yen does more acting with his eyes, as you can see how the events of the last film and this one fray at Ip Man’s soul as he tries to help his fellow Chinese as well as care for his wife, who is expecting a child. Sammo Hung plays Master Hong not as a bad guy, but as a conflicted man who wants to make enough money to take care of his multitude of children but also trying to keep the British police thugs from overrunning Hong Kong. He is a proud man who relents to no one, and Sammo approaches this kind of character as a man who truly believes he has China’s best interests at heart, but realizes too late he may have done more harm than good. Darren Shahlavi is fantastic as Twister, playing him with just the right amounts of confidence and arrogance. There is actually a great moment toward the end of the film after his epic fight with Ip Man, and Shahlavi is able to convey a sense that Twister’s world view had changed, all done with facial expressions and no dialogue. It was also fun to see Turbo Law (Gallants) and Fung Hark-On (Police Story) appear for an actual fight scene. Both men show that despite their age they can still rock the kung-fu!

The one real gripe I had with the story was in regards to Ip Man’s duel with Twister, wherein Ip Man waits until nearly the end of the fight to remind himself of what he had told Master Hong earlier in the film in regards to defeating Twister. Since Ip Man is such a smart man, how could he have conveniently forgotten the way to defeat Twister? It just didn’t ring true from everything already established about the character.

Sammo Hung returns to duty as fight choreographer of this film as well, and does a fantastic job of staging the fights. The fish market fight was fantastic, and what may be the best fight is the duels between Ip Man and the masters, culminating in a Sammo versus Donnie Yen that is simply a fantastic fight as they duel on top of a round table, as is Sammo’s fight versus Shahlavi. I have to admit none of the fights are quite as good as the first films’, except for Donnie Yen’s duel with Sammo.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) The fights are fast paced and brisk, and as inventive as always. Ip Man versus the Masters is probably the most inventive fight sequence in the film, as is Sammo’s fight with Darren Shahlavi. Both men pull if off beautifully. Donnie Yen brings that same fast-paced smoothness to his fights, and is able to be a good counterpoint to Shahlavi’s brutal boxing style.

STUNTWORK(8) The stuntmen did a great job, especially since so many fight scenes were dense with people, and their work in the fish market fight was just great.

STAR POWER: (10) Donnie Yen is at the top of his game, Sammo Hung is as good as ever, Darren Shahlavi is on the rise, and hey, who doesn’t like to see Terry Fan? Toss Turbo Law and Fung Hark-On and you have old school gold!

FINAL GRADE: (9) Ip Man 2 isn’t as good as the original, but is still a very good film about the continuing life of Ip Man as he once again navigates the politics of the streets and deals with yet another occupying force that threatens his way of life. Now onward to Ip Man 3–and his years with Bruce Lee!

An Open Letter to Roger Ebert

Posted in Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian with tags , , on April 6, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

(No real spoilers, but for those who haven’t seen it you may want to wait until afterward to read this)

I loved The Raid. Yep, loved it to death. I gave it a 10/10 in my review grade, and I’ll stand by that grade, as I do all others. I know I’m not alone, but there is a contingent of folks, few though they are, who didn’t like the film. Roger Ebert didn’t care much for it, and said so, and then further defended his one star review on his website. I have no issue with anyone who didn’t like the film. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and that’s fine. He had some good points as to why he didn’t care for it himself. What I take offense to is that his review and defense of it afterward felt like–and I could just be overly sensitive– it was hurling insults at those who did, and that’s wrong.

A martial arts film is like ice cream. There are hundreds of flavors, some appeal better than others, but each has their value. You have your flowery films, like in Yuen Woo Ping’s fight choreography in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or The House of Flying Daggers, or you can have comedy kung-fu, like Drunken Master or Rumble in the Bronx, pioneered by Jackie Chan. Then there are the bone-crunching films as done by Jet Li, Bruce Lee, Donnie Yen, Michael Jai White, Scott Adkins, Tony Jaa, Steven Seagal and yes, Iko Uwais. They range from period epics to fantasy, science fiction, and contemporary action. What they–and The Raid–aren’t is “violence porn”. No one is getting off on watching someone getting killed brutally or otherwise. Fans of martial arts films love the fight choreography and the performers involved.

