Merantau (2009)

Rating: C

Dir: Gareth Evans
Star: Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica, Mads Koudal, Yusuf Aulia

Having thoroughly enjoyed The Raid, I dug back and picked up Evans’ directorial debut. While it has some of the same elements – not least Uwais kicking bad guys around – it’s a lot less innovative, and particularly in the first half, plods along in comparison. Mind you, in comparison to The Raid, Usain Bolt plods along. Yuda (Uwais) follows the family tradition of leaving home to become a man, heading for the capital, Jakarta, to teach martial arts. His plans immediately go awry: he ends up sleeping rough, and his wallet is stolen by a kid, Adit (Aulia). Chasing after the thief, he discovers Adit’s sister, Astri (Jessica), a go-go dancer being abused by her employer.

He rescues her, but when she returns to her home to recover her savings, she is kidnapped by Evil Caucasian (Koudal – ok, his character is actually called Rarger), who is intent on a spot of white slavery, and sending Astri and a bunch of her fellow Indonesian girlies off in a shipping container, to a fate worse than death, we can likely presume. Naturally, Yuda isn’t having any of that, and charges to the rescue. As noted, this takes its own sweet time to get going, even in the international cut watched here, which runs 28 minutes longer than the original version. Yula bids farewell to his family, hops on a bus to Jakarta, and meanders around for what seems like forever, before he can put his talents to use against anything like a worthwhile opponent.

Fortunately, when he does, the results are solid, hard-hitting kung-fulishness, largely consisting of the hero going up against multiple minions of Koudal, in a variety of settings, e.g. bar, office building, etc. It’s the pauses between which derail this, none of the actors managing to put over significant emotion – Astri, in particular, has only one expression, “traumatized,” and delivers it without the slightest variety. At least the intervals between fights decrease as the film progresses, leaving less time for the painfully earnest and failed attempts at acting. I’d recommend skipping it, in favour of The Raid, which is superior in just about every way.