It’s official: you can say now “Indonesian action film” with the same vague air of authority as “Korean revenge drama” or “French comedy” when trying to describing a specific localized flavour of genre film. This is hardly a new phenomenon: wild action movies have been coming out of Southeast Asia for decades, but in a post-Raid world, “Indonesian action film” isn’t just cute shorthand for critics and connoisseurs. It’s reflective of a cultural phenomenon in martial arts cinema. It conjures up images of wild action set pieces, clockwork choreography, and a small army of willing and able stunt performers putting their bodies on the line to get the shot. The Night Comes for Us, the latest skull-cracking action extravaganza from the island nation, delivers on every promise this cycle of films has made thus far and then some.
There isn’t much of a plot to this: during an ill-advised fit of empathy, a mob goon named Ito (Joe Taslim) saves a young girl, Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez), from a grisly death via firing squad. He then hides her in his apartment and prepares for the waves upon waves of assassins coming for both of their heads. Among those assassins is Airan (Iko Uwais), a former Triad associate now running a club for the syndicate in Macau. To say that this story writes itself is an insult to automatic writing; it’s rote, bog-standard action movie fare. But as with other movies where plot matters little, you have to grade this narrative arc on a different curve. The dramatic tension of The Night Comes for Us rests not so much on the machinations of the plot but on the increasingly vicious methods used by the performers to wreak havoc on the human body. The fights don’t just tell the story, they are the story.
No combination of sentences I can write could adequately praise Taslim, Uwais, Julie Estelle (aka Hammer Girl from The Raid 2), and the rest of the actors and stunt performers for the daring and the athleticism they demonstrate in this film. The fights themselves are incredible, blood-soaked tableaux of hand-to-hand combat, many of which unfold with a Jackie Chan-esque knack for environmental creativity. One of the film’s first encounters takes place in the back room of a butcher shop, and you bet your ass that the bone saw one of the thugs is seen operating is going to become a key part of the eventual set piece. If you see it clearly in the frame, there’s a good chance it’ll be used as a weapon when the movie becomes a gnarly Super Smash Bros. clone for a few minutes: Chekhov’s cow femur, Chekhov’s “slippery when wet” sign, Chekhov’s pool table and pool table accessories. The focus on the carnage of combat is unwavering and spellbinding.
It’s hard to shake the comparison to The Raid when talking about The Night Comes for Us. The two films share top-billed actors Taslim and Uwais. The latter, who in a just universe would be a Tom Cruise-level superstar by now, also reprises his role of action coordinator from The Raid. Writer/director Timo Tjahjanto collaborated with Raid mastermind Gareth Evans on the “Safe Haven” segment in horror anthology V/H/S 2; Evans was also an executive producer on 2014’s Killers, which Tjahjanto co-directed. But here, Tjahjanto manages to stand apart from Evans by pitching his action opus in between the lean brutality of The Raid and the operatic portent of its sequel, Berendal. It has a deliberate pace, but the highlights come at a steady clip. It’s like watching someone shoot fireworks at a steamroller for two hours, and it is glorious.
Directed by Timo Tjahjanto; written by Timo Tjahjanto; starring Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Sunny Pang, and Zack Lee; 120 minutes.