Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Iko Uwais - The Part-Time Critic

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Iko Uwais

*Last Updated 6/18/2022  

By my count, Iko Uwais is the last *new* genuine action star to emerge on the scene. That doesn't mean Iko is a huge money drawing global megastar - but it does mean he's the last new action star to bring something unique to the scene that is recognized by and draws money from fans of the genre. His biggest break for the U.S. market has been the Mark Wahlberg led Mile 22, but hopefully he will get a chance to shine in the upcoming The Expendables 4.

Iko Uwais was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and grew up training in the martial arts form known as silat. His story to the big screen turns on a surprising bit of luck, he just so happened to be discovered by a director named Gareth Evans. Now getting "discovered" only matters if you make it to the right people - well it turns out that Gareth Evans would go on to become one of the best action directors of his generation. Gareth took to Uwais and made him the star of his the 2009 film Merantau. The film received strong critical reviews and notice from action fans - but popular success was out of their grasp and both Uwais and Evans were did great work, but it was a bit unrefined. There is a lot of good to pull from this debut, not just in sequences, but the hunger and attitude felt familiar to Tony Jaa's southeast debut in Ong Bak. From the director, to the star, to the stunt men - they were trying to accomplish something no one had seen before.

It wasn't until the next collaboration, The Raid (later changed to The Raid: Redemption) that they would receive both critical acclaim and commercial success. The lean action film featured Iko Uwais as a Indonesian cop stuck in an apartment complex controlled by a crime boss. The basic plot is part Die Hard in its setup and part Crank in its continual forward momentum. One way to imagine it is this: what if Jason Bourne was in a Die Hard like situation, but instead of shaky cam you got something closer to the cinematic style of John Wick? Evans and Uwais pulled off shootout and fight sequences that felt organic, intense, and brutal, but were actually highly storyboarded, dynamically filmed, and choreographed to perfection. To this day, The Raid: Redemption is considered an action classic. Iko and Gareth made a sequel (with more fantastic action, but less overall success), and Iko went on to make more low budget Asian fight films. He's had a smattering of success in the U.S. market with a Netflix TV series and a couple of small budget films like Beyond Skyline and Mile 22. If you are interested and have some time, there are really only four major films you need to watch to grow to appreciate Uwais and I list them below. You can also check out my rating and rankings of every single one of his action sequences. Let me know what you think.

4. Headshot (C+) 2017
3. Merantau (C+) 2009
2. The Raid 2 (B) 2014
1. The Raid: Redemption (A) 2012


All Iko Uwais Action Sequences Rated & Ranked

GRADE: C
Mediocre sequences that lack anything that makes them stand out. Decent, but forgettable.

45. “Rathtars Attack!” -Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens (2015)
- Commentary: After Hans and Chewie pick up their old Millennium Falcon they are visited by a Guarvian Death Gang. While it's nice to see Iko Uwais get some work in a big Hollywood film, it's a shame he's just a background guy meant to die from a random "Rathtar" attacks. This sequence feels alot like an establishment action sequence where the writers need to establish the action/character credentials so they imagine something to demonstrate to the audience who the characters are. The best establishment scenes feel organic and natural. This one feels a bit arbitrary and rushed - where our characters rather than being established, feel inconsequential to the action of the Rathtars. Ultimately, besting them just means pushing some buttons and then running away to the Millennium Falcon. Because of that lack of development, this feels like this was just the writers way of getting Hans back in the Falcon along with Rey and Finn.

44. "Shop Bombing & Fight" -Mile 22 (2018)
- Commentary: I'm not sure what happened with this scene but it bears the mark of running out of time, creative differences, or added at the last second. It's an action scene that begins with a shop bombing. Then our heroes are bombarded with two fighting women bad guys. The problem here is that Iko and Mark Wahlberg fight sequences are practically indecipherable. This sequence has a stretch of some of the worst quick edits that I've ever seen. A few decent pops of action here keep it from being a real stinker.

43. “Fight Challenge with Iko Uwais - The Hard Master” -Snake Eyes (2021)
- Commentary: In the training exercise, Iko plays the hard master whom the challenger must take a bowl of water from. If they fail four times they are out. It proves impossible three times until the challenger realizes he just needs to ask for the bowl. Average sparring here – nothing special. Can you imagine getting to cast Iko Uwais in his prime, in a film focused on martial arts action, and you use him just for this? A bit of a waste of Iko’s talents. Hope he got paid well.

42. "Non-Fight Fight: Iko Uwais vs. Tiger Chen" -Man of Tai Chi (2013)
- Commentary: Iko had more of a cameo role in this fight film and in his big moment with Tiger Chen, they basically only tease a brief fight before Tiger Chen essentially calls out Keanu Reeves' character. The low score is just for the brief tease we get. Looks like it could have been a good one.

