REVIEW: Merantau (2009) | ManlyMovie

REVIEW: Merantau (2009)


Before Gareth Evans and Iko Uwais exploded onto the global action film scene with The Raid and The Raid 2, they earned their stripes debuting in this hard-kicking flick, though comparatively it is softest in tone when compared to their subsequent films. There are two versions of this film available – the 135 minute Indonesian cut, and the 112 minute international cut released practically everywhere else. This review covers the latter, which is pretty darn good on its own merit.
Merantau, or Merantau Warrior in some countries, centers around Yuda (Uwais), a young, naive village lad who embarks on a traditional coming-of-age journey (the titular Merantau) away from his family and scenic home village to pursue his dream of teaching the pencak silat martial art to children. He sets foot in Jakarta, and is immediately greeted with the harshness of big city life – his apartment is non-existent, he gets mugged by a street urchin, and after saving a prostitute’s life, he ends up in the path of a furious criminal who specializes in the sex slave trade. So it goes.
One really doesn’t need to realize how familiar this plot is. If it worked for Tony Jaa’s vehicle Ong-Bak, it most certainly works here, perhaps even better seeing that Uwais is a genuinely better actor than Jaa. Evans and company have crafted a well-rounded, exciting and quite organic martial arts film: each kick, punch and elbow is choreographed in such a way that at times it seems almost too real. There’s little to no wire-work used in its action scenes and when they do come, they are used competently without overshadowing much of the slick silat choreography Uwais and Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog from the first Raid) have come up with. Speaking of Ruhian, he shows up here as a friendly chap who gives Yuda big city advice, but reluctantly is forced to turn against him in an energetic fight sequence set entirely in a (slightly oversized) elevator.

As far as the violence goes, it is reasonably tamer in both tone and content when compared to the Raid films, but it is still most definitely not for the PG-13 crowd. Stabbings, shootings, bone-breakings are abundant here in glorious form as lovingly captured by Evans via competent editing and cinematography, especially in the film’s crowd-pleasing nighttime climax at the docks (always a favourite of mine). There are sequences, though, where melodrama brings the action to a standstill. Perhaps Evans intended for them to pay tribute to filmmakers such as John Woo, this being his action debut and all. They do not go down too well.

Again, the plot is nothing new to write home about, especially if you’ve seen Ong-Bak. The film starts out pretty slowly, almost draggy at times admittedly, but once shit hits the fan, it never relents. The sex slave subplot does deliver rare and genuinely emotional, if not a bit cheesy, moments involving the prostitute character, which makes Yuda/Uwais a better hero to root for once he starts taking down these scumbags one by one during the climactic dock sequence.
It’s not a perfect film as described above, but it is definitely enjoyable, and a must-own for Evans/Uwais fans. They may start off a little rough and naive, but boy, have the Raidmovies shown how far they’ve progressed.


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    September 8, 2016 at 1:02 am

    Good introduction for Iko. I wouldn’t say it’s as violent as the Raid movies but very entertaining and good. Mad Dog (Yayan Ruhian) is an unrecognizable clean shaven short haired assassin for hire. You said it all well AlTeo! Check out this deleted scene:

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    Jacob Phillips

    September 8, 2016 at 9:26 am

    Would pretty much agree with this score. I think I like this one better than Raid 2. Mads Koudal is cool as the white gangster boss. He was also in Gareth Evans’ first film Footprints aka Vengeance Day. Would like to see him work with Evans again.

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    Mucho Macho

    September 8, 2016 at 10:48 am

    Good review my friend.
    I saw this movie only once years ago & haven’t seen it since. Barely remember it but I remember liking it. So many things I need to watch.
    I need to turn my girlfriend into my sugar mama so I can stay home all the time & watch TV

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      September 10, 2016 at 1:32 am

      Thanks amigo
      Yeah there’s been a ton of stuff I’m missing on as well, particularly on the Korean side. There’s a shit ton of Chinese movies that get shown here that a lot of the good stuff gets thrown under the radar. Blood Father was barely out in theaters for a week and already it’s gone.

      Though I think that might change due to the overwhelming popularity of Train to Busan here in Malaysia… Hoping to catch that once the crowd dies down.

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        Mucho Macho

        September 10, 2016 at 12:50 pm

        I tried lookin for “Blood Father” in a theater but I just couldn’t find any. Then I was in a friends house & he was going through iTunes & saw that it was already there.
        I need to catch on my korean & american movies. I also need to catch up on TV series as well but my life this past year has been so hectic I just haven’t been able to watch a lot of stuff on my downtime.
        When the crowds die down & when you eventually watch the movie tell me how do you liked it please, would love to read your thoughts on it.

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    Jimmy Smith

    September 8, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Loved this movie. Enjoyed the story and thought the emotional/dramatic element worked well and gave the movie heart and I felt genuinely moved by the end of the film. One of the best martial arts action films of the century IMO,

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    French Predator

    April 2, 2019 at 3:55 pm

    8/10 for me