Tag Archives: Gareth Evans

Cinema-Maniac: Merantau (2009)

I have a spot for Merantau since it was one of the first movies I’ve ever reviewed. It’s an odd feeling for me to check out some of my old stuff from seven years ago, and seeing what changed over the years. In some areas I felt I got better, like better explaining positives, and drawbacks when it comes to a film’s writing. Other areas I can see what part of myself got lost over the years. The biggest one to me easily being how my offline activities affected my personality in my writing. Rarely doing the offshoot reviews where I simply poke fun of something while providing actual criticism in a entertaining manner. Reviews which actually got me to know some readers on a more personal level. What has remained through seven years of writing about movies on, and off again is my admiration for martial art movies has not changed.

Impressive. Four kicks in four seconds

Merantau centers around a young idealistic man named Yuda (Iko Uwais) from the countryside trying to survive in a big city. The opening sequence further provides details on the importance of Yuda’s journey called Merantau; essentially a rite of passage where a young man leaves one’s place of origin, and find their place in the world. Trying to be like a coming of age story Merantau sounds like a guaranteed great story until you see the actual film. Very little is talked about on the philosophy of silat making the spiritual journey of Yuda get lost in translation. This is sloppily elaborated on through the character of Eric (Yayan Ruhian) implying his merantau changed him into a worse person. Eric hardly appears on screen, added with the absent of philosophy discussed in silat teachings all you have left is making ambiguous connection on Yuda not using silat to kill people.

Paired up with the simplistic storyline, and character arcs you’ll have the groundwork of a great story that never comes into fullizitation. Usually having three type of scenes for its heroes; the introduction, the conflict, and the eventual resolution they’ve worked for. Opting to incorporate as many fight sequences as possible you’ll get the bare minimum require for a story like this to work fine. The good guys are good guys, and the bad guys are bad guys. Streamlined to the point where even if you’re not paying attention you’ll know everything that’s going on. On the downside, the movie does try to generate some sympathy for it heroes. Little time is spend on fleshing them out beyond one scene so that part of the story’s writing falls flat.

One element I can be positive about is the film’s ending. Building on the opening scene the significance of merantau to Yuda’s homeland is also established early on. Spending a brief time touching on Yuda’s brother who failed merantau, and the social impact it had on him in the community. By getting across these simple things the ending actually provides something worth reflecting on. Being conflicting in a positive way since Yuda is doing his best to uphold his tradition while the environment endangers his life. Overcoming Yuda lack of depth as a character by inadvertently adding meaning to the journey makes a story that works fine end on a good note.

To be honest, this movie is a good excuse for me to show some fighting gifs.

Iko Uwais in his first leading role has a natural screen presence about him. Before the movie gets to any fighting, Iko holds himself decently in the acting department. The role doesn’t require Iko Uwais to speak for long stretches cleverly hiding Iko lack of acting experience. Requiring for half of the movie for Iko to simply provide the appropriate facial expressions in a given scene before getting into fighting. Once Iko does get into the fighting he impresses with his athleticism, and graceful skill in performing his fight sequences. Another plus to Iko is him doing his own stunts, even if they aren’t that dangerous compare to other martial art movies.

Iko other co-stars despite having more experience than himself they do fine. Actors like Christine Hakim, and Donny Alamsyah only appear in the beginning of the movie, and than are gone until they appear again in the ending. There’s also Chika Jessica, and Yusuf Aulia simply acting as the poor child later gets written out of the movie for a large portion of it. Chika is simply in the movie to appear as sympathetic as possible. She only gets one scene to deliver a dramatically heavy scene, and after that just becomes a damsel in distress. There’s also Alex Abbad (who surprisingly plays the main villain in The Raid 2) essentially playing a punching bag. His line delivery in English is really slow, but when speaking in his native language he sounds natural, though doesn’t do anything to stand out in his portrayal.

Their acting won’t impress, but their fighting skills will.

With the actors getting shoved in the background brings us to the martial artists. One of them being Yayan Ruhian who yes has a fight with Iko Uwais in a elevator. Luckily the little dialogue Yayan has is delivered well, but doesn’t have much screen time in the movie. Then we get to the villains Mads Koudal, and Laurent Buson whom are the weakest actors in the movie. Despite Laurent being French, and Koudal being Danish both sound come off stilted everytime they talk. Thankfully both Koudal, and Buson perform in a 2 on 1 fight against Iko that makes putting up with their bad acting worth it to some degree.