41. "Sua Fights a Soldier & the Chief Fries an Alien" -Beyond Skyline (2017)
- Commentary: A short fight sequence to introduce the fighting abilities of Iko into the film. It's pretty standard stuff, looks good (even though Iko never takes his motorcycle helmet off), and is only a C because its pretty short stuff.

40. “Opening: Club & Van Assassin Fights” -Fistful of Vengeance (2022)
- Commentary: Opening the film, Iko and Lewis Tan end up in a fight right in the middle of a club. It’s a short fight, filled with cuts, and basically just meant to re-introduce these characters from the Wu Assassins series. Skip.

39. “Brief Alley Fight Against Pimp Thugs Goes Poorly” -Merantau (2009)
- Commentary: This is Iko Uwais’ first significant onscreen fight and Gareth Evan’s first directing one as well. It shows too. There’s a lot of unnecessary movement for Iko, the camera is unremarkable, it’s all just very okay. The sequence is only meant to be a brief but important loss for Iko’s character against some thugs – but it isn’t as sharp and defined as I think Evans and Iko would produce today with a scene of similar goals.

38. “Iko Uwais vs. Frank Grillo” -Beyond Skyline (2017)
- Commentary: This is one of those fights where we want two actors to throw hands for promotional purposes, but the story doesn't really allow it. So there's a stupid misunderstanding between them until they snap out of it and realize they should work together. Look, in a 'B' action film - that's fine. I'd rather have the fight than not and this one is interesting but pretty pedestrian to be honest. It's like they wanted promotional stills and once they got a couple they just decided to end the fight. Right at the end Grillo has two bamboo sticks and Iko has two knives, but they never end up using them. It's a tease and a letdown. 


GRADE: C+
Largely mediocre sequences that have some redeeming or standout feature. This, to me, is where the average decent action sequence ranks.

37. "Opening Round: Infiltration & the Villain Strikes Back" -The Raid: Redemption (2012)
- Commentary: This film, like the original Die Hard, is a bit tough to rank because there's not always a clean beginning and end to action set pieces, it's more like action (some large, some small) peppered throughout an always progressing plot. This opening round sees an Indonesian military swat force infiltrate a notorious crime boss run apartment building. It's filmed nicely as they procedurally move from floor to floor, clearing rooms and putting residents into zip ties. Eventually though a "scout" spots them and warns the crime boss who then unleashes his hounds. Snipers go to work and residents begin to strike back. Iko is bit a mere pawn in the swat group at this point - but the sequence technically does have him in it.

36. “Bangkok Canal Chase” -Fistful of Vengeance (2022)
- Commentary: A short little chase that reminded me of a similar (but better) sequence from Tony Jaa’s The Protector. It’s done practically and there’s a couple of nice destruction moments when the slim canal boats are done away with.

35. “Portal Site Finale: Multiple Fights Leads to Pang Wu Showdown” -Fistful of Vengeance (2022)
- Commentary: Quite a disappointment. It’s one of those finales where the group breaks up and each face off against a main villain or secondary henchmen. These fights are serviceable, but once the evil Pang Wu shows up then none of it makes sense and it gets really stupid. We get an extended “one take” faceoff between Iko and Lewis Tan (who is mind-controlled) and then a fight on ropes against Pang Wu that makes zero sense. It’s some decent choreography lost amidst a lot of dumb.

34. “Laos Temple Finale: Aliens vs. Resistance” -Beyond Skyline (2017)
- Commentary: It's not a very good film, but the finale does have high ambitions - which is admirable. The aliens attack a remaining resistance group at a temple complex in Laos and we get a little Home Alone style type traps and shootouts. Grillo makes his way to the alien ship and is able to plant a viral/bacterial type blood thing. The main course of the fight is our hero group that includes Grillo, Uwais, and Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog in the first Raid film) fighting off the aliens on the temple complex grounds. Iko and Yayan get some decent little beats here with some weapons. In the background are two big battling mech like alien suits - it's the worst part of the fight since it's the worst CGI of the film. Otherwise - meh, okay stuff when its Iko getting to do his thing.

33. “Macau Backroom: Arian Takes Out Unruly Customers” -The Night Comes For Us (2018)
- Commentary: A fight scene to establish Arian, played by Iko Uwais, as a butt kicker. It’s largely shot in extended takes with Iko putting guys down easily. It’s a competent scene, but the moves are fairly basic. Competent and watchable.

