Friday, January 14, 2011

Merantau (2009)

Merantau is a rite of passage in Indonesia, when a young man leaves his home to see the world and maybe learn something in the process. Here a young man leaves his home and kicks ass for most of the time. Not a bad way to spend his time, I guess? Merantau is directed by Welsh documentary filmmaker Gareth Evans, but it’s far from gritty and realistic. This is basically the typical Thai action film with Tony Jaa (country boy goes to town and gets in trouble), but with far more depth and drama. Nothing bad with that, but I guess most of us (including me) will watch it only for the action.

When Yuda (Iko Uwais) comes to Jakarta to teach Tiger Silet, a local martial arts, he finds himself out of a job and with no place to live. After running into a prostitute while chasing her little brother who just stole his wallet, he suddenly gets involved in the nasty, nasty Ratger (danish actor Mads Koudal), a baddie who deals with human slaves and likes to fuck as many prostitutes as possible. He’s also a brutal fighter. Anyway, Yuda decide to save this girl from her slavery and is suddenly the most chased man in Jakarta. Good for him that he’s a master in ass-kicking!

But don’t be fooled by the trailer (something you obviously can find on YouTube), Merantau takes it’s time introduce characters, set the mood and feels like a serious drama for quite a while, until Yuda can’t control himself and beats the shit out of a stripbar filled with henchmen. Then it’s bascially action until the last fifteen minutes of the movie when it turns to drama again, which works better than it sounds. The fighting is very spectacular and the style is very organic, very natural. It’s like watching something unreal, something animated. Uwais is obviously a very skilled fighter, and he’s quite a good actor too (this is his first part, he was a truckdriver before getting this part) and if he gets a good agent who can take care of his career he can be something big.

The endfight might be a letdown for you who expect something big in the style of a Tony Jaa-movie, this is just two baddies fighting with our hero on a flat area – but what a fight! This is poetry in fighting, a perfect example how to use fantastic choreography to create something stunning and beautiful. The stunts when people are falling are well-made, but often using wires – so the impact never looks as hard as in the HK-movies from the eighties, or the new wave of Thai action. But it’s not that stunts that’s important in this movie, it’s the fighting – and the fighting is top-notch.

... and if you want to see blood, this is the movie for you. Not in any extreme ways, but there's a squib-scene which literary covers the walls of an elevator with blood - and it's getting quite nasty int he end too. Just so you all know.

I also want to mention Mads Koudal, the actor playing the baddie. Often in Asian movies the western actors are quite bad, or at least they overact like hell or are there to fill out the story. The character of Ratger is one motherf**king nasty man, evil to the bone – and evil with a depth, something he shows to his brother in the movie. They have some kinda physical abusive relationship, and still love each other to the last drop of blood. Mads is a great bad guy, one of the best I’ve seen in the genre for quite a long while, and makes something special from a character that could have been just another meatbag in the history of foreign baddies in Asian movies.

Merantau is a great movie, with great locations and excellent directing. We’re impressed in the House of Ninja Dixon and hope to see more from Iko Uwais and Gareth Evans very soon in the future!


bruce holecheck said...

I'm actually watching this one tonight with some friends for our weekly Friday Night Movie -- Glad to hear it's worth checking out!

Ninja Dixon said...

I'm not sure if you watched already, but I hope you liked it :)

Ninja Dixon said...

Have you seen it yet? :)

Nirmala said...

Have you check out the trailer of their latest movie "The Raid"?
It has been hailed by critics at the Toronto International Film Festival as the best action movie in years. Apart from being the lead actor, Iko also works as the fight choreographer for "The Raid" in tandem with Yayan Ruhian (the guy in the elevator in Merantau).

Apparently Gareth and Iko have improved their skills and performance tremendously.

Ninja Dixon said...

I've seen the trailer for The Raid and it looks great. Can't wait to see it! Both of them showed a lot of skill with Merantau so I have high hopes for The Raid :)