There are many icons in the Action film genre, and just as many in Martial Artist sub-genre. The names of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, even Jean-Claude Van Damme are some of the first names that come to mind. In most recent years, we can also add Donnie Yen (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, IP Man, Flashpoint) to the list. But I would like to introduce a new name into the Martial Arts field, Iko Uwais.
Iko Uwais is an Indonesian actor and martial artist. As of the time of writing he has appeared in 7 movies. But don’t let the low number fool you. Rotten Tomatoes has listed him as one of the breakout stars for the summer. We’ll be taking a closer look into each movie that’s out and a few upcoming projects. All of which will lead to why you should know the name Iko Uwais.
This is the first appearance for Uwais in a feature film and the first team up with director Gareth Evans. This is also the first on-screen appearance of Yayan Ruhian. Ruhian will appear alongside Uwais in multiple moves and deserve his own article as well. The film follows a man who is an expert in Silat (the Martial Art style of Indonesia) leaving his village to find success as part of a local tradition called Merantau only to discover life in the city does not always equal success. The film turns dark quick as it shows the ugliness of the city. Given that this is Gareth Evans first film, it is surprisingly great. With the limited experience of a first time director and relatively fresh acting crew, including Uwais, the outcome is amazing. The story is a little basic, as is the acting at times. But Evans knows how to direct action scenes. I’ll give this a 3 out of 5, mostly for the ending that I didn’t see coming. You can find Merantau here.
This was my introduction to Uwais. The Raid is about a SWAT team that is sent out to secure a building that houses a criminal kingpin, and his gang. Uwais plays one of the SWAT members. While the story is simple and the character development is rather lacking, the film more than makes up for it with intense and often original action. All of the fight sequences are brutal, ugly, the scenes are shot wide, and cut to show both the hit and the reaction. The camera use is creative with how it works with the action. Whether it’s the brutal hallway fights, the loud firefights, or the more intimate fights between two or three characters. This film has set a bar for modern Action movies.
This film stole multiple awards as it hit film fest across the globe. Winning the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Fest in 2011, Indiana Film Journalist Association awarded it the Best Foreign Language Film in 2012, and at the Dublin International Film Fest in 2012 it won the Audience Award and the Dublin Film Critics Award. It was nominated for twice as many awards at twice as many fest. The film holds an 85% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I give it a 4 out of 5. You can purchase The Raid here.
The Man of Tai Chi
This Tai Chi movie is directed by Keanu Reeves aka: The One. The is Reeves first (and so far only) movie he has directed. The film follows Tiger Hu Chen as he plays Tiger Chen, a Tai Chi student who wants to show the world that Tai Chi is a powerful martial art. He is recruited by a security consultant (played by Reeves) to fight in his underground fights. The film follows Chen as he works to save the rec center temple from being sold. The fights are all beautifully shot. The audience gets to see different styles of martial arts displayed, and also a small strobe light sequence that may send someone into a seizure. When it comes to Uwais in the movie, he kind of gets a small snub. He is supposed to be the last person that Chen fights, but because of the plot, he doesn’t. This is Uwais first film outside of Indonesia. I was really disappointed because I wanted to this fight to happen. But the film it is fun, and it seems that Reeves plays an evil John Wick at times mixed with some Nic Cage. But it does have some weak plot points, so I’m giving it a 3 out of 5. You can find The Man of Tai Chi streaming on Amazon Prime.
The Raid 2
As the name implies, this movie is the sequel to The Raid. Director Gareth Evans returns to make the sequel, but thanks to the success of the first film he now a bigger budget. The result is a longer movie a story that calls out the crime and corruption that exists in Indonesia and more importantly more amazing fights scenes! The quick plot sum up is Uwais’s character from the first is reported as one of the officers that were killed during the first raid and now goes undercover in the criminal world. There are fight scenes that range from a prison bathroom stall to a muddy prison yard, a restaurant kitchen, abandoned buildings, a crowded subway car, and even inside a moving car. The film still has some story issues that are similar to the first one, but the fight choreography and cinematography are almost mind-blowing at times. The film has earned an 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, and I think it still holds the 4 out of 5 I gave the first film. You can purchase The Raid 2 here.
Star Wars The Force Awakens
There’s not much to say that hasn’t already been said about Episode 7. Sadly though Uwais only makes a brief appearance and doesn’t showcase his martial art skill. Though I guess it’s every actor’s goal to be in a Star Wars movie. He appeared alongside The Raid costar Ruhian.
From horror writer and director Timo Tjahjanto comes a thriller action that might be different for western audiences. Some might know the name Tjahjanto for his segments in the movies V/H/S/2 and the ABCs of Death. Headshot is about a man who is found washed up on the beach with amnesia. When the doctor, who is trying to help him out, is kidnapped he seeks after her and violence follows. And when I mean violence I mean the original Robocop is tamer. One thing that makes Headshot unique is its depiction of crime as more horrific. It’s more psychological in how it shows the criminals and how dark and twisted they are. The fight scenes are simple but brutal. Some may look at how the scenes are shot and say that it’s shaky cam. Here is one of those instances of it is and it isn’t at the same time.
