Merantau (2009, Indonesia). Director: Gareth Evans.
Iko Uwais is an expert in the Indonesian martial art of Silat. He was discovered by Welsh director Gareth Evans when Evans was invited to Indonesia to film a documentary on Silat. He noticed Iko Uwais’s natural charisma among the students in the Silat training hall. At the time, Uwais had been working as a delivery man for a phone company. Evans invited him to star in the lead role of his first martial arts movie, Merantau.
Gareth Evans is highly unusual as a director; unlike many European (and American) filmmakers who have made movies in Asian countries, he avoided the usual stereotyping, fetishizing, and Westernized POV of the native people and culture. These were truly Indonesian movies. Evans, Iko Uwais, and their stunt team created amazing movies: Merantau (2009), The Raid: Redemption (2011), and The Raid 2: Berandal (2014). Scenes from both ‘Raid’ movies have been posted earlier in this thread
. Each movie was substantially better than the previous one. There was a Raid 3 planned, which was scrapped. Gareth Evans ended up returning to Wales, and Iko Uwais began making appearances in Hollywood films. So far, nothing that Iko Uwais has done in Hollywood even approaches the level and quality of his work in Indonesia with Gareth Evans.
When Merantau first came out, some people referred to Iko Uwais as an Indonesian “Tony Jaa lite.” However, by his second film, The Raid: Redemption, it was clear that Iko Uwais (and Gareth Evans) had something very special. They had surpassed the quality of any of the Thai industry’s martial arts films (which were still popular at the time) due to quality of storyline, acting, choreography, etc. Although Merantau was his very first movie and acting experience, Iko Uwais did a fantastic job.
If anybody thinks that acting in a movie (especially in a lead role, and without any previous acting experience), or that performing convincingly and looking good in fight scenes (especially martial arts-related fight scenes) on camera is easy, they should try it for themselves on video. Almost everyone “thinks” they could look good onscreen. However, many veteran martial artists and champion fighters have looked unimpressive in movies. There are many factors that must work together to determine how someone comes across onscreen: Natural charisma/screen presence; acting ability; skill set; the choreography; the camera work/cinematography; the ability and willingness to follow directions; adaptability; rhythm; reaction timing; the other fighters and stunt people, etc. It is truly an art form.
Elevator fight: Iko Uwais vs Yayan Ruhian:
Final fight: Iko Uwais vs Mads Koudal, Laurent Buson, & henchmen: