by Nicholas Lay (@laidbaremedia)
From the minute I saw the debut trailer for The Raid back in 2011, I knew Welsh director Gareth Evans was on to something. Follow a stagnant decade on the Hollywood action front, it was a British filmmaker working in Indonesia who finally broke substantial new ground. The result was the finest cinematic action experience since The Matrix, propelling Evans, his stars, Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, and the Indonesian fighting style of pencak silat into the global spotlight. The 2014 follow up, Berandal, whilst arguably even more spectacular in action-based execution, demonstrated perhaps that Evans still has some way to go when it comes to truly rounded filmmaking. Indeed, the final version felt more like a shoehorned mish-mash of theoretically cool ideas, many of which didn’t necessarily translate as well on screen as they had done during the more tightly focused definition of edge-of-your-seat intensity that was The Raid.
With the trilogy’s final installment still somewhere over the horizon, Evans this week whet our appetites by releasing, out of the blue, a stripped back, dialogue-free, black and white action short, Pre Vis Action. Set during the time of the Samurai, the basic plot consists of two assassins attempting to stop a messenger getting from A to B…
Filmed on location in rural Wales, the production consisted solely of Evans – shooting on a Sony NEX-7 – and his cast; once again featuring the ever-dynamic Ruhian (who had a hand in the scene’s overall design and fight choreography) alongside Hannah Al Rashid and Cecep Arif Rahman, the latter of whom also played a part behind the scenes.
Meticulously crafted, the picture comes across as a kind of Gareth Evans shot catalogue, positively overflowing with his trademark visuals, and a stark reminder of his ability to create atmosphere using nothing but spectacle. Whereas his feature films have proven him a master of camera placement within frantic action sequences – an underestimated, under-appreciated skill in the world of martial art movie making – here we’re given a gloriously unrestrained tour of Evans’ equally impressive understanding of camera movement, and how it can be used to make the most of a frame when shooting an action scene. Flowing with the action, up close and personal, the intrusive steps forward, jumping pull-backs and sweeping camera pans feel wonderfully natural, designed with a clear understanding of editing and pacing that plays to the cuts present in the final reel. The well integrated, traditional percussion-heavy score helps tie everything together.
The fight itself may not be the star of the piece when compared to the technical aspects, but it is of course the main beneficiary, and is highly enjoyable as a result. Having previously excelled in hand-to-hand combat, gunplay, and vehicular stunt work, it was only a matter of time before Evans tried his hand at swordplay. Well put together, with call backs to both Japanese and Hong Kong cinema (those bendy swords produced an overpowering flashback to the Shaw Bros. and Golden Harvest eras – think Jackie Chan’s temple fight in The Young Master), it’s a graceful affair utilised in the form of a successful experiment on Evans’ part. Whether or not The Raid 3 will be the full steak and chips remains to be seen, but, either way, it could well be time to once again get excited.
Though it certainly has the look of a sequence shot over a mere three days, a completely polished article was never likely to be the intended end game for Pre Vis Action. Nonetheless, from an action fanboy point of view, it’s charming in a thoughtful, sort of high-grade amateur fashion, and a more than welcome reminder of what Evans is capable of going foward.