You see what makes shaky cam is not just the camera moving about unstable during an action scene. But it also consists of rapid cutting of angles. This usually ends up hiding sloppy choreography. In Headshot, there are fights where the camera is moving about chaotically. But the camera stays wide and will cut to a stable shot. Headshot holds a 74% on Rotten Tomatoes. I think this because many of the critics immediately compared it to The Raid. Headshot is different but still just as good, yet somehow more violent. I give Headshot a 4 out of 5, with the warning not for those with a weak stomach. Headshot is available on Netflix.
This film is a sequel to the film Skyline. It is written and directed by Liam O’Donnell. It follows an LA cop who is hell-bent to rescue his son from being a victim of the alien invasion all the while protecting a newborn child who was experimented on by the aliens. The LA cop is played by Frank Grillo, who many would recognize as Crossbones from Captain America Civil War. Uwais plays a rebel Laotian soldier. Sadly, this movie is all about an alien invasion so the fight scenes are rather limited. But Uwais get’s to demonstrate more acting chops. Overall this is a very B movie. The story is a little rushed, the end of the world tropes are very abundant. But it is a little different in the sci-fi category, and those few fight sequences do shine. I give it a 2.5 out of 5. Beyond Skyline is currently available to stream on Netflix.
The Night Comes for Us
Little is known about this movie, as it was just recently announced as complete. What is known is that it is directed by Timo Tjahjanto. Tjahjanto has already been mentioned on this list for Headshot. The synopsis for this movie is: “Ito, a gangland enforcer, caught amidst a treacherous and violent insurrection within his Triad crime family upon his return from a stint abroad.”
Ito is to be played by Joe Taslim. Taslim started alongside Uwais in The Raid. In it, he performed an amazing fight sequence between himself and Rushian. In fact, many actors from The Raid are set to star in this movie. Given the director and the cast, it’s easy to see what this film could be. Currently, it has no trailer and is set to release in Indonesia in September but we will keep our ears open for more details as to when it comes to the Western audience.
More than likely you’ve started to see trailers for this movie. Directed by Peter Berg, the Director of Lone Survivor, Patriots Day, and Battleship. This movie stars Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Ronda Rousey, John Malkovich, and Uwais. The premise is Uwais is an elite military/police officer and has information about his country planning an attack on America. It’s then up to Wahlberg and his team to get him out. From the trailer, it looks like Berg was very careful with how he filmed the fight scenes. Many of the sequences showed that this was a mix of martial arts and gun fights. The scenes with Uwais looked very good, and we know that Berg has no problem showing violence with how brutal Lone Survivor was. Mile 22 comes out nationwide on August 17th. Expect a further review around that time frame.
This is one movie I’m really excited about. This movie is currently in Post-Production but little news has come out as to an official release date. This movie is directed by Jesse V. Johnson, who is mostly known for being a stunt coordination. The film is about a hit contract that is placed on a billionaires daughter by a criminal organization. A battle between mercenaries and professional assassins is the only thing keeping her alive. Very simple action premise, but it’s the cast that makes me so excited.
It’s a mix of east and west martial art stars. Let’s start with Scott Adkins, who’s been in Wolf Warrior, Expendables 2, and Doctor Strange. Then there is Michael Jai White who’s been in Black Dynamite, Spawn, and The Dark Knight. Even former UFC Middleweight Champion Michael Bisping is set to be in this. Now here we have the next wave of eastern actors. You already know that Uwais will be displaying his Silat skills. Tony Jaa, the main actor from the Ong Bak series, will be alongside him showcasing his Muay Thai. Tiger Hu Chen, from Man of Tai Chi, will reappear with Uwais. Then lastly is JeeJa (pronounced Chicha) Yanin. She has appeared with Tony Jaa showing her own Muay Thai skills.
This is the Expendables movie I want to see. Expect a review when the movie finally drops.
This film is currently being filmed. It is about an Uber driver that gets recruited by a detective that leads to a night he never imagined. The film is directed by Michael Dowse. Dowse directed probably one of the most underrated Hockey movies Goon. The stars Kumail Nanjiani, Dave Bautista, and Betty Gilpin. More than likely this will be an action comedy. Expert a further look at this film as it comes closer to release.
This is where I’m making the statement you’ll be looking forward to the next project. Wu Assassins was recently announced as being one of the next Netflix Original series. Wu Assassins is about a warrior chosen as the latest and last Wu Assassin. He must find the powers of an ancient triad to restore balance in San Francisco’s Chinatown.
Overall little else is known about the series, but it set to be similar to AMC’s Into the Badlands. This would be welcome for me as Into the Badlands is an original show that respects martial arts. And seeing that it will be on Netflix means it will have little restrictions on what can or can’t be allowed. I’ll be keeping my ear to the ground as more details come out.
With this brief introduction into the entertainment industry, it’s no surprise that he’s a growing star. What makes Uwais stand out is that in all these films is that he plays a talented guy, but is never seen as invulnerable. He never calls upon some supernatural force or seems to dominate the fights from the start. Rather the fight sequences are all grounded by reality. The use of improvised weapons, unique fighting areas, and being outnumbered all add stakes to the fights. Seen getting bruised, beaten, and left bleeding makes the audience wonder if he’ll make it out.
This why you should know the name and check out Iko Uwais’s work. So have you seen any of Uwais’s movie? Are there any other breakout starts we should know about? Let us know in the comments below or join us in the Alpha Nerds Guild forums.