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A treat for action movies lovers: Indonesia’s unique genre cinema

When asked about Indonesia’s national treasures, most people think of majestic temples, white sand beaches, or Ubud sacred forest and its monkeys. But lesser-known and just as impressive is the country’s action cinema industry: while many viewers still believe that all actioners come from Hollywood studios, Indonesian movies are undoubtedly some of the best on the planet. Brutal, gripping, and featuring real martial artists instead of stunt doubles, these films definitely deserve more attention than they get. But what makes Indonesian action cinema so special? It all begins with the local martial arts, Pencak Silat, used in the country’s most popular films. Pencak Silat is actually a group of several martial arts which originated from the Indonesian Archipelago, and are renowned for their intensity. In Silat, all parts of the body can become a weapon – or conversely, be used as a target. Still popular today in Indonesia and Malaysia, Pencak Silat is extremely effective – and offers action-lovers a unique experience when featured on screen. This is all the more true as Indonesian actioners often employ real martial artists, who can help to choreograph their fight scenes and offer a more realistic performance. Some of these fighters-turned-actors have gone on to become international stars, such as Joe Taslim – who recently played Sub-Zero in the latest Mortal Kombat film (2021) or Iko Uwais, who has been announced as the main villain in the upcoming Expendables 4 (2023). With the use of an effective martial art and the presence of professional fighters, Indonesian action movies create a much more intense experience for audiences. Far from fake punches and over-cut fight scenes, these films put the “arts” back in martial arts.

A fight scene from The Raid (2011), Dir. Gareth Evans

More and more action-lovers have heard from Indonesian cinema, but it remains fairly
unknown to the wider public. So, if this article has made you want to witness unique fight
scenes and discover badass heroes, you might be wondering where to start. Well, here
are a few Indonesian actioners which will get you on the edge of your seat – and could
even send a chill down your spine!

The Raid (2011) and The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)
Let’s begin with the arguable best: few to no films can claim to top The Raid (2011) and
The Raid 2 (2014), which continue to impress viewers to this day. Directed in Indonesia by
Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans, both Raid movies follow Rama (Iko Uwais) a young cop trying to bring down a drug cartel in Jakarta. In the first film, he and his team are sent on an extremely dangerous mission: they must infiltrate a derelict building controlled by a local drug lord, but things take a personal turn as Rama’s brother, a drug dealer himself, is also working inside. The fight scenes and tension throughout the film are simply mind blowing (no one can forget the narcotics lab fight!), and the only thing which might be better than The Raid is The Raid 2.

The sequel The Raid 2 (2014) Dir. Gareth Evans.

This time, Rama, still played by professionally-trained Uwais, is on a personal crusade to avenge the death of a loved one – killed by another rising gang leader. Bigger, bolder, and this time taking place throughout the entire city, this second volume has a more “comic-book style” than its predecessor, but does not compromise on the action. Part of The Raid 2 ’s highlights are its henchmen, some of whom fight with a baseball bat or karambit knives (with curved blades), while a deaf henchwoman uses two claw hammers to kill her victims. This iconic Hammer Girl is played by famous actress Julie Estelle, who had never been formally trained in martial arts before the film, and impressed Gareth Evans on set . Often dubbed the “greatest action movies 2 of all-time” by fans of the genre, The Raid dilogy will also interest indie-lovers. Both films were produced by small and independent companies, but The Raid made almost nine times its initial budget of just $1.1 million at the box office. Its followup thus had a bigger budget, and was distributed by Sony Pictures Classic – but remains co-produced in Indonesia.

Headshot (2016)
Despite The Raid 2 ‘s critical acclaim and commercial success, Gareth Evans does not think of directing a follow-up in the near future, wanting to end on a high note . So, if you are looking for more action-packed Indonesian films, here are 3 some other possible choices. Both of the following movies can be seen as spiritual successors to The Raid, as they also star Iko Uwais, a now-professional-martial-artist Julie Estelle and Joe Taslim – who was cast in The Raid 1. The continuity is especially apparent in Headshot (2016), which follows a former gangster, Ishmael (Uwais), who lost his memory after being betrayed and shot in the head. With the help of his kind-hearted doctor, Ishmael attempts to find out more about his past – and escape those who seem displeased to see him alive. Headshot is slower-paced, and will please fans looking for a gritty, edgy film which lengthily depicts violent fights. It is also the first action film of two very well-known Indonesian directors, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel – known as the Mo Brothers, though they are not actually related. The duo is used to directing horror movies, and probably felt at home when filming Headshot’s bloody fight sequences. They feature (among others) guns, a telescopic stick, a Bowie knife, and more guns!

The Night Comes For Us (2018)
The blend of horror and action is even more visible in The Night Comes for Us (2018), a
Netflix film written and directed by a familiar figure – Timo Tjahjanto. The expression “gore-fest” is definitely appropriate to describe this film: do not have a shot every time a limb is brutally cut off, or you won’t last until the end! A joyous bloodbath, The Night Comes for Us is definitely not for the faint of heat, and its director mentioned that not being part of a Hollywood studio allowed him to offer gristlier fight scenes . The film stars Joe Taslim as an elite enforcer who decides to betray his gang and spare the life of a little girl. Running away from his former allies who want him and the child dead at all costs, he encounters the mysterious Operator (Julie Estelle) whose allegiance seems unclear, and has to face the wrath of his former best friend Arian – none other than Iko Uwais, this time cast as a villain. The violence in The Night Comes for Us is both graphic and grotesque, as the movie features deaths by billiard balls, a weighted garrotte, and even a cow femur! For those who can stomach it, the wild ride offered by Netflix is very much worth a watch, and might be proof that Indonesian actioners are finally getting the international following they deserve.

Promotional poster of The Night Comes for Us (2018) Dir. Timo Tjahjanto


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