32. “Collecting Payment Goes Awry” -The Raid 2 (2014)
- Commentary: Rama, undercover with a mob group, becomes a protector and collector of debts. They arrive at a underground porn distributor and when things go awry, it turns into a shootout, chase, and fight. It’s an alright sequence not meant to stand out, but establish Rama as a trustworthy protector. The action is decent, but I can’t help but dislike the background porn shoot played for laughs that just distracts and disappoints from what should otherwise be a straightforward scene.

31. “Iko Saves Eka and Loses a Fight to The Assassin” -The Raid 2 (2014)
- Commentary: The trend of smaller plot based action sequences in The Raid 2 continues with this little pop of action. Rama comes upon a surprising change in guard in a mob group and jumps in to rescue a friend. Here he comes in contact with “The Assassin” (Knife Guy) for the first time in a cool looking circle shot but loses. That’s it, it’s over after that. Impactful, moves the plot forward, but a short sequence.


GRADE: B-
Good sequences that have some issue holding it back from being solid.

30. “Burning Bus Fight with Gangsters” -Headshot (2017)
- Commentary: An entire bus is gunned down by gangsters. Looking for his love, Iko boards the bus and checks the dead bodies. A gangster comes back to the bus to torch it and finds Iko there. A fight ensues that is more grounded and focused on potential and actualized violence than choreography. For instance, while a fight over a machete begins the scene, it bogs down on the ground into a struggle over a lighter that will start a gasoline fire. It’s only ended when Iko shoves a bullet casing in the gangsters eye. Eventually he is locked in and must escape. A decent little sequence and a different little pace for Iko.

29. “Rescuing the Girl from the GoGo Club” -Merantau (2009)
- Commentary: Iko’s goal here is to rescue a Gogo girl dancer who is being roughed up and fed to foreigners. Iko bursts into the club and we begin to see a taste of the style that would come to define Iko and Gareth Evan’s collaborations: Silat based combat against multiple combats with a heavy emphasis on tough stunts and dynamic camera work to compliment the impact of the hits. There’s a couple of nice beats and stunts here with men getting thrown into different objects in the club. Decent sequence, still developing a full blown style.

28. “Underground Fight - Uwais vs Tiger Chen” -Triple Threat (2019)
- Commentary: After his love was killed in a raid on his camp in the jungle, Iko sets out to get revenge on those who helped in the raid. His journey leads him to an underground fighting ring where he sees Jaa and Tiger Chen. Unfortunately, we get Iko vs. Chen and not Iko vs. Jaa. Oh well, the fight we get is actually fairly good for what amounts to a throwaway fight. Longer takes with lots of strikes in a more traditional fight - makes for a decent fight – even if its inevitably disappointing that we didn’t get the legend matchup we wanted.

27. “Nighttime Bungalow Brawl Ends Poorly” -Fistful of Vengeance (2022)
- Commentary: The good guys sleep comfortably in a wooden bungalow area outside of Bangkok. The villains close in and force our protagonists to fight off large groups of henchmen. Decent time given here for some decent fight moments.

26. "Opening: Iko from Penthouse to Street Level" -Stuber (2019)
- Commentary: The opening fight from the action comedy film Stuber features a fun fight and chase between Iko Uwais and Dave Bautista. Set to a fun song, the two do a good job selling a quick, but hefty fight where they break furniture and go through walls. A nice little sequence here.


25. “Hospital Room Fight: Handcuffed to a Bed” -Mile 22 (2018)

- Commentary: Iko plays a local cop turned traitor who walks into the American embassy offering important information. The Americans put him through some diagnostics and health checks and leave him handcuffed to a hospital bed. It turns out two of the doctors are part of the local government security forces and they attempt to assassinate him. We get a nicely choreographed sequence here with a few distinct and interesting action beats. Nothing spectacular, but it's memorable and enjoyable.

24. “Pipe Fight on the Walkway” -Merantau (2009)
- Commentary: Iko gets to do some weapon work with short metal pipes as he fights off some goons at night on an elevated walkway. The choreography is a bit more complicated here plus the extra oomph that comes from a weapon leads to some impressive back and forth beats here. I know he’s done a lot of weapons work, but like Jet Li – I think his speed and smaller stature really lends him well to doing a lot of focus on weapons. This is a good sequence and feel like he could do it in his sleep.

23. “Car Ambush to Restaurant Fight” -The Raid 2 (2014)
- Commentary: This fight is an odd one – it flirts with being really good, but again, feels like another middling establishment/transition fight. Rama is ambushed in a car by a group and the fight eventually spills over into a restaurant where Rama dispatches several guys, finishing one off by pushing his face against a grill. Filmed in shaky cam style, with quicker cuts than usual, this sequence is a decent action one (can Gareth Evans film a bad one), but is largely more about plot.