If I want a Merchant/Ivory film where everyone sits around all day talking about their feelings over a cup of tea, then I’ll go watch Howards End. If I want to see what imaginative fights Panna Rittikrai, Yuen Woo Ping, Larnell Stovall or Yayan Ruhian have come up with this time then that’s what I go to see these films for, the same as those who go to musicals. What ultimately makes a musical good or not will be how good the music and dance numbers are. In much the same way, Martial arts films are decided by how good the fight choreography is. If the acting is good, that’s a bonus. It should at least be passable, and the martial artist some onscreen presence. If the story is great, once again that’s a nice bonus, but it does need to be decent. Jackie Chan’s films mostly sit on paper-thin stories that are built around whatever stunts he want to do for that film; this is fine because that’s why we go to see his films. The Raid is brutal. Yes, but so is Silat, the fighting style Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian use. It’s not nice, nor should it be portrayed as such onscreen. Anything less would dishonor the style they’ve spent a good portion of their lives studying.

One of my real issues comes from Roger Ebert’s review and then his defense of that review, especially one statement:

“There’s obviously an audience for the film, probably a large one. They are content, even eager, to sit in a theater and watch one action figure after another pound and blast one another to death. They require no dialogue, no plot, no characters, no humanity. Have you noticed how cats and dogs will look at a TV screen on which there are things jumping around? It is to that level of the brain’s reptilian complex that the film appeals.”
Where to start.

1. No dialogue.

It’s true that not much is said. What needs to be in their situation? Is the hero required to provide a dissertation on his life? Actually Roger’s assertion is only partially correct. There is a lot being said, but it’s being said with their expressions and glances. Due to their situation they don’t have the time for long drawn out conversations. In fact talking would probably alert the bad guys to where they are at, and that wouldn’t be a good thing.

2. No Plot.

Yes, there is a plot. It doesn’t have to be complex to define it as having one. Not that Roger got that right, either:

“The Raid: Redemption’ is essentially a visualized video game that spares the audience the inconvenience of playing it. There are two teams, the police SWAT team and the gangsters. The gangsters have their headquarters on the top floor of a 15-story building, where they can spy on every room and corridor with video surveillance. The SWAT team enters on the ground floor. Its assignment: Fight its way to the top, floor by floor.”

Their assignment was to go in and capture Tama. They didn’t WANT to fight floor by floor, and this is reflected by how they entered the building, which was quietly. The point is during the raid things go wrong, and Tama is notified. The police try to escape by going down, but they are cut off, and they understand that only by getting Tama can they get out alive, but that in itself would be suicidal. So there is a plot.

3. No Characters

Rama seems to be a good character, and while true, you don’t get to learn a lot about him, but you know enough, and what about Mad Dog? He was a fun character, and turns out to be most people’s favorites. He was an unrelenting villain, who enjoys the fighting to a maniacal degree. Andi, another one of Tama’s lieutenants, is also a pretty good character because he’s got his own motivations that may place him at odds with Tama’s plans. Then there is Jaka, the SWAT team leader, a brave and loyal man who is placed into a difficult situation under fire, and is determined to get his men out alive.

4. No humanity.

Once again, completely not true. What about the tenant in room 766, who protects the police at his–and his wife’s–peril? The SWAT unit is placed into a bad situation, once in which killing–or incapacitating– as quickly as possible is the only means to survive, and that is what the film is about–survival. If you note Rama leaves quite a few people alive, and in fact he actually leaves more bad guys alive than he kills, even though he leaves them really, really hurt.

Folks who love martial arts films love them for many reasons. Yes, we still appreciate films that have a human dimension, meaning and morality. If I want a martial arts film with that kind of story, I always have them to lean on. I consider myself to be an intelligent man, and I’ve reviewed dozens of martial arts films, and will review hundreds more.

I loved The Raid.

It doesn’t make me a simple-minded or morally bankrupt person because I do.

Michael S Moore

Review: The Raid (2011)

Posted in Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian with tags , on April 2, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Joe Taslim, Doni Alamsyah, Ray Sahetapy

Fight Choreography by Yayan Ruhian

Directed by Gareth Evans

After the success of Merantau I’ve been waiting to see what Gareth Evans and star Iko Uwais had to offer for a follow-up. Merantau was a good start, and I believed they would/should make a modest jump with their next film as far as the typical evolution of martial arts action stars. First they were making a prison film called Berandal. Then news was scarce as to that film’s progress. Before long talk started of a different film called The Raid. Would this be the film that launches Iko Uwais into Tony Jaa territory?

