Throughout the past decade, Indonesian action cinema has finally started to get the attention it deserves. Netflix now distributes various actioners from the country, and some of their biggest stars, such as The Raid’s Iko Uwais, are on their way to becoming international sensations.
The movies are famous for their realistic fights, and most make good use of Pencak silat – a group of local martial arts. The best example is probably Gareth Evans’ The Raid, which has become synonymous with exceptional combat scenes.
The trend did not stop there, and from gritty Headshot to gore-fest, The Night Comes for us, Indonesian action films keep pushing boundaries on screen. They are also full of badass female characters, which sets them apart from other movies.
Now, don’t get me wrong – cool women fighters, whether heroes or villains, do exist in Hollywood – Mission Impossible’s Ilsa Faust is just one recent example. Yet too many Western actioners still depict ridiculous cat-fighting, refuse to pit women against men, or let female villains get away scot-free.
Indonesian action films, on the other hand, take the intensity up a notch by casting professional martial artists and creating complex choreographies. There, women characters suffer grisly injuries and meet the same fates as their male counterparts.
So, if you are looking for powerful ladies and realistic fight scenes, check out who movies.
The Raid 2
More than a decade after its release, The Raid remains known as one of the best action movies of all time, and its 2014 sequel followed in its footsteps. The second volume, subtitled “Berandal” (“thug” in Indonesian), features the only woman fighter of the series, and one of its most iconic characters.
Hammer Girl, only named Alicia in the end credits, is a deaf henchwoman working for the main villain, who wields two claw hammers to devastating effect. Her improvised weapon might seem gimmicky, but make no mistake: Hammer Girl’s fighting style is brutal, and she casually cuts henchmen into shreds on a subway train.
Her stoic figure also helps to create some of the film’s bloodiest – and most thrilling – scenes. Just as impressive as Hammer Girl is her actress, Julie Estelle, who learned martial arts, especially for the film.
Despite having no prior combat experience, Estelle was so committed to the role that she impressed director Gareth Evans. The intensive training also paid off for her coach, Very Tri Yulisman, who eventually landed a part on screen as Hammer Girl’s brother, Baseball Bat Man.
The latter was a character created especially for Yulisman, but Gareth Evans had wanted to feature Hammer Girl in the first volume of The Raid. He ended up having to cut the part due to budget constraints, though Estelle’s performance was definitely worth the wait!
The Night Comes For Us
If it is not too late for a disclaimer, there will be a lot about Julie Estelle in this article. After The Raid 2, the actress has kept starring in action movies, now as a fully trained martial artist.
Another of her best performances is definitely in the 2018 Netflix film The Night Comes for Us, which centers on a renegade Triad enforcer – Joe Taslim – who tries to escape the wrath of his former comrades.
Here, Estelle plays the mysterious Operator, who might be best defined as coolness personified. This unstoppable killing machine pops up halfway through the film and makes up for her lack of backstory by getting involved in some of the grittiest fight scenes.
Whether she is gunning down henchmen, trading punches with Taslim or simply riding a motorbike that looks too cool to be true, the Operator manages to stand out in a film full of colorful characters.
The Night Comes for Us has a thin plot, but it does what Hollywood scarcely dares to do: the film offers a gory and extremely violent two-against-three women’s fight in which no blows – or fingers – are off-limits.
During it, Julie Estelle’s character battles a duo of ruthless assassins played by Pencak Silat fighter Hannah Al Rashid and by Dian Sastrowardoyo… who was previously known for her roles in rom-com!
Often outnumbered but never outmatched, the Operator’s cool demeanor and insane fighting skills have made her an instantly iconic character.
The director of The Night Comes for Us, director Timo Tjahjanto (whose name will be known to fans of Indonesian cinema), has stated that he hopes to create a spin-off focused on the character.
So far, no other news has been released about it, but fans of the Operator can enjoy a deleted scene available on YouTube, which features her equally mysterious – and slightly creepy – handler.
The Big 4
The Big 4 has just been released on Netflix and is Timo Tjahjanto’s latest creation. Compared to The Night Comes for Us, the film does seem like a downgrade in the gore department (though topping TNCFU in that category would honestly be difficult!).
The Big 4 instead has a humorous tone and completely embraces its over-the-top nature, so those looking for cool action scenes and badass female fighters will find what they need. Here, the plot revolves around a group of ruthless assassins who are forced to retire after their adoptive father dies.
Unbeknownst to them, their mentor had another daughter, who just joined law enforcement and is determined to avenge her father. While The Big 4 sometimes delves into caricature, the film remains aware of its goofiness, perfectly embodied by its two female protagonists.
There is Alpha, an unstable assassin who specializes in explosives, and her counterpart, the law-abiding, self-righteous officer Dina. Owing to the movie’s comedic nature, the two women use less impressive combat moves, but they contribute to the body count just as much as the others on this list!
Written by Josephine Aulnois.
Edited by Roman from Budomate.