22. “The Endless Finale: Ito vs. Ariana” -The Night Comes for Us (2018)
- Commentary: Oh man…what a shame. These two fighters must have taken years off of their lives to film this hard hitting and brutal fight sequence. The problem…it goes on forever! Seriously, the director just doesn’t know when to quit. I suppose there are “phases” of the fight – but to be honest, they aren’t that recognizable. There’s just lots of brutal strikes following brutal strikes and just when you think there’s been too many brutal strikes for the other to go on, they go on for another series of brutal strikes. Rinse and repeat. It just keeps going on and on. It becomes laughable after a while to be honest. It’s too bad, because they are really trying here to make an all-time fight. This fight is the equivalent of that wrestling match where they’ve hit each other with their best moves 3x, used the table, the chairs, and everything, and yet each wrestler is still fighting with everything they got. The entire psychology of the fight just seems to be – I can take more than you and the viewer is the first to give up.

21. “Opening: Mercenary Attack on MI6 Jungle Compound” -Triple Threat (2019)
- Commentary: More of an ensemble action sequence than an Iko Uwais feature, but it’s worth including here. A group of mercenaries with Michael Jai White, Micheal Bisping, Tiger Chen, and Tony Jaa in tow, attack an MI6 camp in the jungle to break out Collins, Scott Adkins. Iko Uwais’ character is sleeping in the camp and his loved one becomes collateral damage – giving him his revenge plot. This is fairly standard commando raid stuff, but there is one moment where Uwais and Jaa get to battle and it’s instantly recognizable as “not normal” stunt guy stuff. Their moment is so electric that it’s incredibly sad we never get a proper full on Tony Jaa vs Iko Uwais gunz blazing finale type fight. This might be the closest we get.

20. “Caravan Ambushed by Motorcyclists” -Mile 22 (2018)
- Commentary: The special ops team led by Mark Wahlberg must get Iko to the airport where he can be taken to America and then he will give up his key information.  Along the way the group must caravan through the city and they are ambushed by motorcyclists with bombs and guns. This leads to a city shootout that is entertaining, but fairly simple and straight forward. Iko is captive for most of it, but he does get the chance to shine a bit in a limited role here. This grade/ranking is more for the action scene as a whole rather than just his part in it. 

19. “Iko vs Baton Man in the Woods” -Headshot (2017)
- Commentary: A nice sequence here vs. “That henchmen who uses the Baton”. It’s out in the woods – which isn’t the most interesting setting for a fight, but it does allow the fight to be fairly straightforward – aside from the shaky cam that I think is a bit overused for a fight like this. Lots of long takes with many beats – but too often it just looks like the Baton guy is swinging back and forth and Iko is absorbing the blows and then he counterstrikes. There’s no super memorable pops or moments that rise above the quick strikes that dominate this scene.

18. "Paradise Apartments Finale: Shootout & Fight" -Mile 22 (2018)
- The finale of Mile 22 finds Mark Wahlberg's special ops team whittled down and cornered in an apartment complex where they are trying to escape and get Iko to an airfield. We get our big showdown here and the three main stars get a bit split up: Iko gets to fight some goons, Wahlberg gets to do some gunplay, and Alice gets her own little moment inside a couple of rooms with grenades and a fight. It's done pretty well, with a realistic grit to it, but it's also just missing something to get it over the hump. The gunplay is good, but not great. The fights are good, but not great. There just isn't something stand out here outside of a nice beat where Alice uses some grenades to get out of a cornered room. Entertaining, but unremarkable.

17. “Vie Hotel Havoc: Three Escapes” -Fistful of Vengeance (2022)
- Commentary: A decent set piece set at a secure Bangkok hotel. Iko and his group arrive late to their destination and the villain has already taken out of room of people. An interpol agent catches them at the scene and after some back and forth, the agent joins them as the hotel filled with henchmen goes after the group. There are some nice fight moments here, small car chase, and gun shootouts, but it’s never high-level stuff. The sum here is much more than the parts. Enjoyable in whole, but basic in parts.


GRADE: B
Good action sequences with much to commend about them. They are a solid entry into their genre.

16. “Prison: Bathroom Stall Smackdown” -The Raid 2 (2014)
- Commentary: It’s amazing what Iko and director Gareth Evans together can accomplish. This is essentially the reintroduction of the character Rama to the viewers and it’s just a transitional action scene showing us his power and place in the prison. Still, despite that, Iko and Gareth put together a mini-slobber knocker of a sequence where Rama, in a bathroom stall, takes out 10 or so men on his own before he’s eventually taken out. This scene, only in relative terms, isn’t meant to stand up to its all-out peers in the film, but it’s a great example of the magic Iko and Gareth can capture even for short establishing scenes.

