His Blazing Automatics is a column by Vague Visages staff writer Dylan Moses Griffin.
Having blown all other modern action cinema out of the water with The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2, it only makes that sense Gareth Evans would go ahead and release what is an early frontrunner for the best work of action cinema in 2016, just for the hell of it. Dropping earlier this week, the aptly titled short Pre Vis Action is a beautiful and stunning work of samurai action storytelling, reuniting Evans with his Raid 2 stars Yayan Ruhian and Cecep Arif Rahman, as well as Hannah Al Rashid from his V/H/S 2 segment “Safe Haven.”
The short highlights the unique ability Evans has to tell a story and build characters with just action. There’s not a single word of dialogue spoken in the sequence, yet a clear story with a beginning, middle and end unfolds. There’s back and forth, a rise in tension and drama — seemingly everything needed to craft an effective story is done with silence as the limbs do the talking and exposition.
The opening shots emphasize an unknown tension as two warriors (Ruhian and Rahman) watch in silence as Rashid’s character runs panicked through the forest. She stops, sensing their presence. Evans uses a flurry of cuts with each of them running to successfully amp up the stakes, and we don’t even know what they are yet. A lot of this is helped by the urgent and tense scoring from Fajar Yuskemal and Aria Prayogi, creating a sense of immediacy.
Just under two minutes in, the sequence comes to a head as the trio arrives in the same spot and commences in elaborate sword choreography. Thirty seconds later, the stakes begin to click. Rashid’s character is carrying a package that the other two are after. We’re just past three and a half minutes when the piece ups the ante even further. After killing Rahman’s character, Rashid turns around as both she and Ruhian discover that the package is on the ground between them. It’s a standoff, and one that Evans shoots in an exciting exchange of cuts.
The performances in this sequence are strong, especially Rashid. You somehow feel the need to root for her, despite knowing nothing else about her aside from the fact that she is protecting this package from the other two. One chief strength that The Raid films have over other action films is that the performers were unquestionable masters in their field of martial arts. You were never watching a mere stunt take place, each punch and kick were real and felt. The choreography is complex and inventive, constantly topping itself with each pass. The entire space, and each possible prop (including the package) are used in continuously fresh and imaginative fashion. The same technique/move never seems to be used twice. In his films, Evans has somehow figured out how to shoot absurd and intricate action sequences (handheld and shaky-cam) without losing any sense of setting or character. The audience never loses focus of what’s going on in these fights.
What is astounding about this short is that it not only works as its own contained story but could easily serve as a highlight in a larger film. In that sense, this short highlights what makes Evans such a vital presence in action cinema. He can shoot action in a wild, exciting manner that is never hard to follow, he knows how to let his martial arts masters do their thing, and he can tell a story and character through physical movement rather than dialogue. It’s not even February, but it feels safe calling Pre Vis Action the best action film of 2016.
Dylan Moses Griffin has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.