Director: Helfi Kardit
Writer: Helfi Kardit, Sarjono Sutrisno
Producer: Helfi Kardit, Sarjono Sutrisno
Cast: Sarah Carter, Tio Pakusadewo, Nino Fernandez, Dominique Agisca Diyose, Belinda Camesi, Kimi Jayanti, Ganindra Bimo, laudia Soraya, Naomi Zaskia
Running Time: 91 min.
By Paul Bramhall
When The Raid hit screens in 2011, it well and truly put Indonesia on the map in terms of action cinema. Much like Ong Bak did the same for Thailand back in 2003, many expected a wave of Indonesian action movies to come in its wake. However, surprisingly, it never really happened, with Gareth Evans and co. remaining unchallenged as the heirs to the Indonesian action cinema throne. Thankfully, to at least give them some competition, in 2014 director Helfi Kardit decided to throw his hat into the ring with Guardian.
Kardit, an Indonesia native, had up until Guardian been known for directing a number of low budget suspense and horror productions, with 16 movies to his name since his debut in 2006. In an interview regarding his decision to make an action movie, he explained that it was his belief that the action genre has an international appeal, and that he’d had the story for Guardian in mind for quite some time. Perhaps in a move to further promote its international appeal, one of the main characters in the movie was always intended to be a foreigner.
Indonesia, despite its faith being primarily Muslim, has developed quite the reputation for casting pornographic actresses in its movies, primarily as a way to try and increase their box office. Of course, said actresses never get even slightly close to any nudity, but that hasn’t stopped the likes of Sasha Grey (Pocong Mandi Goyang Pinggul), Sola Aoi (Evil Nurse 2), and Maria Ozawa (Menculik Miyabi) from making appearances in some of the worse movies you’re ever likely to see. Notably Menculik Miyabi even drew the ire of the Islamic Defenders Front, a radicalised group notorious for violence, who held protests demanding that Ozawa be cut from the movie all together.
Perhaps to avoid this type of controversy, Kardit decided to go with the more conventional approach, and cast Sarah Carter, an actress most famous for her roles in the likes of Final Destination 2 and DOA: Dead or Alive. Quite how Carter got the gig in Guardian is one of the movie world’s great mysteries, however it’s fair to say that she probably needs to look for a new agent. Carter isn’t actually the main focus of the movie though, that goes to the mother and daughter pair played by Indonesian actresses Dominique Agisca Diyose and Belinda Camesi respectively.
Diyose and Camesi don’t have the best relationship. Their issues stem from when Camesi witnessed her undercover cop father get brutally murdered as a child, and ever since then her mother has been forcibly teaching her martial arts. Camesi has a real chip on her shoulder, and constantly complains about having to learn how to fight, and all Diyose can do is throw clichéd lines at her like, “One day you’ll understand.” Of course, that day comes when a bunch of snarling villains arrive outside their house, and proceed to spend a whole minute blasting it to pieces with machine guns. Despite the residence being riddled with more holes than the plot, the sequence is amusingly finished off with one of the villains firing a couple of RPG’s at it as well, just for good measure. This is a bunch of bad guys who clearly have an overstock of ammunition, and somehow need to get rid of it.
This puts the pair on the run, from what’s eventually revealed to be more than one group of villains, of which Sarah Carter is included. The setup essentially makes up the movie – mother and daughter with closeness issues on the run from bad guys trying to kill them. Kardit does an applaudable job of filling the movie with a number of shootouts, all of which were clearly created to be watched with the sound turned up, however there’s a striking lack of coherency to them. Many times it’s not clear exactly who is shooting at what, as the rapid fire editing throws in so many cuts that all sense of distance and space is lost entirely.
To add some extra spectacle, what obviously couldn’t be covered by the budget has been attempted to be created by CGI. This leads to one of my favorite moments of the movie, which takes place during a street shootout. A truck with a large trailer attached ends up stationery in the middle of the street, and at one point a CGI car hurtles through the air, smashing right through the middle of it in an explosion of poorly rendered CGI flames. However it appears that Kardit didn’t communicate with the CGI team very well, as it’s revealed the bad guys have an SUV in the trailer, which they proceed to use as a getaway vehicle from the scene, driving it out completely damage free. Somehow the car that went straight through the middle completely missed the SUV, despite the huge smouldering hole leaving it all but completely destroyed.
After 50 minutes Tio Pakusadewo makes his entrance, who at this point, thanks to his role as Bangun in The Raid 2, is arguably the more recognizable star than Sarah Carter. It has to be said that until his arrival, in terms of plot there really hasn’t been any explanation as to what exactly is going on. All we know is that there’s a bunch of bad guys trying to kill Diyose and Camesi, but what their motivation is, beyond using their excess ammunition, remains unclear. Pakusodewo’s character rectifies this matter, who speaks in an awkward mix of English and Indonesian, and the reveal turns out to be the strong point of the movie. Told through a flashback scene, it does a good job of connecting the dots, particularly addressing the presence of Carter.
Of course Kardit’s intention wasn’t just to sell his movie on shootouts and a plot twist, with a mother and daughter who are both highly skilled martial artists (supposedly), Guardian comes with a promise of some lady’s kicking ass. Even now though, I’m unsure if that promise is fulfilled or not, as it’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on whenever a fight scene kicks off. Kardit has employed a truly bizarre technique which actually induces dizziness – during a fight the camera will be panning to the left, then after a second it cuts and it’s then panning to the right, then continues cutting left and right as the fight progresses. Unless the cameraman’s former job was filming tennis, I have no idea how this was considered to be an acceptable way of filming a fight. It becomes all but impossible to maintain focus on the actual combatants, and chances are you’ll involuntarily find your head moving from side to side while watching.
It’s a shame, as while the fights themselves are clearly performed by non-martial artists, amongst the flashes of arms and legs there is some nice stunt-work. One stuntman gets tapped in the face, and proceeds to run and throw himself down a flight of stairs, which is both hilarious and quite impressive. Another does a nice fall after smashing through a window. However the nano-second editing does its best to spoil everything, and there’s also another issue – no matter how many times the characters get punched or kicked, they remain completely unbloodied or bruised, seemingly impervious to the damage being dished out to them. It’s this lack or realism which further damages an already ropey production.
Kardit clearly has an enthusiasm for making action movies, one which sees him sticking with the genre for his follow-up, the 2016 movie Ten: The Secret Mission (which comes with the tagline – 10 Models Recruited by Intelligence), however his talent doesn’t match his ambitions. In a Q&A for Guardian he stated that his biggest influence is Tony Scott. However the best advice I could give him at this point would be to drop Gareth Evans a line, meet up for a coffee, and ask as many questions as possible. Maybe after that, he can come back and put what he’s learnt into practice. Until then though, no doubt there’s a tennis tournament out there somewhere that can put Kardit’s talents to good use.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4/10