Gareth H. Evans in first martial art movie showed a lot potential to help craft great action sequences. Something that’s apparent throughout the movie in spite of it budgetary shortcomings Evans tries to add some visual flairs. Some of these are simple like a tracking shot following Iko from a telephone booth; the camera goes over the telephone booth, and then proceeds to follow Iko into an alley. To more complex shots like multiple single takes during fight sequences almost all requiring Iko to fight against multiple people. A nice touch in the movie is Evan usage of music to help elevate sequences to make them more exciting. Knowing exactly when music should start, and stop playing in creating a mood. Something he would later on perfect in The Raid.

Of course, one last awesome fight gif

The fight sequences are nicely choreographed, well shot, and edited to flow nicely. With as minimum cuts as possible Evan fight scenes never feel overly edited. With this being Gareth Evans, and Iko Uwais first martial art film the fight sequences performance varies with some parts of a fight being performed more slowly than others. There’s also spots within the fight scenes where an actor has to stay, or go in place before the fight could progress. An example of this is when Iko throws a bottle at a fighter face, the fighter has his face cover for seconds, and stays like that before Iko gets close enough to pick him up, and toss him through a table. Instances like this are thankfully rare throughout. Offering plenty of good fight scenes also helps alleviate the problem.

Merantau is simplistic on the story front, but decides to make up for its shortcoming by including as many fight sequences as it possibly can. Once you get the first serious fight scene in the movie you’ll never have to wait too long for the next one to pop on. It’s missed the opportunity to make it’s story feel grander than it actually is, but any fan of martial arts movies will definitely leave entertained.

Rating: 8/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Raid 2 (2014) Review

After finishing finishing a film called “Merantau” I saw concept footage for a filmed called “Berandal”, in 2010. It was a simple scene; a prisoner is in a graffiti filled prison restroom stalled contemplating some inner thought, there’s a crowd of angry prisoners attempting to break the door down, and the camera zooms in on the door lock before it eventually breaks forcing a single a prisoner to defend himself against a mob. That concept footage despite barely being over a minute showed promised it could carry a movie. However, a little known film called “The Raid: Redemption” came out in 2012 (nationwide that is) and due to its popularity “Berandal” was made possible. Sadly it became a victim of a forced tie-in to a film that not only had a completed script (hence concept footage to fund said film), but had no connection to “The Raid: Redemption” in any way. A trait that is made apparent with shallow characters and hollow emotional resonance that prevents it from being the grand sequel it tries so hard to be.

The Raid 2: Berandal follows Rama going undercover with the thugs of Jakarta and plans to bring down the syndicate and uncover the corruption within his police force. As the synopsis hinted the story aimed to cover more ground which it does to various degrees of success. When it succeeds the film does an excellent job displaying the honor among criminals and the dividing factor between ideology of power. In particular the hinted complex father and son dynamic between Uco and Bangun. Both characters are in the same line of work, but the methods to achieve a goal and maintain power keeps them at arms length. It’s their ideology and positioned that puts into perspective why both prefer to operate the way they do. The film could have focused on these two characters since they receive the most characterization, but sadly are a fraction of the whole picture. Another positive is the choice of pacing. Early on in the film there is small doses of violence, but as the film progresses how often it occurs is more frequent. Allowing plenty of breathing room to set all the plot devices in place that slowly escalate to more violence occurring. Sure the first thirty minutes of the film are the least captivating because it’s slow to set up the pieces, but once it gets closer to reaching the finish line the more engaging it becomes. Giving a sense how vastly small the danger is where we started is no where near life threatening as where we ended up.

Early on in the film it’s established how corrupt the police force is and how very few of them are are in the operation to take them down. Aside from that, there’s really no other connection between the task force and Rama that ties it with the original. Occasionally it brought back to serve no greater purpose than to reiterate the hero motivation. Though given how by the number the rocky relationship between Rama and his superior officer plays it’s no surprise the direction Rama takes in his investigation. It could have easily been about (and originally was) about a former prisoner finding a family in the criminal world. Instead it comes across as tacked on since the only time the task force is brought up is whenever Rama needs information or complicate the plot with a device that won’t come into play in the story. Certain elements in the film just didn’t click as they should have. For starter, there wasn’t a sense that scenes were always serving a purpose in some form. Say what you will about “The Raid: Redemption” screenplay, but it was a competent one because of it premise every scene felt as if the characters were making progress within the story. In the sequel it stalls around with scenes that are only created for the sake of action. Mad Dog, nope wrong movie. Prakoso is a device solely created for action with only a single scene dedicated to display his more human side. Every other time you see him Prakoso he’s going all Mad Dog, except this time with criminals.