15. “Police Station Ambush and Henchmen Fight” -Headshot (2017)
- Commentary: An over ten minute sequence here that alternates between gunplay and brutal fights. It starts off like a scene from Terminator where Iko is imprisoned and being interrogated when henchmen turn out the lights and ambush the station to kill him. After a sequence weith a machete wielding man gets him free from his restraints, he has to take out two main henchmen. One turns into a Die Hard like riff on that moment when Willis is underneath the terrorist on the long conference room table, and the other is a brutal fight of wills, where a paper cutter blade is used and blocked in a real BA kind of way. It’s tough stuff, shot fairly well, but perhaps a little long and slow given the context and pacing.

14. "Sixth Floor Shootout: Cornered & Dropping Floors" -The Raid: Redemption (2012)
- Commentary: The first clear-cut action set piece of the film begins when a small leftover squad of the original infiltration force is cornered on the sixth floor of a crime lord's apartment building. In a nice bit of tension building and setup, the bad guys (located a floor above) only see our hero squad and fire upon them once an officer fires his shotgun (causing light to give away their position). From there on it's a full on automatic weapon shootout between the sixth and fifth floors (they are firing at each other in an atrium area. The cops find themselves pushed back into a room where they barricade it up and with the cheap room construction, decide to use an axe to create a hole and drop a floor. With a group trying to enter the room, snipers covering the window, and the first cop dropping down being swarmed - I'd say the director has done an excellent job creating a feeling of dread. However, Iko drops down, gets some clean shots in on the bad guys and the rest of his squad make it down as well, with some really nice and dynamic gunplay beats. The sequence ends with Iko putting a natural gas tank in a fridge, throwing a grenade in there with it, and facing it towards the doorway causing an explosion that takes out a whole group in front of the doorway and the doorway itself. This is our first real taste of Gareth Evan's action direction and its mostly restrained with pops of dynamic movement and shocking violence. It's a great taste of better things to come later in the film.


GRADE: B+
Very good action sequences with something holding them back from greatness. These sequences are typically best in their film and represent something above and beyond expectations.

13. "Police Station Assault: Gun Fights & Fist Fights" -Triple Threat (2019)
- Commentary: This is a standout sequence from this all-star team up film. The design of this police station assault is action genius in how it allows for multiple action styles and multiple action sequences to get rolled up into one. Scott Adkins leads the bad guy assault team as they try and assassinate a woman who wants to give her fortune to charity. The initial assault shows off some decent gunplay chops from director Jesse V. Johnson. As the team splits up to find the girl, this allows for different versus matches. The first match is between Tony Jaa and Ron Smoorenburg (remember that great kicker who fought Jackie Chan in Who Am I?) in a quality back and forth until Iko Uwais comes and tips the scales. Next up is Iko Uwais vs. JeeJaa Yanin (who you might remember from 2008's Chocolate) in another quality sparring until Iko gets the upper hand with a grenade launcher. Lastly, we get Tiger Chen vs. Michael Bisping in the lesser of the three fights, even if its still decent. In between these fights is some linking gunplay from Scott Adkins. Ultimately Jaa, Uwais, and Chen get away - chased off into the city market. This is a fun sequence that works best as a compilation of all-stars than a one off feature.

12. “Knife Fight: Iko vs. Rika on the Beach” -Headshot (2017)
- Commentary: The beach setting for this knife fight adds a lot, providing beautiful dissonant scenery, a backdrop for the blood, and a few key props. The knife choreography is strong – both actors are able and ready. They perform a lot of tight moves over long camera shots and the action goes back and forth. A little more knew stuff with the knife would have been nice, but Iko here continues to give her chance after chance despite her slicing and dicing. Good stuff – had the chance to be even better.

