Dir/scr/ed: Gareth Evans. Indonesia. 2009. 106mins
There is a new martial arts star in town…and his name is Iko Uwais, star of Indonesia’s first martial arts film for years, Merantau Warrior. The film screened as the official closing film of Korea’s genre festival PiFan 2009, but has since been trimmed for international markets, and certainly delivers in terms of martial arts mayhem.
Merantau Warrior could prove popular with fight fans.
The success of Tony Jaa, star of the Ong Bak Thai action films, proved that there is still a demand for convincingly made martial arts films and the beautifully shot Merantau Warrior (also sold as simply Merantau) could prove popular with fight fans, especially in the DVD market. The film, written and directed by Welsh-born Gareth Evans, also brings attention to the local Indonesian martial art ‘Silat’.
Yuda (Uwais) is a young farmer and skilled Silat practitioner from Minangkabau in West Sumatra, and following centuries of tradition he embarks on his ‘merantau’, a rites of passage that requires him to leave his home and family and learn about the outside world.
He heads to Jakarta, but soon finds himself caught in a situation where he must defend Astri (Sisca Jessica) from her abusive employer Johni (Alex Abbad) and his henchmen. Johni happens to be a supplier of local girls to a human trafficking gang lead by psychopath Ratger (Mads Koudal), and Astri was supposed to make up the numbers.
Ratger seeks revenge, and soon Yuda, Astri and her young brother Adit are on the run in Jakarta from pimps and gangsters, with Yuda eventually realising he must face his foes head-on. It may well be your typical plotline that is simply structured to allow the most opportunity for martial arts action, but those actions scenes are stunningly impressive.
When shown at PiFan the film ran 133mins, and while the international version is a lot tighter, the story does move pretty slowly in the opening section, though at least there is an early scene of Yuda sparring with his master to keep things interesting. But that is often the way with such martial arts films…a slowish set up, by-the-numbers dialogue and then into the fight action.
The trick with martial arts films is finding a lead who is good in front of the camera when there are no action scenes. There are plenty of good fighters around, but few are at ease in the quieter on-screen moments. Iko Uwais bucks that trend – not only does he look great in the action sequences, but is also convincing as a straight actor. Merantau Warrior offers little in the way of original storylines or filmmaking style, but as a martial arts movie it is certainly one of the better ones around.
Production company: PT Merantau Films
International sales: Golden Network Asia, www.goldnetasia.com
Producer: Ario Sagantoro
Executive producers: Rangga Maya Barack-Evans
Cinematography: Matt Flannery
Action choreography: Edwel Datuk Rajo Gampo Alam & Team Silat Harimau
Music: Fajar Yuskamal, Aria Prayohi
Main cast: Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica, Christine Hakim, Mads Koudal, Yusef Aulia, Alex Abbad