Two of the most memorable character of the film are Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl. They have their signature weapons whenever they fight and every scene they’re in never fails to deliver on their awesome characteristics. I especially loved the aspect of the story taking time to explore the back story of these two characters. Being raised by abusive parents is a touchy subjects to discuss and in an action movie no less where violence can be a selling point. Who can also forget the symbolic meaning of the spinning coin once receiving the back story. Adding an extra dimension to the pair relationship…huh…oh you got to be f…[one profanity filled temper tantrum later]. Sad that interesting material and character development didn’t make it into the film. Way to go force tie in. Other superficial elements includes Rama wife who might as well been written off from the story. She’s just the “token wife” to pretend that Rama life is at risk even though the series of events make him superhuman. Sure the every man hero type is the most captivating, but not when the film pretends he’s human when performing superhuman feats. It’s fine to give the every man hero some moments of badassery, but not when its constantly out of character. Making Rama more human works against the film since he’s not developed much as a character to be engaging and the final thirty minutes guarantees to remove all “every man” trait until it’s dead.

The repetitive action scenes is where creativity suffers. Simply put the action scenes lack variety especially when the same setup is used eight out of fourteen times. Meaning fifty-seven percent of the action scenes are nearly identical in setup; one expert fighter slowly overcoming large number of opponents until all the opponents are killed. It wouldn’t be an issue if the outcome was changed, but nope the same setup plays out the same eight times. It certainly doesn’t help that a majority of these repeated action scenes have larger room for marginal errors. For example, in the film there’s an action scene involving Iko and company trying to collect money at a so call “porn den”. During that action scene three things are made apparent. The bad placement of the camera, the scene should have been re edited, and the staging of the action scene should have taken into account the amount of actors actually required in it. In this particular action scene in the background there are actor visibly waiting failing their arms around until it’s their cue to attack. Before it shows actors Epy Kusnandar (Topan) crawling on the floor to avoid a barrage of bullets (without any noticeable bullet piercing near him or in the environment) it shows Oka Antara (Eka) and a couple of his men shooting all of Topan men who all fall to the floor. Since the cut made it explicitly clear Topan men were dead and Epy Kusnandar just recently began started crawling towards a safe to retrieve a weapon there’s a disconnect of tension. Resulting in an eleven second window where the action scene should have ended since there’s no known obstacle given the visible context of the scene. Within this same scene there’s even greater room when the scene should have ended. When Epy Kusnandar gun runs out of bullets he attempts to make escape by running towards an exsist and Iko Uwais is seen in the background getting up waiting around to be tackle by an actor off screen. Given that there was no one made visibly alive during the short burst of gunfire the actor that tackles Iko to continue the action scene kills any sense of escapism. Although, the scene is slightly salvageable in it technical aspect once Iko catches up to Kusnandar and gives him a creative beating. It’s just a shame the action scene as a whole is bad.

I should make it clear this is the third time I’ve ever seen the martial style of Silat in a film, and it’s pretty sad that I recognized a crucial element in the choreography this film applies to it action scenes. In previous films that utilize Silat (Merantau, The Raid: Redemption) there were certain moves that were reused, but never took away because of the varied fighting setup were. Within the context of a fight it’s essential for the camera to not to show the audience any blind spot when a fight begins. Even if not all the blind spot can be cover this can be fixed by the combatant quick movements, elaborate choreography, or a good editor. In this film that’s not the case since the choreography relies on the viewer missing its actors going back to the starting point whenever there is a cut to the combatant fighting up close. By reusing the same setup the same mistakes won’t be easily missed especially since the same outcome applies to eight of them. The best action scenes in the film are the ones that are the most confined and in a small area. Since the size of where the action is occurring is smaller there’s less margin for error in the background for the star or fighter to stall in place until it’s their cue to strike. For example, there’s a scene of actress Julie Estelle (Hammer Girl) taking out a couple guys in a subway cart with a pairs of hammer. Forget the part every time it cuts to Estelle killing someone the rest of the goons are reset to the back of the of the subway cart because the technique to pull off the scene doesn’t break the scene illusion. Every time Estelle strikes someone with a hammer it shows when it makes contact to the opponent.

