Merantau | aka Merantau Warrior (2009) Review

"Merantau" International Theatrical Poster

"Merantau" International Theatrical Poster

Director: Gareth Evans
Writer: Gareth Evans
Producer: Ario Sagantoro
Cast: Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica, Christine Hakim, Donny Alamsyah, Yusuf Aulia, Laurent Buson, Alex Abbad, Mads Koudal, Ratna Galih, Yayan Ruhian
Running Time: 135 min.

By Mighty Peking Man

Young Yuda (Iko Uwais) has reached the point in his life where he must leave his hometown, prove his manhood, and find success on his own. It’s his way of following a family tradition known as “Merantau.” So Yuda, a Silat (a Southeast Asian fighting method) expert, heads to the big city of Jakarta, with hopes to make a living by teaching children his martial arts style.

Upon his arrival, he saves a woman (Sisca Jessica) from gangsters, who happen to be connected to a sinister sex trade operation. What follows is a violent adventure that leaves Yuda with a lot more “Merantau” than he bargained for.

Essentially, Merantau is an Indonesian film, but note that it’s directed by Gareth Evans, a Welsh born writer/director (known of his ultra-violent, critically acclaimed debut feature Footsteps). It was during the filming of a documentary series The Mystic Arts of Indonesia: Pencak Silat, that he took special notice in Iko Uwais, a charismatic young man with a solid Silat background. Evans immediately handpicked him for the role of “Yuda,” the main character in a martial arts movie script he had been working on. The rest is history…

What’s makes Merantau so special is Gareth Evans – he’s one hell of a filmmaker! This is a director who treats a martial arts movie with a little more passion than the next guy. Cinematography (beautiful), plot (simple, yet effective), soundtrack (non-tacky) and performances (Iko Uwais has a bright future) aside, we have ourselves a perfectly paced film with a build up that pays off with every minutes that passes.

The action choreography in Merantau is impressive, but far from the best. It’s not as fast and furious as Jackie Chan’s in his heyday (80’s Jackie Chan movies are practically the blueprint for what they wanted to achieve in the action department); Nor is it as intense and brutal as any of Tony Jaa’s movies. However, when the fights are judged within the film’s entire context, they’re actually more exciting. It’s amazing what good content can do to action sequences.

There’s not a lot of that slow motion bullshit or physical circus acts (hopping through hoops or swinging off animals) shoved down are faces. Instead of fight after fight, our hero takes time to catch his breath; Sometimes even meditating to prepare for the next wave of destruction. Gone are the non-action, mediocre filler scenes. No stupid sidekick for comedy relief. Everything is filmed with quality in mind.

Iko Uwais is not a poor man’s Tony Jaa (at first glance of the poster or even the trailer, I can see why some would think that). He’s a natural who is able to pull off a tough guy role without being robotic. Take note of the scene where Uwais hangs up the phone, steps out of the booth, and walks towards the gang to save a woman. He comes across like a real badass.

Merantau is a great movie with an awesome team of choreographers and stuntmen working on the action. And Evans is a skillful director who puts 100% concentration on overlooking the package as a whole. It’s no wonder why Merantau works on so many levels.

Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 8/10

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3 Responses to Merantau | aka Merantau Warrior (2009) Review

  1. Tien Kwon says:

    Your review seem to be backing up the film to a 10/10, but you gave it a 8/10. I think Merantau was over-hyped. I wasn’t thinking of Iko Uwais as a Tony Jaa rip off when I first heard news about him and this film. The Indonesian fighting style Silat was new to me, so I thought it would be intriguing to see on the screen. I like seeing different forms of martial arts in movies, as long as they’re presented adequately. After seeing the trailer, I thought the film seem mediocre, so I didn’t really care to watch the movie until reading all the countless reviews. Once I got my hands on the Merantau, it wasn’t that bad, but Iko didn’t cause a storm like what Tony Jaa did and became a star overnight. The movie started out good in the 1st half, but in the 2nd half near the end where we see all the action, it kind of went downhill. The chase scene with the stunt work they did was good. There were no slow-motion on the falls, and it worked for me. They managed to get in some Silat moments in the film, and the movie so needed that. I think up to the point where they were trying to be creative and competitive with other martial art films, that’s where they failed. I started getting a feeling Iko was trying to be Tony Jaa creative and add in some intricate stunt or movements. The end fight wasn’t much, and seeing Iko running up a wall just to do a kick says that they were trying to be creative, and it was unnecessary. Seem like they were running out of ideas. Merantau does have some originality. If they just kept it original and not compete, the movie would have worked on its own. The film don’t get a 10/10 from me that’s for sure.

    • Jaa definitely exploded on the screen like no other (probably not since Jackie Chan in Police Story). Overall, I just think Merantau Warrior is a better movie and better paced than ANY movie Tony Jaa has appeared in; definitely the better fight sequences go to anything Tony Jaa has done if you’re looking for intensity.

  2. Yihong says:

    i loved this movie. economics and the asian acamiren family aren’t really discussed on screen, and using the perspective of children was a very creative way of tackling the subject matter.

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