Would anyone really be surprised if the success of Merantau and the Raid films spawned a few local knock-offs? If anything, the Indonesians are hell-bent on taking the action/martial-arts film crown, no matter how high or low the budget is. Here we have another surprise entry (literally, I’ve never even heard of this film until two weeks ago) from the South East Asian country that, for all of its flaws given its extremely predictable script, somehow makes up for it in its action sequences.
The film consists of one central character thrown into three subplots, which is at the same time ambitious and convoluted. In one corner, you get the tired killer-with-a-dark-past who tries to leave his violent lifestyle and organization behind him and help out his brother and father run a debt-ridden garage in a path to redemption. In another corner, said killer is being hunted by another criminal faction for ditching a job and taking the money with him. The third corner involves a mob boss’ daughter who runs a charity organization for orphaned children, but whose father’s business partner (who also is hunting the hitman) is secretly scheming against them. Forgive me if I got some details incorrectly, but I can’t recite the main plot even if there was a gun aimed towards me. It’s like a melodramatic soap opera, made all the more amateurish with some awkward humor and TV-worthy cinematography (in those dramatic scenes).
While the plot ambitiously fails, and some questions are raised more than they are answered, it serves as a showcase for some unoriginal, but nevertheless solid action sequences that gave this viewer a shit-eating grin. The action occasionally bursts out during the first two-thirds – sometimes often predictable, but nothing short of satisfying – before the entire final third act rewards the patient viewer with an endless barrage of bullets, blood, broken bones, plunging knives, and mayhem. It doesn’t reach the heights of the Raid films (some of the CG blood effects may throw a few off), but… punches and kicks are thrown, bodies are flung, necks are dragged, countless heads being whacked with metal pipes, multiple headshots… I mean, this thing is ferocious. It’s like the Indonesians are finally realizing their potential in action cinema and are letting loose, despite (or perhaps especially due) to the low budget, they go hog-wild with the violence and brutality knowing that they have nothing to lose.
The titular assassin of the film is played by Asun Mawardi, who wears multiple hats here as not only the lead star but also directing, producing and co-writing the script. The only previous credit he has is an obscure 2011 Indonesian martial-arts film called Pirate Brothers/Mortal Enemies starring Mortal Kombat‘s Robin Shou, which I have not yet seen. I gotta say, I like this dude. How can you not like a dude who kicks ass wearing a leather jacket and worn-out denim jeans, or also riding a cruiser bike whilst sporting shades? He’s 50-years-old and it seems like he’s doing the punching and kicking by himself with ease – the fight sequences are far from amateur hour like the rest of the film. He also has a cool aloofness to him that’s quite refreshing to see in this day and age – an old-school hero generally unfazed by threats but reacts ultra-violently if pushed too far. Sort of like an Indonesian Cannon-era Charles Bronson, with a badass early-Seagal-esque ponytail. In a film like this, it’s a good thing. Played by nearly any other actor, it would come off as sleepwalking throughout the role (Bruce Willis today, for example…)
I’m inclined to give this a 5 because of its amateurish plot and dramatics. But because the action is very satisfyingly well-done for its budget, and Mawardi and his stunt crew have their A-game on throughout the action sequences, I’m adding 1 for not short-changing this undemanding viewer in terms of brutal violence, and another 1 for Mawardi’s cool performance throughout. For a relatively unknown 50-year-old director/star to create a satisfying action film with such a low budget, it is quite the remarkable effort, and his potential given a bigger budget is sky-high. Perhaps a meaty role in an upcoming Evan/Uwais/Raid film will unleash Mr. Mawardi’s full power? I certainly hope so.
This is a very limited release, the nearest theater playing this was an hour and a half’s drive away from my place, and even so, I and another pal were practically the only ones in the cinema hall. It’s sad to see Hollywood/China CG fluff dominate the local audiences while local/neighbouring films flounder in their wake. Should this film come out legally online or in a theater/festival near you, I’d recommend you gents to check this one out given the chance.