Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Night Comes for Us (2018)

Indonesian Ito (Joe Taslim) has been working for the Chinese Triads as an international enforcer for three years now. But when he and his men are tasked with massacring a whole village, something in him changes, and he can’t bring himself to kill the last survivor, the little girl Reina (Asha Kenyeri Bermudez). Instead, he kills his own men and flees with Reina to his native Jakarta, where he was a gang leader before he and his protégé Arian (Iko Uwais) had to hire themselves out to the triads to protect the rest of the gang.

There’s not much left of Ito’s old life. Most of his former friends and partners are dead or in jail. His former girlfriend Shinta (Salvita Decorte), his old friend and partner Fatih (Abimana Aryasatya), his frenemie Bobby (Zack Lee) and Fatih’s nephew Wisnu (Dimas Anggara) are really what’s left of his past relations. Ito’s not happy with getting them involved in his troubles, but he believes he needs all the help he can get to come up with enough money and resources to bring him and Reina out of the triads’ reach. For of course, the triads don’t take to Ito’s betrayal kindly, and have sent a veritable horde out to kill him and the little girl. Among them is Arian who doesn’t seem to be completely on board with the project.

Things are further complicated by the fact that the triads are using their search for Ito as an excuse to move in on Jakarta, eventually offering the local crown to Arian if he is willing to betray his old friends. Also involved is a nameless government killer (Julie Estelle), who actually may be on Ito’s side.

I’m pretty sure that once the production of Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us was over and done with, there was no stage blood left in Jakarta, for the film is an unrelenting series of incredibly bloody action sequences. There’s a bit of obviously Heroic Bloodshed inspired personal business between men involved too, but the emphasis here is really on inspired on-screen violence that attempts to be as gritty and icky as the film can get away with – which is apparently a lot when you can get a deal with Netflix for distribution outside of Indonesia.

Tonally, the action is focused on that most tricky kind of choreography: creating fights that look and feel brutal and realistic, sloppy and inelegant like real fights do (probably), with a side note of desperation. Tijahjanto’s direction is tight, with a preference for action taking place in enclosed spaces that add a dimension of claustrophobia to the physical threat and the general violent insanity going around. The film also does what the more hyperviolently gritty side of action and martial arts cinema seldom does (because the hyperviolence makes this sort of thing rather difficult), defining characters through their fighting styles more than by the things they say: so Ito’s a brutal street fighter who just takes hits in the face and is willing to use just about anything to kill you, the government operator is controlled and efficient even when losing a finger or two, Bobby’s an insane berserker, and Arian’s at once elegant, and treacherous, and so on.

Inside of its basic tenet of being as brutal as possible, the film’s action is surprisingly diverse, with a whole load of fighting styles, action styles, and set piece ideas that never really repeat themselves beyond the good guys (good by default, because the bad guys are definitely even worse) being outnumbered, so the film’s action never becomes monotonous despite being quite so unrelenting. The whole blood and guts style of the affair - Tjahjanto’s experience in gory horror is always visible – puts this in great contrast to the much more antiseptic mass violence in something like the John Wick films that go for the videogame approach to bloody violence that may like a bit of gore, but prefers to ignore how messy, unpredictable and downright unpleasant all this bloody murder and human bodies are. Which isn’t to say that The Night Comes for Us is pretending to be more or deeper than it actually is, it’s just curiously human for a film this brutal.

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