In general the action scenes have blind spots that makes it painfully visible when an actor is stalling until it is his cue to perform an action. So the least amount of actors required the better the action scene will be if removed of the one expert vs. many setup. The film best and most under appreciated action scene is a single car chase. It is surprisingly great given it combines the huge number of actors required and big scale that usually handicaps the action scenes. This car chase is creative in choreography and constantly inventive fight using every inch of the vehicle to keep the fight fresh in such a tight space. On a technical level it’s the film best action scene and done so successfully with good editing, fluid camera movement, and staging. The final two fight scenes in the film are easily the best since it puts together the film best fighters against one another. Allowing the choreography to be performed faster and show an array of complicated fighting techniques. However, the best fight scene in the film pits Iko Uwais against Cecep Arif Rahman. Of course, it’s well choreographed and easily the best fight scene in the film because the sheer velocity in it actors performance. That alone is worth showering it with praised, but what will make it rank up against some the most memorable fight scenes in Martial Art films is how subverted the staging is. Usually in Martial Art films it’s common to slowly have the hero overcome his final opponent, but that is not in this case breaking away from that traditional format. Instead the role is reverse with the hero being shown to have the upper hand getting sloppier against his greatest foe creating doubt among the viewer if the hero will actually come out on top despite early on having the upper hand. That subversive staging serves the same function as a traditional final fight and is what will make it rank among some of the genre greatest fight scenes.

When it comes to acting the less you speak the more memorable the performances are. Very Tru Yulisman and Julie Estelle have very few speaking parts, but embodied the cold nature of their characters persona they immediately sell them. In spite of the lack characterization the chemistry between Yulisman and Estelle gets across the characters more defining characteristics. Another memorable performance is Cecep Arif Rahman whose only job is look awesome which he clearly is. Like the other two mention actors, Cecep Arif Rahman doesn’t have much lines. However, his performance is more reliant on his physical appearance expression to display a man of overconfident and seemingly invincible ego. Leading man Iko Uwais is okay in his role. His fight scene are without an issue showing his talent with his fighting abilities. The acting side of Iko suffers from a lack of variation between the scene he’s given. Not allowing him the opportunity to show the more human side of his character which desperately the material wants to him to do. Being overshadow by co-star Arifin Putra whose given similar scene, but more opportunity to display more emotion than simply putting up an act. Gareth Evans direction is what saves the film in its presentation bringing an autership to his visuals. Though, the decision to bring back Yayan Ruhian will cause confusion and consistency issues given his role in the original.

The Raid: Berendal is a force tie in to a film that clearly had no correlation to its predecessor. As a sequel it’s questionable given how little attention is given for a proper continuation. In its own right it’s a decent action movie that doesn’t offer engaging characters nor are all of it set pieces equally impressive. However, when the film succeeds in what it does best both in story and action provides glimpses of a great film that unfortunately is lost being a sequel.


Fan’s Regard:
Dear Gareth H. Evans, speaking as a fan of the action genre and a fan of your work. You have the potential to be a master of the action genre like John Woo, but not if you’re going to treat your characters and story elements as a superficial component to the action scenes. An action movie will not stand and survive on action sequences alone. Remember how stellar the final fight sequence in Flash Point was, how well staged the extensive gunfight in El Gringo was, or how every single fight scene in BKO: Bangkok Knockout contain some of the best action scenes Thailand has ever done? No because they all had terrible stories among other issues that a short burst of violence won’t make better. For that, this sequel will be seen as a disappointment for squandering its own potential. You have the privilege of making action films in an age where expectations are drastically low. In particular to set pieces if something like “Thor: The Dark World” is consider to have good set pieces. Therefore it is consider quite sad from this genre fan that action sequences as poor as those are compared to what you’ve Evans. I’m only saying these things because as a fan I will honestly tell you when you mess up and when you succeed in a certain area. Unlike a majority of your new found fans that pretend to share the same passion for the genre, high standards, and understanding of the genre. I’ll leave you with three essential words to keep in mind when continuing on with your career no matter the kind of films you make; think, feel, and connect. Sincerely, the sometime cynical Cinema-Maniac.

Cinema-Maniac: Merantau (2009) Review

Merantau is a great martial art film that can easily be compared to the first Ong Bak, in terms of action. The action is kick-ass and it keeps getting better and better. There is plenty of action sequences here to satisfy any action fan, unfortunately the downside is that it has a decent story to tell with bad dialogue. The story really doesn’t developed or gets better in any way, but overall if your in the mood for a good martial art film, you can’t go wrong with Merantau.