Gareth Evans' Welsh Chanbara flick

Have you ever seen a Welsh samurai film? Well now you can! Gareth Evans, writer-director-editor of British-Indonesian martial arts action hits The Raid: Redemption (2011) and The Raid 2: Berandal (2014), has posted a five-minute-long test sequence in the style of a mini-samurai movie.

Along with the test video, Evans also posted details of the work that went into the five-minute film and the reason for making it. Known for bone-crunching bloodbaths, Evans and his Indonesian martial arts performers use Pre Vis Action (2016) to prove that they can keep the violence family-friendly, in order to achieve a 12A/PG-13 rating, without compromising their style of fighting and filmmaking. Gareth Evans' regular choreographer, Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog from The Raid and the vagrant hit man from The Raid 2), and Cecep Arif Rahman (the knife-wielding assassin from the Raid 2) chase down newcomer Hannah Al Rashid in this meeting of the trappings of Japanese fencing and Pencak Silat, the Indonesian martial art, which Evans, Ruhian and Iko Uwais popularised with The Raid series.

In a time of civil war, a young warrior is given the task of delivering a treaty between two rival lords. During her journey through the woods however, she finds herself hunted by two assassins intent on intercepting her message of peace in a bid to maintain the fear, instability and violent rule of their leader.

Watch the video below and enjoy...

Pre Vis Action (2016 - UK/Indonesia, dir. Gareth Evans)

Evans shot this test himself in South Wales' Cynon Valley. Watching the film without this knowledge reveals just how great an effect the choices of shooting, casting, costume and music have on the viewer's perception of any film. Even though this is merely low-budget test footage, shot in temperate woodland with overhead power lines in the background and Crocs on the actors' feet, the good storytelling sells itself. Good storytelling makes the viewer take all the hard work behind the scenes for granted and look past continuity errors. In fact, nowhere is this more important than in action genre narratives, where disbelief needs the most elastic suspension.

The backstory Evans wrote could be just enough to motivate the elegantly composed short story needed for the gang's choreography test or it could be a piece of a larger plot. Who knows what Evans might have bubbling away for future martial arts mayhem? To see Evans and co. take a run at a feature-length samurai period piece is an enticing prospect for the future, but the fact is that Evans has been entrenched in the style of Japan's samurai action genre, Chanbara, for his entire career. The Raid and its sequel exemplify the very particular kind of suspension of disbelief required for the Japanese Chanbara flicks from which Pre Vis takes its cues. 

Iko Uwais vs. Cecep Arif Rahman in The Raid 2: Berandal (2014)

Chanbara literally means "sword fighting" and the genre typically includes period-set action stories about samurai, such as Yojimbo (1961), Samurai Assassin (1965), Sword of Doom (1966) and Samurai Rebellion (1967). As popular in 20th Century Japan as Westerns once were in the United States, the Chanbara genre also gave birth to massive film series, like the Lone Wolf & Cub series, two series about real-life samurai Musashi Miyamoto and the Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman series; not to mention modern-day genre riffs, like Takashi Miike's Seven-Samurai-meets-The-Wild-Bunch mash up, 13 Assassins (2011).

Though his feature films are Indonesian martial arts actioners, set in modern-day Jakarta, Gareth Evans' work with Yayan Ruhian and Iko Uwais stick by the structural principles of pure Chanbara. Even the nightmarish bloodbath that he contributed to V/H/S/2 (2013) is constructed from Chanbara's same principal rhythmic blueprint of tension, which invariably begins with a long build-up, in which we gain widely spaced, valuable plot and character information. Then our characters enter an increasingly tense, interminable moment of initial confrontation, in which each weighs the possible consequences of every decision they could take. Finally, we arrive at an explosive, on-going fight scene, containing separate emotional and narrative climaxes, as well as a final, unifying climax (a thematic climax). Key to the success of any number of cinema's finest Chanbara flicks and to all of Evans' films, from the modest Pre Vis to the epic Raid 2, is modulation. No single fight scene builds to its climax without allowing the fight to slow down momentarily, while the balance of power is adjusted, and one character shifts from the front foot to the back foot.

Tatsuya Nakadai is the psychotic badass at the centre of Sword of Doom (1966)

It's especially generous of Evans to post his own mini-Chanbara flick online, not only as a short piece of violent entertainment for lunchtime viewing, but also as an insight into the process that he and his performers go through in working out the astonishing action sequences that make them the most innovative action filmmakers working today. Shooting Pre Vis required a crew of one (Evans) and three days near his home town of Hirwaun with his three performers. Doubtless, the broad strokes of the choreography had been worked out in advance, but it isn't until the performers and their cameraman are in the final location that the real work can begin. It's like building a piano: sure, you can build it anywhere, but you can't do the fine tuning until it has reached the concert hall.

The third and final part in The Raid series isn't expected until 2017 (if we're lucky). If you like what Evans' films have to offer, then why not break up the anticipation on the way to The Raid 3 by exploring the Chanbara classics from which Evans has taken the rhythms and structural tension of the samurai showdown and re-applied it (with minimal alterations) to the finest martial arts action of today. Below is a three-step introduction to the elegant, action-packed world of Chanbara. Anyone concerned about spoilers may want to skip the last two trailers below, and just take my word for it that these three films are among the greatest actioners ever made and well worth seeing!

Sanjuro [trailer] (1962 - Japan, dir. Akira Kurosawa) The de facto sequel to Yojimbo (1960) is one of Akira Kurosawa's lighter films but no less formidable for it. Toshiro Mifune reprises his role as the flea-bitten ronin, whilst Tatsuya Nakadai plays the villain, once again. Mifune and Nakadai crossed swords in numerous conflicts throughout Chanbara's history but their greatest showdown comes during the finale of Sanjuro.

Lone Wolf & Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx [trailer] (1972 - Japan, dir. Kenji Misumi) The first two films in the Lone Wolf & Cub series were cut together and dubbed with a beloved but superfluous voice over to create the cherished grindhouse cult item, Shogun Assassin (1980). Either of Kenji Misumi's Japanese originals are superior to the American re-cut, which removes some of the strongest character moments between the assassin and his infant son. Oddly enough, Shogun Assassin also omits some of Baby Cart at the River Styx's most lurid and indelible moments.

Hara Kiri [trailer] (1962 - Japan, dir. Masaki Kobayashi) The Chanbara to end all Chanbara - Hara Kiri deconstructs the myth of the warrior's honour, breaking down the genre as it breaks down the belief systems of both its protagonist and antagonist. Directed by Kurosawa's formidable contemporary and occasional collaborator, Masaki Kobayashi, Hara Kiri culminates in some of the finest action in the history of cinema.