11. “Finale: Showdown in Four Parts” -Triple Threat (2019)
- Commentary: This finale sequence in the 2019 film Triple Threat is easily the best action sequence of the film. On paper, teaming up Iko Uwais from The Raid films with Tony Jaa to fight action veterans Scott Adkins and Michael Jai White is a recipe for greatness. The basic premise is that the team of Tiger Chen and Jaa are going to use a wanted woman as bait to draw out Adkins, Michael Jai White, and Iko Uwais. The sequence begins with some decent gunplay and the groups each scatter. One of the first groupings leads to a re-match of Tiger Chen taking on Michael Bisping. It's another decent bout, but Chen just doesn't have the heft here to convincingly take on Bisping. I feel like some of its runtime should have gone to the others. A surprise here (not to the audience) is that Iko is turns on Adkins' team and this leads first to Iko Uwais vs. Michael Jai White sequence. Jai White gets the upperhand in a nice back and forth and eventually Tiger Chen shows up and Jaa gets a finishing move to take out Jai White. Decent stuff, but a meh ending here. All this time, Adkins and Jaa are engaged in a gunfight. Once they run out of bullets, they are off to the races on the fighting and this is where it really ramps up giving us some beautiful and wide multi-move shots. Jaa and Adkins still have much of their agility here. Eventually, Iko joins the fight and we get some well done 2 v 1 sequences. This is all well and good - fun stuff - but it's hard not to feel like they ultimately left a little bit on the table here. They've delivered something very good - but it had the opportunity to be truly great.

10. "Hallway Havoc 2: Iko vs. Machete Man Gang" -The Raid: Redemption (2012)
- Commentary: Trying to decide whether this sequence or the previous hallway sequence from this film is better if tough. They are quite similar - but whether you like a more streamlined Iko as just a constant butt-kicker or a fight where there's tougher opponents and more back and forth will probably determine which you prefer. All the superlatives and basic setup of the first hallway scene applies here except Iko's opponents are tougher and give a much more intricate fight that spreads into an apartment room and finishes out a window. 

9. “Securing the Money: Fight & Chase” -Merantau (2009)
- Commentary: Iko has helped a girl who was in trouble with a pimp. It’s important that he now go back to her apartment and secure some money she has there. Only issue is that there are a lot of goons waiting there for any return. A fight breaks out, the girl is captured, and Iko is on the run. As he is being chased he heads up to the rooftops and makes a daring jump. Then comes one of the greatest “chase” stunts of all-time. To stop a goon from following, Iko grabs a nearby bamboo pole and right in the middle of the goon’s jump he stabs him with it, causing the goon to fall all the way down to the ground. It’s filmed perfectly and it looks absolutely brutal. The chase leads to a scaffolding along the side of a building where Iko fights several bad guys with weapons. A few nice action beats later and he’s up against a motorcycle driver in an alley. The chase ends when Iko cleverly grabs the towel of a passerby and they create a kind of clothesline. This is a nice chase that doesn’t outstay its welcome, is constantly chasing, and features one heck of a stunt.

8. “Finale: Iko vs. “Father” Lee” -Headshot (2017)
- Commentary: The best fight sequence of 2017’s Headshot is the most straight forward one on one sequence in the entire film. Taking place primarily in one room without any weapons, this fight almost feels like a throwback to kung fu film from the late 1970’s – with the exception of the shaking camera that constantly swirls around the actors of course. What I mean is, the actors essentially fight in a line, trading strikes, blocks, and moves back and forth. It’s quick action and there’s some nice pops of ingenuity amongst the traditional action. Nice to see Iko get in a fight that feels more traditional since most of his stuff is that Silat / practical based stuff we see all the time now.

7. “Jakarta Chase: Transporting Rama Turns Sideways” -The Raid 2 (2014)
- Commentary: A superlative hybrid car chase and fight sequence in the city of Jakarta. Mob guys are transporting Rama through the city when Eka, a companion, rams the SUV and gives Rama a chance to fight back. The chase is largely cut between two major features: Rama fighting off the guys in the car one by one and Eka chasing behind and taking out the entourage with driving skills and a shootout. The standout here is the in-car fighting and camera-work, which feels fresh and has the trademark brutal nature we’ve come to know. There are several unique camera movements here that stand out and give this hybrid sequence a nice look. Unfortunately, it feels like other parts of the car chase weren’t given as much love and just feel a bit lackluster when compared to other moments. It almost feels at times like two different people directed it. That’s the only thing holding this sequence back from being something more to me.

6. "Hallway Havoc: Iko Takes on All" -The Raid: Redemption (2012)
- Commentary: Even though 2009's Merantau is technically Iko's big break, it never became the smash success and influence that The Raid did. Taking that in consideration, you can consider this sequence Iko's real debut to most action fans. Up until now, he's been one cop among many in shootout sequences. The last shootout left him separated from his squad and dragging along an injured brother. Stuck by himself looking for a friendly apartment, a hallway of goons being coming out of their rooms to take on Iko. What follows is the kind of "debut" every great fighter needs: hordes of bad guys coming at them one by one to allow they to demonstrate to the audience what they can do. In this case we get a nice does of Iko's Silat influenced martial art style as he used a knife and police baton to take down goon after goon in quick succession with precise blocks and strikes. To the action aficionado, it's clear Iko has a natural fighter's flow and his quickness mixed with Garth Evan's great eye for camera placement and cutting turns this introduction sequence into a breakout debut. How can you not watch this in 2012 - how Iko moves with the knife, how Evans highlights the brutality of a strike or turn of the knife into a knee - and not think you are watching something new and special on the action scene.


