Probably the biggest surprise for me this year, movie-wise, was The Raid: Redemption. I had never seen an Indonesian film or heard anything about Indonesian cinema and out of nowhere there is The Raid, directed by Jakarta based Welshman Gareth Evans; easily one of the (if not the) most exciting action films I’ve ever seen. The epic combination of ruthless gun action and Indonesian martial arts left me speechless. After watching it twice, and liking it even more the second time, I got curious about what else Indonesia and specifically Gareth Evans had to offer. If there was more where this came from I had to see it, so I decided to check out Merantau, the last film Evans directed before The Raid.
Like The Raid, Merantau features Pencak Silat, Indonesia’s family of martial arts. Evans became fascinated with the sport when he was hired to film a documentary about it in Indonesia, after which he stayed in Jakarta to work on Merantau. He discovered Iko Uwais at the silat school where he was shooting and cast him as the lead.
The story is paper-thin, but that’s ok. It’s so clichéd it’s actually kind of fun. Uwais plays Yuda, a young man from West Sumatra who leaves his family in the country to experience life and find himself, in accordance with the “Merantau” custom of his people. In the city he runs into a girl that gets targeted by a gang of human traffickers and Yuda takes it upon himself to save her and take down the organization by kicking and punching the crap out of every bad guy he runs into.
The local Indonesian gangsters work for hilariously stereotypical suit wearing western bad guys who speak English with a weird accent; I think they’re supposed to be American or some kind of European, it’s hard to tell. I actually thought it was quite fun to see how this Indonesian movie had all sorts of Indonesian characters and one-dimensional western looking villains much like how western movies do the same thing with non-western bad guys.
The story is entertaining in its simplicity but obviously the real fun is in the action. And there is a lot of it. If you’ve seen The Raid you will recognize a lot of things; the same style of martial arts, familiar faces in the cast (most notably Iko Uwais), the same type of camera shots, but also the brutal (and awesome) way the surroundings are used during the fights; for example people falling on ledges in gnarly ways, furniture being creatively utilized and lots of smashing into walls.
I do have to point out the fights in Merantau do look at lot more choreographed and less natural than they do in The Raid. I’m not sure if it’s the difference in budget or just that Evans is getting better as a director but there’s a huge leap between the two films in terms of how polished it looks. Don’t get me wrong though, the action is still very impressive and you get used to the choreographed feel pretty quickly.
I really enjoyed seeing more of Evans’ work and how much it evolved over the two films. It also made me wonder, if Evans went from “very cool” with Merantau to “amazing” with The Raid, what will Berandal, the sequel to The Raid set for release in 2013, be like.
Merantau gets 3 out 5 Nerdskulls. Check out the trailer:
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