In this movie, the camera flips into the air, leaps into the action, glides above melees, swings in and out of multiple moving cars, and is choreographed as part of the action in astonishing long takes. All considered, it sets a new paradigm for martial arts films in the fields of directing, shooting, and editing.
So it’s a shame about the plot. Plot has never been the most important thing in martial arts movies, which generally present their narratives as clearly and simply as possible to allow fight scenes and star charisma to stand out. Here, the convolutions of the plot obscure the drama and the stakes, removing proper tension from key scenes. The relentless tonal sameness becomes monotonous and grueling. It doesn’t help that the storyline is already pretty familiar (basically Eastern Promises bloated), though perhaps it plays as more fresh and exciting in Indonesia, where they’ve had fewer crime epics to call their own. (I’m guessing here, I know nothing about Indonesian movies.) And the violence of the fights is no joke--they don’t need to add in extra throat-slicing executions for impact. It becomes excessive, and I wouldn’t blame anybody for deciding this is just too much blood for them.
The movie is most fun when it’s playing with genre conventions, as with the three colorful assassins called up for the final act: Wild-Haired Homeless Guy, Baseball-Bat Guy, and especially Deaf Hammer Girl. A pity the other characters are dull and clichéd because we’re apparently meant to care about them. That doesn’t entirely exclude our hero Rama, either: Iko Uwais is a terrific fighter and has star presence, but he needs a little more personality to be great. Bruce, Jackie, Sammo, Jet--they all have personalities, personas, hooks, that make them stand out as memorable, and eventually become legendary. Uwais still needs a little more hook.
Nevertheless, I’m still on board. Bring on Part 3!
(actually posted Feb 22, 2015)