GRADE: A-
These are great action sequences with some minor issue(s) holding them back. They are typically best in their film and potentially best of the year.

5. "2 v 1 Invitational: Iko & Brother vs. Mad Dog" -The Raid: Redemption (2012)
- Commentary: Iko's brother, an undercover cop, has been discovered by the crim boss and has been hanging up in a room being punished by the main henchmen, the small but powerful Mad Dog. When Iko discovers his brother, Mad Dog lets his brother down and decides the challenge of the 2v1 is too worthy to pass up. This is a nice bit of characterization here – we learned earlier that Mad Dog has a bit of chip on his shoulder as a fighter. It’s clear that Mad Dog, played by Yayan Ruhian, is a charismatic fighter in his own right here, favoring a Muy Thai hybrid style with quick and intense strikes and makes good use of his elbows, knees, and kicks. With his strong strikes and wrestler like long and greasy hair swinging wildly, it’s easy to see why they call him Mad Dog. Once it gets going, this intense fight barely lets up and is a constant back and forth with a dynamic moving camera and several incredible bits of fight choreography that will make any action fan happy. There a one or two genuine 2v1 fight beats here that are as good (in a cinematic way) as any 2v1 fight put on camera. This sequence is often seen as one of the great all-time fights, but I've got a few nitpicks that bring it down. I actually prefer the more streamlined and focused drug lab fight that precedes it. While being spectacular, this fight lacks a strong story or subtext. Yes, it's two brothers fighting against a mad man who just won't quit, but that's not enough to really elevate and support a fight this intense and this lengthy. Iko and Mad Dog are great here, but the other brother never really gets anything defining - no style or notable moveset of his own - he's just kind of a third person in the fight. There are a couple of moves where the brothers work together, but it never quite feels like they planned it or learned to work together or something. To sum it up, it feels too much like three awesome stunt coordinators just allowed to go crazy and create an awesome technical and bruising fight - but without a stronger theme, or structure, it just kinda all blurs a bit together for me. Thankfully, I feel like Iko and Gareth wouldn't make this mistake with the finale fight of the next Raid film. 

4. “Prison Yard Mud Melee” -The Raid 2 (2014)
- Commentary: Rama is an undercover police officer trying to get in good with a mob figure currently in prison. To do so, he becomes a kind of protector for this mob figure. One day on the prison yard, after a hard rain, a group of inmates goes after the mob figure and Rama jumps in to help. A fight is on, the other prisoners join in, the guards join in, and it’s an all-out melee in the muddy prison yard. Gareth Evans eschews his normal editing style here for several long takes, moving the camera from person to person to really highlight the massive nature of the fight. The choreography here is brutal and stiff but it’s always clear to see what is happening, despite the muddy setting. A great sequence that is likely the best prison yard fight of all time.

3. "Drug Lab Warfare" -The Raid: Redemption (2012)
- Commentary: In the penultimate major fight sequence of the film Iko, another swat cop, and an officer make a raid on the crime lord's drug lab. We get several fight beats from each guy with the non-descript cop getting some nice moments, the officer getting some "I'm stronger and bigger" moments, but with Iko stealing the show. The fight choreography has gotten more complex here and some of Iko's sequences have gotten much lengthier. There's a moment where he gets a knife back and I think he goes 20-30 moves before an edit. The sequence is one of those where its just get back and forth fight beat after another and all of them feel unique, feature a weapon or prop in the room, and get some kind of really nice ending punctuated by a bruising stunt. This sequence right here, the fighting, and the stunts will make you see the through line connection of a hungry, "I've got something to prove", new fighter rising on the scene in Iko Uwais traced back to Tony Jaa's breakout Ong-Bak and then Jackie Chan. Each person burst on the scene showing the world that the industry had gotten lazy and brought with them a team willing to set a new action standard. 


GRADE: A
Great action sequences that can compete for best of the year and best of all-time.

