By Lenita Sulthani
JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian martial arts film with fast fight sequences has smashed domestic box office records and become the first Indonesian flick to break into the U.S. box office, also winning acclaim at international film festivals.
Now the movie's director hopes the film's success will breathe new life into Pencak Silat, the Indonesian martial art it showcases - and one whose followers are dwindling at home.
"The Raid: Redemption" was released worldwide on March 28 and reached number 11 in the U.S. box office at the start of April, drawing an audience of more than 2 million. At home, it has drawn an audience of more than 1 million, a spectacular amount for the local movie industry.
"It's a film that can help promote the idea of people knowing Silat all around the world," said Gareth Evans, a filmmaker from Wales who wrote and directed the movie after falling in love with Pencak Silat several years ago.
"So if through this film there are audience members in the U.S., UK or France, or anywhere else in the world, that suddenly start to learn more about Silat, or people that want to learn to actually be able to perform Silat, then we've done our job."
Pencak Silat has more than 150 variations in style across Indonesia, utilizing hand and foot movements. Evans said he was impressed by the beauty of how Silat athletes move into an attack, as well as the brutality behind it, but its popularity has diminished among younger Indonesians.
The movie, called simply "The Raid" in Indonesia, tells the story of an Indonesian SWAT team sent to capture a crime lord who lives and works in a multi-storey tower block.
It stars Pencak Silat master and former champion Iko Uwais as a police chief and Yayah Ruhiyan, who has served as an international Pencak Silat referee, as a criminal mastermind. The two co-choreographed fight scenes.
Shot in three months with a budget of a million dollars, the movie garnered rave reviews from international critics, including a Midnight Madness award at the Toronto Film Festival, and was showcased at the Sundance Film Festival as well as in Spain, Italy and Dublin.
Critics praised the film for its non-stop action and meticulous choreography, though Evans said he and producer Ario Sagantoro had done nothing innovative and used the same style as Hong Kong action movies from the 1980s. Some 90 percent of the movie was shot indoors.
"That was the only rule, that we wanted to make a film that we wanted to watch. So we weren't thinking 'Oh well, maybe we could do this at the box office, or maybe we can sell to this country and this country,'" Evans said.
"We knew we had to sell internationally, but we had no idea how we would perform, we had no idea how people would respond. Everything that has happened since Toronto has been a bonus."
Evans started directing Asian movies before he left his home country, making "Samurai Monogatari" in 2003 as a film school project. He came to know Pencak Silat while shooting a documentary five years ago.
He and Sagantoro have also made "Merantau," which was popular locally before going to international film festivals.
A graphic novel version of "The Raid" has been launched to capitalize on its popularity, and a second installment is currently in development. It will showcase Pencak Silat again, but in a bigger and more ambitious scale by taking the story to the streets to "blow up Jakarta," said producer Sagantoro.
Fans in Indonesia approved of the movie, which was picked up by Sony Pictures after its original release for local theatres.
"I like the action and the story. This is good for the film industry in Indonesia," said 15-year-old Caca Anisa. "I am proud of it."
(Writing by Elaine Lies; editing by Paul Casciato)