With "The Raid: Redemption," Iko Uwais Completes The New Triumvirate of Asian Action Stars

Posted 5:57 PM April 24th, 2012 by Senh Duong
The Raid: Redemption

To me, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li are the first triumvirate of Asian martial arts stars. For a while, martial arts fans were wondering who would take their place when Chan and Li are slowed by age.

In 2003, Tony Jaa became an international sensation after the release of “Ong Bak.” Critics compared him to a young Chan, and rightfully so. He took aerial kicks and elbows to the head to a level previously unseen.

In 2008, Donnie Yen finally stepped out of Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s huge shadows to become the superstar that many thought he would be. To me, he’s more of a successor to Bruce Lee. He’s got the speed, the attitude, the physique, and the charisma. He’s the first to use mixed martial arts effectively on screen with “S.P.L.” and “Flashpoint.”

After watching “The Raid: Redemption,” I feel that Iko Uwais completes the new triumvirate with Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa. Uwais introduced the Indonesian martial arts called Silat to international film fans.

“The Raid: Redemption” had a lot of pre-release hype from onliners who saw the film in major film festivals like Cannes, Toronto, Sundance, and SXSW. Most of them raved, and some even called it a masterpiece of action cinema.

It had became the most anticipated movie of 2012 for me. “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Prometheus,” “The Hobbit” all had to make room for this little indie martial arts film from Indonesia.

When it opened in the U.S. in the bay area, I was thinking about taking the two hour drive from Sacramento to catch it, but I found on the official site that it would come to Sacramento two weeks later, so I waited.

I finally watched it on April 13th. To my surprise, there weren’t many people in the 5pm screening. I was hoping for a bigger crowd because I wanted the film to do well.

Did the film meet my high expectations? Of course it did - I put Uwais up there with Jaa and Yen.

The combination of gun work, hand-to-hand combat, and a variety of weapon fights (knifes, machetes, and axes) with a no-nonsense script that gets to the point from the get-go just grabbed me from the beginning.

Uwais handles all of these meticulous sequences with excellence. The choreography is clean, fast, and hard-hitting. Like his previous film, "Merantau," I can see both HK and Thai influences. The difference this time is the hits seem to be harder and more impactful. It’s also just a tad cleaner too. Director Gareth Evans makes sure Uwais slows it down at certain moments of the action so we can see the techniques involved.

Overall, the fight scenes are pretty grounded. There aren’t many, if any, gaudy aerial kicks typical of Jaa’s films, but it doesn’t need them. These fight scenes are all exciting, creative, and intense.

The gun battles are just as bloody and brutal as the hand-to-hand or machete-to-machete sequences. Some of it does remind me of similar sequences from the Korean thriller “The Man from Nowhere.”

You know how some sports commentators would say that an athlete is a “basketball player” or a “football player?” It means they don’t quite fit a specific position or category because they do everything well. I heard Tim Tebow and Lebron James described that way in football and basketball. Both can play multiple positions and do a lot of things well in their respective sport. They’re not one dimensional athletes. That’s how I would describe Iko Uwais too. He’s a martial artist.

Uwais is a good kicker, puncher, and can handle a variety of weapons. He’s the total package. It’s this quality that separates the martial arts greats like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Jet Li from the also-rans. Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa are in this group too.

“The Raid: Redemption” is practically a two hour action sequence. I was wondering how Evans would make it seem realistic for someone to be involved in so many battles without tiring, but there are moments where characters in the film get to take a breather.

A couple sequences do feel just a bit long though - both involve the character Mad Dog played by Yayan Ruhian, who’s also the fight choreographer. The fight between Mad Dog and the captain of the SWAT team and the finale between him and the two brothers (one of whom is played by Uwais) get to the point where it starts to feel repetitive. Still, I would rather Evans err on the side of being too long than too short.

Now that Jackie Chan and Jet Li are in the twilight of their careers, a new triumvirate has emerged. They are Donnie Yen, Tony Jaa, and Iko Uwais.

If you’re an action junky, and you haven’t seen “The Raid: Redemption,” do yourself a favor and watch it before it leaves the theaters.

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