2. “Finale: Lobby, Garage, Elevator, to the Docks” -Merantau (2009)
- Commentary: The finale of Merantau is essentially the entire third act and plays out much like a video game beat ‘em up with multiple levels leading to big bosses. It begins with Iko busting into the lobby of a hotel with a mission, busting up some guys, and getting the information about where the big bad guy lives. Once known he makes his way into the parking garage of the apartment complex and takes out multiple of the henchmen there waiting. He then finds himself in the lobby and we get some really nice stuff here. Weaving through the couches (Jackie Chan like) Iko gets into a great battle with 4-5 henchmen. The next stage of the fight is in an elevator. Iko gets a short breather, but as soon as the doors open he encounters Yayan Ruhian, another excellent martial artist (you might know him as Mad Dog in the first Raid film) who joins him on the elevator. Their subsequent fight is brutal with long takes and choreography making great use of the smaller space in an elevator. Each fighter is game, giving it all, and the camera moves around, captures lots of angles, and makes the most of their efforts. From the elevator, Iko chases our two man bad guys out of the apartment complex and to a dock with active shipping where the bad guys are trafficking in Indonesian women. There’s two major phases here, fist is taking out the regular workers by moving aounnd and on top of the shipping containers. This is top notch stuff – it’s clear that everyone was hitting their stride here. There are several wince induing stunts, most involving goons falling off of or slamming into the shipping containers. Lesson here is – don’t come at Iko with just a wild punch or kick – he’s got like an infinite amount of counters (and shows off half of them here). Finally, we get the fight against the two bad villains. They are decent martial artists (one of them is a really excellent kicker) and the two versus one is played very well. It’s a lengthy fight with several long-choreographed beats. For decently long stretches it just feels like the director let these guys go at each other and stays back and just films it. While not as dynamic as cutting often and inserting closeups for impact, there’s a mesmerizing quality to the intricacy and perseverance here. Things ramp up when the bad guys grab crow bars and the fight moves between the containers. Now we have close-ups and inserts and Iko beings using props – one of the bad guys goes down here. The final stretch against the main villain is more of a dramatic beat than action one. In the end – this is a multi-stage masterpiece from a team that wasn’t overly concerned with gadgets/framing/effects – it’s just primarily a fantastic example of point the camera, choreograph cool moves, be willing to feature brutal looking stunts. A simple but effective formula for motivated and talented people.


GRADE: A+
An all-time great action sequence. This does not mean it is a technically perfect action sequence, just that it is "perfect" to me. This is one I can watch over and over and it doesn't lose its power.

1. “Fight Finale: Loading Bay to the Kitchen” -The Raid 2 (2014)
- Commentary: I love how Gareth Evans has given the over 20 minute finale to his crime saga The Raid 2 the structure of a Jackie Chan/Hong Kong martial arts/video game finale. The hero, in this case Iko Uwais’ Rama, must go through three distinct phases to complete the finale. Each phase represents a unique physical challenge for Rama. The first begins with Rama ramming his car into the loading bay of the bad guy’s main building. This phase consists of big physical stunts and fights against waves of henchmen -each dispatched with sharp choreography and dynamic camerawork. The work here reminds me of the drug lab fight from the first film. The challenge here is taking on a large group of henchmen by himself.
The second phase has Rama entering into the building and coming up against two lower level, but no less fearsome, bosses established earlier in the film – Bat Boy and Hammer Girl. Taking place in a reflective red hallway, the fight is confined and has the best choreography of the entire film so far. The fight showcases the athleticism of each fighter using long complicated takes and the willingness to allow Rama to take some damage. In the end, Rama is able to successfully navigate between them and take them out one by one – each in fairly brutal fashion. 
The third and final phase takes place in the building’s kitchen against “The Assassin” who has established himself as an expert in knives. This fight sequence alone would earn this finale an ‘A’ because it’s simply one of the finest fights put on film. That it comes as the third phase of two previous great fights makes it even better. The kitchen provides a nice white backdrop and lots of props for this exhausting fight. This final fight goes through several stages itself – a mini-story within the story. It begins as a test of skill – each fighter respecting the other enough to make it a kind of formal sparring bout. The fight goes on, beautiful stuff here, and as it does, it grows more and more intense. 

They start knocking themselves against the kitchen tables/appliances, then begin using bottles and other props, finally it turns into a brawl where the Assassin is pushed and kicked through the glass walls of he wine room. Rather than end here, this is where the Assassin resorts to grabbing his knives and the intensity and stakes ramp up. Great close weapon work and camerawork here as Rama tries desperately to attack without getting himself further cut. Long sequences of back and forth here (each guy gets nice shots in) are sometimes punctuated by moments of waiting. The final sees both men with knives going back and forth, along the floor, all over the kitchen, just tearing each other apart. Ultimately, Rama proves just too much and the knife wounds too great for his opponent. It ends with a flurry of slices and once truly gruesome throat cut. This is a fight masterpiece that will stand the test of time and be a measuring stick all fights after 2014 are compared to.

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