Directed by: Timo Tjahjanto || Produced by: Todd Brown, Nick Spicer, Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto, Sukhdev Singh, Mike Wiluan, Wicky V. Olindo
Screenplay by: Timo Tjahjanto || Starring: Joe Taslim, Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Sunny Pang, Zack Lee, Salvita Decorte, Abimana Aryasatya, Dimas Anggara, Dian Sastrowardoyo, Hannah Al Rashid, Shareefa Daanish, Revaldo
Music by: Fajar Yuskemal, Aria Prayogi || Cinematography: Gunnar Nimpuno || Edited by: Arifin Cu’unk || Country: Indonesia || Language: Indonesian, English, Mandarin
Running Time: 121 minutes
The latest sprout from the fertile action filmmaking ground lain by Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais is Timo Tjahjanto’s action-crime epic, The Night Comes for Us. Uwais and Evans, who essentially birthed an Indonesian filmmaking renaissance on their lonesome with their acclaimed Raid movies (2011, 2014), have planted their genre seeds into some of the most competitive action cinema since the 1990s. Tjahjanto and frequent colleague, Kimbo Stamboel (also known as The Mo Brothers), have carried that torch forward with films like Killers (2014) and Headshot (2016), brutal, vicious pictures that retain the hardcore, unflinching violence and prolific blood squibs of The Raid 1 and 2. Tjahjanto’s latest picture, The Night Comes for Us, may be the craziest, most over-the-top Indonesian New Wave (coinage, me!) film, yet — which is saying something — as it combines the bloodiest, most gruesome tactics of its native predecessors into an impressive if not seamless whole.
I would also be negligent if I didn’t admit much of The Night’s memorable identity is its liberal borrowing from crime drama and thriller tropes. The film, like all the recent Indonesian New Wave genre movies, feels more colorful and stylized than the seediest graphic novel, while its disdain for both the hyperactive editing of Western and the lofty, high-minded spirituality of East Asian action filmmaking are comparable to the works of Korean genre masters Park Chan-wook, Bong Joon-ho, Lee Jeong-beom, or Kim Jee-woon. Indonesian action isn’t about martial arts mindfulness or empty-headed bravado, but rather harsh, blunt, vengeful force of will. These films are not for the feint of heart.
That being said, just because a film has guts doesn’t mean it’s glorious. The Mo Brothers’ previous works were hindered by so-so pacing and occasional narrative incoherence, while the experienced and versatile Evans bit off more than he could chew with the 2.5 hour Raid 2. Even the face of modern Indonesian cinema, Iko Uwais, has limited acting range and, at times, feels like he’s raced to the top of the action star mountain in part because of the sheer dearth in competition (e.g. the wooden Tony Jaa, the inconsistent Keanu Reeves, the bland Donny Yen, the forgettable Jason Statham, etc.).
Still, Indonesian cinema has more bite per bark than any national action scene at the moment, including Korea, and the industry feels like it hasn’t even solidified. The Night is great in this way given how it is an entertaining summation of the strengths and few, but notable limitations of this national filmmaking style. On the one hand, it boasts a solid cast who ooze screen presence, dynamic action scenes including fisticuffs to shootouts to vehicular action (all with terrific stuntwork and sound-design), and damned good pacing for such an otherwise exhausting two-hour film. All that fun is somewhat undercut by cornball lines, a couple weaker supporting actors, and a gratuitous focus on gore FX to the point of desensitization — the latter a mistake Gareth Evans somehow always managed to avoid.
To back up a bit, the setting and skeletal plot for The Night involve an enforcer for the Southeast Asian Triad (star Joe Taslim, also a Raid alum) going rogue after becoming fed up with his mindless sociopathic work. Taslim rescues a young girl (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez) from a village his crew massacred, and what follows is a convoluted, over-the-top response by the Triad bosses to clean up their mess. Uwais stars as the ostensible main antagonist, a fellow enforcer for Triad boss Sunny Pang (a terrific actor and lead villain from Headshot) and estranged friend of Taslim, who is hired to hunt down his former colleague. You can infer the rest.
What makes The Night work, besides the obvious terrific action-set pieces, are its aforementioned (mostly) great cast, effective pacing, and stylized world-building. None of the villains, including Uwais, are knockouts, but they’re threatening and unique enough to make for great spectacle, while our heroic cast are likable and sympathetic. Unlike the breathless, relentless Raid as well as the bloated Raid 2, The Night is perfectly paced at a comfortable 121 minutes, allowing for exposition of its seedy, charismatic criminal underworld.
The Night’s weaknesses are also distinguishable from both Raid films and Headshot; dialogue is noticeably weaker and some minor characters, like Zack Lee and Dian Sastrowardoyo, feel more cartoonish than cool. The combination of Raid-level violence with Killers-level gore also becomes too much by film’s end, which is significant coming from an action-junkie like myself. The camera lingers on so many severed limbs, torso bullet holes, slit throats, and spilled intestines that the photography grows repetitive, and slows the pace of the action sequences.
I’m always open to another hardcore Indonesian action film, especially one that’s led by trained actors like Joe Taslim or Julie Estelle, as opposed to the likable but still inexperienced athlete-turned actor, Uwais. Modern Indonesian action cinema is as potent and flavorful as any, and I’m glad it continues to grow in the aftermath of the cult success of Gareth Evans’ Raid films. Still, The Night Comes for Us has problems even action disciples shouldn’t ignore, namely a couple cornball supporting actors and director Timo Tjahjanto’s love for comical gore at the expense of awesome fight choreography. Then again, Taslim hacking apart gangsters in a butcher shop, blowing up multiple SWAT officers in a cop car with a grenade, and Estelle disemboweling two punk-rock lesbian assassins, are probably the most entertaining set-pieces I’ve seen all year. The fact that Tjahjanto is able to work those ridiculous sequences into a cohesive whole, a story that makes sense, is astounding. Just watch the blood n’ guts on your way out the door.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Comparable to previous ultraviolent Indonesian action thrillers and brutal, subversive Korean crime dramas, The Night Comes for Us continues the contemporary Indonesian film industry’s embracing of hardcore action, prolific gore FX, fluid camerawork, and mild genre-hybridization. It’s not light viewing, by any means, but the action is so creative and entertaining you’ll never be bored. Outside its set-pieces, the film benefits from experienced actors like Taslim and Estelle, memorable villains like Uwais and Pang, and terrific pacing.
— However… several minor characters are irritating and can’t chew the scenery to save their lives, such as Zack Lee, Dian Sastrowardoyo, and Hannah Al Rashid. I never thought I’d say this, but The Night Comes for Us is an action film with too much blood ‘n gore. It feels like a torture-porn parody at times.
? Why do characters keep referring to themselves (singular) as “a Six Seas?” “Six Seas” is plural. That makes no sense.
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