REVIEW: DVD Release: Merantau Warrior

Film: Merantau Warrior
Release date: 26th April 2010
Certificate: 18
Running time: 106 mins
Director: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica, Christine Hakim, Mads Koudal
Genre: Martial Arts
Studio: E1
Format: DVD
Country: Indonesia

In the Sumatran region of Indonesia, there comes a time in a young man’s life when he must undertake “Merantau”, a rites-of-passage journey whereby he leaves his village to try and find his place in the world. Writer/director Gareth Evans has taken that premise and spun it into a dangerous adventure.

Yuda’s Merantau starts with a number of setbacks which would have most people running back to their village – the house he’s meant to be staying in has been demolished, there’s no work for a Silat instructor and just now he’s been robbed by a street urchin called Adit. Chasing him through the increasingly narrow alleyways brings Yuda to the point where the momentum of the plot starts to change gears.

Adit’s sister, Astri (Sisca Jessica), is a dancer in a nightclub run by Johnni, and Adit has inadvertently led Yuda (Iko Uwais) there. As Yuda confronts the little thief, Astri and Johnni come out of a side-door, arguing. Turns out, Johnni wants a portion of Astri’s tips. Things get violent, and Yuda steps in. Astri isn’t particularly pleased with her unsolicited knight-in-shining-armour, believing his interference is only going to make things worse. Johnni isn’t too happy either.

Johnni, it turns out, is providing girls to a pair of Eurotrash sex-traffickers called Ratger and Luc, who are in town to pick up their latest shipment of girls. When Ratger points out to him that he’s a girl short, Johnni immediately thinks of Astri as a perfect replacement...

Merantau starts with a deliberate slow pace, grounding the story in context as we are introduced to Yuda, his family and his village life. Evans captures the rolling hills, the grass terraces and the air of tranquillity. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, but Yuda is going to sorely miss this lifestyle.

Ratger and Luc get an excellently shot introduction, as they survey the latest consignment for their brothels. Whilst Ratger reclines in a sumptuous looking leather armchair, the girls are given a rather crude medical examination. The treatment of the girls is likely to make your skin crawl. Of the two, Ratger is the hot-headed dominant one, while Luc is the cool-headed voice of reason. When Yuda bursts in and rescues Astri, Ratger demands revenge, but Luc councils a more reasonable course of action – they need to get the girls shipped and don’t have time for vendettas. Of course, Ratger wins out and hires more guys to take on Yuda and get the girl back.

The second half of the film is basically “chase–fight-chase” as Yuda tackles increasingly skilled fighters in his quest to help Astri and Adit. This leads to a scene which could be described as a microcosm of 90s Hong Kong action cinema, when Yuda re-encounter’s Eric. Sparks really fly between these two. Having met and bonded at the beginning of the film, they suddenly find themselves on opposite sides. The ensuing fight, inside the constricted space of an elevator is of epic proportions. As good as the fight itself is, the following unspoken act of honour and brotherhood is even better.

Director Gareth Evan’s approach to the martial arts genre is exactly what fans have been crying out for. Firstly, the fights are choreographed rather than edited together. Secondly, the actors are all proficient martial artists (the exception being Mads Koudal, who has put the time and effort in to ensure he isn’t embarrassed onscreen). And thirdly, the fights are filmed in a straight fashion, rather than the du jour in-your-face shaky-cam. In fact, the length of shots seems to increase as the film progresses, to the point that an attack on Johnni’s bar is a one-take shot which lasts over a minute of screen-time (although the DVD extras point out that that scene in particular took over fifty attempts to complete!).

The acting is very impressive. Iko Uwais was discovered by Gareth Evans when he was making a martial arts documentary and was taken with the young man’s screen presence. It’s certainly not apparent that this is his first film role. Although he doesn’t have a lot of dialogue, he carries it off very well. Sisca Jessica manages to bring some life to a “damsel in distress” role, and delivers a heart-rending monologue about why she and her brother are in the predicament they are in. Yayan Ruhian is another newcomer. He only has a couple of scenes but proves to be very memorable in them.

Best of all, though, is Mads Koudal as Ratger, You can really imagine there are people like him roaming around Jakarta and Bangkok preying on young women with no better futures. It would have been so easy to over-play the part, but Koudal gets it just right, allowing flashes of temper to get the better of him now and again, then reigning back in.

Gareth Evans has studied the competition and delivered a martial arts movie which delivers the drama and acting as much as it does the amazing fights and stunt-work. Fans of the genre owe it to themselves to check this film out, and remember the name of Iko Uwais for the future. MOW

No comments:

Post a Comment