Despite bad reviews, Timo Tjahjanto’s latest film, The Night Comes for Us, the first Indonesian film to get a global release on Netflix, deserves credit for re-establishing Indonesia’s action genre film on the global cinema industry map.
Following The Raid’s success recipe
It is hard to not compare The Night Comes for Us with The Raid. The former seems to follow the latter’s styles and recipes for success. It is not a surprise as The Raid’s director, Gareth Evans, was also involved in writing the script.
The Raid series built its success on two important elements. First, compared to their contemporaries, the action scenes are more direct and full contact, with high intensity. Fighting scenes take place in cramped lower-class apartment blocks, creating an atmosphere of claustrophobia and immediate danger that appeals to the audience.
It’s the kind of intensity sought by fans of the action film genre. These fans value this kind of sensation, so the coherence of narratives may no longer be as important.
Second, as part of this appeal to sensation, The Raid did not disclose Indonesia as its geographical and social setting. Instead, it makes the location a generic manifestation of a world infused with crime. It means the setting of The Raid could be anywhere.
This kind of “de-territorialisation” made film critic Roger Ebert shrug off the setting: “What country are we in? The movie never tells us,” he writes. His question emphasises the movie’s success in creating a general setting for the audience.
The late Ebert then acknowledged the importance of stripping the territory from the movie to achieve the film’s generic success.
Timo Tjahjanto has made various thrillers and horror movies like Macabre, Killers and Headshot. Like Evans, Timo is really good at directing fighting scenes or portraying bodily wounds, gore and injuries in his films. He has even intensified the action with blood, wounds and crunching acts, as if he has been granted full licence to transfer an online campaign, Dumb Way to Die, that trivialised injuries, into a movie.
Timo’s filming style focuses more on the intensity rather than the narratives. And it has proven to have its own appeal. The same appeal can be seen in the work of Japanese directors Takeshi Miike and Sion Sono with their visceral portrayal of human emotion. These directors sometimes show the human body being carved, convincing the audience about the pain.
The Night Comes for Us has also upgraded Evans’s “generic territorial approach” by adding elements that are familiar enough for international audiences to recognise as Asian (or Southeast Asian at best) without having to check their stock knowledge.
These stereotypical elements of Asian-ness play an important role in asserting the authentic aesthetics of local settings. The film uses the concept “triad”, or a Chinese secret crime organisation, in its main plot. Conversations in English, Indonesian and Chinese take place interchangeably in this film.
Responding to critics
Film critic Makbul Mubarak has said The Raid series films are perceived by many Indonesians as not Indonesian. The series has been lambasted for showing off “bad images” of Indonesia and not representing Indonesian peace-loving culture.
The Night Comes for Us may receive similar comments, knowing they belong to the same genre laden with excessive violence.
In this case, it might be important to remind people that graphic violence has been dominating Indonesia’s film industry since the 1980s. The Jaka Sembung series and other action genre films were full of scenes with chopped heads, body parts and blood.
I can say that The Night Comes for Us is an upgrade from Jaka Sembung. It offers more sensation and higher intensity in film-watching experiences.
Some actors of the new genre have slowly become household names for action films. Iko Uwais, Joe Taslim (both star in The Night Comes for Us) and Yayan Ruhiyan (The Raid) have been involved in numerous Hollywood productions. It is just a matter of time for Julie Estelle (who appears in The Night Comes for Us) to get the same offers.
Critics have argued that the The Night Comes for Us was badly written and has poor character development. Film critic Leila S. Chudori has spotted flaws in the dialogues as a result of poor translation from English.
I agree that stronger story development and better Indonesian translation would have improved The Night Comes for Us. Nevertheless, The Night Comes For Us and other films within this trope have put Indonesia on the map of world cinema. After The Raid, The Night Comes for Us has made Indonesian martial arts (pencak silat) the new lexicon in the action genre.
The Night Comes for Us is a success story for Indonesian films which creates a new benchmark for others to follow. Maybe we even should entertain the idea that the film has redefined the action genre in global cinema.