The Raid didn’t launch Iko Uwais into Tony Jaa territory. It launched him well above that!

The Raid follows Rama (Uwais) a rookie swat team member, and soon to be father, who is sent with his team led by the brave Jaka (Taslim) into a tenement building containing Tama (Sahetapy), one of the most dangerous drug dealers in Jakarta. What Rama and most of the other swat team members don’t know is that Tama knew they were coming to get him, and he waits until they are well into the 20+ story building and then sends waves of killer thugs to kill every officer, and soon the tenement building becomes a warzone in which Rama only wants to survive and get back to his wife..but aside from the mission Rama also has a secret he desperately wants to hide…

The premise sounds simple enough, and it is, but don’t take that to mean that the story is paper thin or nonexistent. On the other hand, there are dramas that unfurl as the film progresses, like how Tama knew the police were coming, and Rama’s secret, one that could jeopardize his new career, and Tama’s lieutenants, who may have designs on taking Tama’s job…

Once the action gets going, The Raid never lets up. Gareth Evans does a masterful job of creating what is truly a roller-coaster ride of a film. He squeezes every bit of tension from every scene once things begin to go wrong for the SWAT team. Once the tension starts there is no let up until the credits roll. His camera angles are all well chosen, and gets the maximum impact of every scene. His director is sure handed and far beyond what he did in Merantau. Gareth Evans, in my opinion, has now cemented his place as one of the best action film directors around. Such a stupendous job. Evans has earned his seat next to John Woo, John McTiernan, and other great action film directors.

Iko Uwais. There can’t be enough said about him. His performance was great as the bewildered Rama. He never acts like a macho hero; rather he’s just a good guy in a bad situation who simply wants to live long enough to see his unborn child. Iko’s silat skills are on full display, and he doesn’t disappoint. His movements are as brutal as they are graceful, and he has the screen presence to carry the film. For years martial arts fans have been looking for the next Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan or Jet Li. While he still has a lot to prove, Iko Uwais has launched himself into the upper tier of martial arts action stars.

The other actors do a fantastic job themselves. Pierre Gruno plays the old cop Wahyu with the layer of slime and cowardice that will have you hating him before the film is over, and Joe Taslim was also great as Jaka the team leader. In most films he would have been the main action star, and you know what? Taslim could’ve pulled that off. He was that good as Jaka.

The fight choreography by Yayan Ruhian is a masterstroke of intense fighting. Every fight scene continues to escalate, and the fighting is incredibly fast-paced, and range from one-on-ones, to knife-fighting, to two-on-ones and one versus about ten or fifteen. Every fight is well staged and features some of the most brutal takedowns ever committed to film. There were a dozen fight scenes that ended with me cringing and laughing all at once as they concluded in unexpected ways.Yayan even plays the part of Mad Dog, the main henchman of Tama. That may have been a nod /homage to Hard Boiled’s Mad Dog, but Yayan makes his character his own brand of crazy, and his final fight with Iko Uwais is a brutal knockdown drag out that has to be one of the best on-screen fights of all time.

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):

CHOREOGRAPHY: (10) Yayan delivers some of the best fight choreography ever seen on film. Every fight is evocative of the escalating situation, and the speed and skills of all the fighters are placed on full display. There is a brutal rhythm to each fight that sets them apart from one another, but all are part of the greater composition.

STUNTWORK: (10) Sweet lord they used a lot of stunt men, and they needed every damn one of them. The falls were brutal, the ricochets off of appliances and walls and doors and, well damn near everything is the best stunt work I’ve seen since Jackie Chan’s Police Story.

STAR POWER: (10) Iko Uwais has leaped right over Tony Jaa and even Donnie Yen with this film. While he still needs to have a longer body of work, making a modern classic like this allows the discussion to be had about who’s the best martial arts star out there right now. What do I think? Uwais has my vote. Joe Taslim needs to get more work as an action hero, and Yayan needs to get his own film!

FINAL GRADE: (10) The Raid is a new modern-day classic that takes martial arts films to the next level, and raises the bar so high it’ll be difficult to reach for a while, and Iko Uwais is now one of the top stars of martial arts cinema. One of the best martial arts films ever made.