Saturday, October 29, 2011

"Merantau" (2009)

Starring Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica and Yusif Aulia
Written and directed by Gareth H. Evans
Rated R - Violence, disturbing images
Running Time: 114 minutes

Seriously, who doesn't like to watch a good ass-whupping?  I could watch martial arts movies all day long (indeed, I have), so I was excited to check out this 2009 Indonesian flick called "Merantau" that I heard mentioned in an interview recently. 

The story concerns a young man named Yuda (Iko Uwais) who must leave his home and family to undergo a sort of coming-of-age ritual.  He must go out into the world to get experience and discover himself for the first time.  Yuda is a master of a martial art known as Silat, and he plans to go to Jakarta to open a school and teach Silat. 

But when he reaches the city, he finds that the place he was supposed to live has been torn down, and he finds himself jobless and homeless.  Before he can consider what to do, his wallet is stolen by a young boy named Adit (Yusif Aulia).  Chasing down the boy, Yuda encounters Astri, Adit's older sister.  Astri is in a fight with her boss Johnny (Alex Abbad) over some money.  Yuda intervenes, rescuing Astri and embarrassing Johnny.  Unfortunately, Johnny was supposed to deliver Astri to a powerful business man named Ratger (Mads Koudai) to be sold as a sex slave. 

Johnny's goons kidnap Astri, forcing Yuda to get involved once more, track down Astri and save her and her brother from a life of misery.  But to do that, he's gonna have to beat up a whole lot of dudes.

The story of "Merantau," which is the name of both the production company and the coming-of-age ritual that Yuda is participating in, is pretty simplistic.  Essentially, the boy rescues the girl and becomes a man.  The simplicity of the story, however, is more than made up for by the complexity of the fight sequences.  Just click to watch the trailer above, and you'll see what I mean.  I've never heard of Silat before as a fighting style, but it is pretty damn impressive, and also pretty intense.  It seems to lack the dance-like maneuvers of Wing Chun, or the staccato power of Japanese karate.  Of course, I'm no expert, I just go by what I see, but Silat seems kind of vicious - it's movements designed to inflict pain on an attacker, rather than as a defensive art. 

Either way, it's incredibly visually impressive in terms of a martial arts film.  The fights on display in "Merantau" are bone-crunching and awesome.  Director Gareth Evans doesn't fall victim to over-editing his fights like Hollywood directors seem to these days, instead simply letting the camera capture each fight in one go.  He even does a few long takes when Yuda takes on multiple opponents that are very impressive.  Stunt men get thrown into, onto, over and off of many things, including some rather lethal looking drops off of buildings and stacks of cargo containers.  There's thankfully a lack of obvious CGI, though some of the falls are definitely effects-assisted, whether it be through wirework or digital manipulation, I'm not sure. 

There's really not much else to say.  The cast is worthy, but like the story, the characters are mostly simple constructs who don't really grow or change in any fashion.  Astri and her brother are innocents in distress, who are rescued by the noble but inexperienced hero.  The bad guys are without remorse or conscience, which makes it totally okay for Yuda to beat them to bloody pulps.  The story and emotional drama of the film are nothing to write home about, but the action sequences are impressive and well-constructed.  If you're looking for some good fights, "Merantau" has that in spades for you to check out.