06th Aug2013

Fight Flick Fortnight: ‘Merantau’ Review

by Jack Kirby

Stars: Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica, Christine Hakim, Mads Koudal | Written and Directed by Gareth Evans

merantau

Interestingly, although an Indonesian kung-fu film, Merantau was written, directed and edited by Welshman Gareth Evans, a man who should be very proud of his well-made second feature film.

Merantau is the name of the journey which must be undertaken by young men in order to come of age. We follow Yuda on his pilgrimage from his tiny village to Jakarta. His intentions are to teach martial arts to children, though his plan goes awry and he finds himself protecting Astri, a young woman who is being pursued by human traffickers and her young brother Adit.

As with many kung-fu films, enjoyment requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief – of course every thug Yuda runs into is an adept martial artist and of course, not one of these thugs carries a gun or a knife to quickly put a stop to Yuda’s assault on their ranks. There is also a definite predictability about much of the film: if you see a glass coffee table, you know some hapless lackey is going to find themselves smashed through it. But these are minor quibbles of the genre as a whole and Merantau more than manages to rise above these generic handicaps.

The first thing to strike me was how attractively the film was shot; real attention has been paid to the cinematography and camera work. From the lush shots of Yuda’s hometown to the grimy streets of Jakarta, the film looks stunning and the fluid, roaming eye of the camera gives the film a sense of purpose. This is compounded by the excellent editing of the film: far too often in action films, the rapid pace of the edit is such that it becomes impossible to actually comprehend what is going on. Not so with Merantau, in which Evans savours every shot so that we can appreciate the hours of amazing choreography work that has clearly gone into the production.

Iko Uwais is likable as the lead and Sisca Jessica and Yusuf Aulia satisfy in their roles as the sister and brother. All three of the young leads are fairly impressive, Uwais clearly being something of a prodigy in his chosen craft. Mads Koudal is also good as the villain.

Stately and ponderous – in a good way – where comparable films can be frantic and slapdash, Merantau seems a noteworthy entry into the expansive catalogue of chopsocky. There plenty of impressive set pieces – the fights in the lift and at the building site are particularly gnarly – and just about enough attention is given to character development, which pays off in the emotional ending. The film also has an admirable moral compass, perhaps highlighting more social issues than one might expect from a martial arts movie. A great piece of action cinema.

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