Director: The Mo Brothers
Writer: Timo Tjahjanto
Cast: Iko Uwais, Julie Estelle, Chelsea Islan, David Hendrawan, Epy Kusnandar, Zack Lee, Sunny Pang, Very Tri Yulisman
Running Time: 118 min.
By Martin Sandison
While the world waits with bated breath for the next installment of Gareth Evans’ phenomenally popular Raid franchise, we now have a film that more than whets the appetite from Indonesia: Headshot. Starring Iko Uwais from The Raid, the movie has been labelled by some as Raid-lite. In my opinion, that is complete balls. Headshot delivers visceral, non-stop action thrills from start to finish; and while not as accomplished in ideas or direction as its predessecors, it’s a deliriously entertaining film. Showing in the Glasgow Film Festival, I was lucky enough to see it before it’s official release in the west.
Headshot begins with a wonderfully put together sequence revealing the villain of the piece, Lee (played by Sunny Pang) who breaks out of prison. Then our hero Ishamel (Uwais) washes up on a beach, and is rescued by a Doctor, Ailin (Chelsea Islan). He has amnesia, although he has some flashes of memory. Both plotlines move concurrently, and Ishmael starts to remember his past bit by bit, while Lee is trying to find him. This sets in motion a bunch of weapon, hand to hand fighting and gunplay.
So the first question most are going to ask is: What level is the choreography at? As good as The Raid? The answer, for the most part, is a resounding yes. Choreographed by the “Uwais Team” (sh*t, is he turning into Jackie Chan?), a lot of the techniques in terms of filmmaking and martial arts style are present. Yes, at times it feels like we’ve seen this before, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of action on display. This quality hardly dips at all throughout, although there is one duel that I was looking forward to that wasn’t great: the rematch between Uwais and Julie Estelle (who played Hammer Girl in The Raid 2), which takes place on a beach and has some limp exchanges. In fact at times the conviction in moves is lacking, which is a little frustrating, because the next move is on point. Also, the near constant shaking of the camera in long takes is a little off-putting.
Those looking for the brutal violence in choreography from The Raid will not be disappointed; at times this movie is even more violent, with plenty of disgraceful knife wounds, blood flying and full contact hits. There are also some welcome humurous touches amongst the mayhem, which adds depth to the originality of the action. The performers of the martial arts scenes are undoubtedly up there with Uwais and the cream of modern martial arts cinema, especially Veri Try Yulisman (Baseball Bat Man from The Raid 2) and the truly brilliant Sunny Pang. He seemed to come from nowhere, with a limited filmography that doesn’t include any action films. Pang is from Singapore, and is well-versed in kickboxing and MMA, and more than holds in own in the bone cracking final duel. Some of Uwais best handwork comes in this fight, something he is known for and is sometimes lost in modern martial arts cinema. At times the movie almost pays tribute to the already legendary first Raid, with the final battle taking place in a very similar location, to the 2-on-one final fight. Indonesian action cinema was kickstarted again due to the film, so I think it’s more than acceptable to do this.
The two directors of Headshot, dubbed The Mo Brothers (Macabre), have been making a name for themselves of late. Their last film Killers received a lot of good write ups and was again very violent. Some of the filmmaking on show in Headshot is engaging and stylish, the opening especially. Also the soundtrack is superb, with atmospheric electric guitar flourishes and interesting percussion. Unfortunately some of the sentimentality and hefty doses of cheese in the romantic subplot are complimented by very generic mushy music, which didn’t appeal to my eyes or ears.
I went into this film thinking “If this is half as good as the first Raid I’ll be happy.” I came out with a rush of adrenalin, and a knowledge that it’s close to being as good. Indonesian action films are some of the best in the world right now, and I urge fans to catch this movie in the cinema. You won’t be disappointed.
Martin Sandison’s Rating: 8/10