Merantau Warrior on DVD

Monday, 07 June 2010 14:03

Six years after Thai sensation Tony Jaa brutally elbowed his way into public consciousness, Indonesia produced this new movie as a launch-pad for another martial arts superstar. Meet boyish actor Iko Uwais, aka Yuda, a Sumatran farmer boy undergoing his personal Merantau or “walkabout”. Before he can be considered a grown up, the adolescent must travel abroad, prove his manhood and find his true place in life.

Having arrived in bustling Jakarta, our hero quickly runs into trouble. Firstly, his wallet is stolen by a cheeky street urchin called Adit (Yusuf Aulia). Then he comes to the aid of the little squirt’s sister, Astri (Sisca Jessica) as she is preyed upon by her seedy dance-club boss Johni (Alex Abbad). Unfortunately for the trio, Johni is just a cog in a larger criminal machine, and they find themselves becoming the targets of some very bad men.

Merantau Warrior on DVDWhat follows is a succession of thrilling fight and chase scenes, interspersed with brief moments of drama and effective character development. To summarise the film thus would be to do it a huge disservice, though, as it really is a cracking piece of entertainment. The balance of action and drama is spot on, the characters are sufficiently filled in to help us identify with and support the goodies, and really despise the baddies.

For example, early scenes where Yuda says goodbye to his mother are delicately played, rather than being passed off as a crude prelude to the bone-crunching action that follows.

The martial arts battles are brilliantly orchestrated and very clearly depicted. Yuda is a master of Silat, a defensive fighting style indigenous to the region that specialises in economic, flowing movement and poise, spatial awareness, joint manipulation, throws and (in this film, at least) some punishing kicks and punches.

He is particularly effective in tight, confined spaces and when surrounded by half a dozen henchmen, dynamically sweeping their legs from under them, spinning them into the path of friendly blows and making use of whatever props and furniture come to hand. Iko easily matches Jaa in terms of physical dexterity, and he compellingly develops Yuda from a calm adolescent into a furious (but still focused) man on the warpath.

The chase scenes (all on foot) are equally thrilling and suspenseful. Yuda and co tear down tight back alleys pursued by dozens of identikit goons, and though we know Yuda can handle himself, we genuinely fear for the safety of Astri and Adit. Astri is captured on more than one occasion, and each time Yuda has to engage in more and more dangerous rescue attempts, sometimes employing stealth to get as far into the mission as he can before kicking some butts, other times simply striding through the front door and confidently taking everyone on!

The film is very pleasant to look at; director Gareth Evans uses extremely rich colours and deep blacks. Whilst still in Sumatra, the lush vegetation, flowers and fantastic, peaceful vistas help us appreciate what Yuda is having to leave behind. Once in Jakarta, the bright colours come from unnatural neon signs and striking street graffiti.

The acting is a mixture of subtlety and cheesy scenery munching. The goodies fall into the former category, whereas - with one notable exception – the baddies are much more stereotypical characters and the actors playing them do not stray far from conventional acting parameters. Cheese is better than wood in any event, and they do their job well enough to have you rooting for the goodies.

The extras on the disc include two making-ofs, some deleted scenes, trailers and Easter eggs. The main production featurette is pretty good, breaking the movie down into the usual categories such as choreography and promotion. One notable element is dedicated to an ambitious Steadicam action sequence that required 56 takes (or eight energy-sapping hours) to get in the can. The makers probably did not help themselves by filming that non-stop, 70-second fight sequence very early on in the production!

“Merantau Warrior” (2009) is out now on DVD, courtesy of E1 Entertainment, and comes very highly recommended. The main feature is 106 minutes approx, certificate ‘18’ and retails for £12.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

 

 

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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