This film doesn’t waste any time getting going. A few quick montage shots of someone doing pull-ups and hitting a punchbag (with some fantastically over the top punch sound effects) and we cut to the inside of an armoured vehicle where an armed unit of police are looking nervous as they are being given a brief to storm and clear a tower block full of criminals. Done, you know where you are and the scene is set within 5 minutes.
It’s shot in 1.85:1 ratio rather than the typical Cinemascope 2.35:1 (for comparison, 16:9 is your standard widescreen tv which is equivalent to 1.78:1 and the old tellys were 4:3 which is 1.33:1 which is a long way of saying that this isn’t as wide as the standard film) which in the cinema at least lends it a claustrophobic feeling.
The setting’s all inside the block as well, which helps as you are boxed-in in corridors and rooms. The set design is fantastic from the start with the high-contrast feel of the armoured vehicle and the dirty, atmospheric corridors, which are reminiscent of the N64 classic Goldeneye. The film is a little like a video game too, with the violent action set pieces of shooting or martial arts regularly spaced with the classic between-level cut-scenes as you work you’re way up to the baddie.
The standard setup of the Kung-fu film is given the slightest twist to keep it fresh and original enough to last the course of the film and to ease the narrative with for me perhaps only one or two moments of awkward plot convenience (in the office on the 15th floor being the main one). Some of the characters are very interesting too (Mad Dog springs to mind) which is impressive with the little setup they have.
The music for the film coincides with the action set pieces. Big-beat tunes thump out for fight time and the fights themselves take on a rhythmic quality, almost like a duelling drumroll.
It’s a bit of a repeating one-trick pony, but it’s so well executed that it carries itself along quite nicely most of the time.
However! I was getting furious at the bloody shaky cam! How refreshing to see action sequences shot from a sensible distance and not over-edited to the point that you disengage, but how annoying to still see the camera twitching from side to side in a clearly forced movement. Shaking the camera does not create tension or urgency it merely annoys the viewers (or at least some of them. Well, me at least). One particularly bad example scene has two characters facing each other, one with a gun drawn, slowly edging into a room. The nearly-static camera twitches from side to side every so often and it just made me focus on that. It’s like trying to listen to an album on a record with a huge scratch across it – once you notice the clunk every second you can’t focus on anything else, especially in the quiet bits.
Clearly a great film maker and I just hope his subsequent films shake off the shakes.
3 on 5 (4 on 5 to everyone else who probably isn’t bothered by the shaky cam!)
Director : Gareth Huw Evans (also wrote and edited)
Starring: Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim, Donny Alamsyah, Yayan Ruhian, Pierre Gruno, Tegar Setrya, Ray Sahetapy
Uk Release: 22nd May 2012