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Merantau (2009)

November 17, 2012

MY CALL:  I’ve seen the star and director do so much better in their second movie that I found this flick nearly intolerable by comparison.  I really wish I saw this first, but it has forever left a bad taste in my mouth.  Maybe a bit biased or unfair, but I give this a “C+“ at best–too many production flaws.  IF YOU LIKE THIS WATCHThe Raid: Redemption (2011) really shows you what Iko Uwais is capable of at the expense of a real plot.  I’d also strongly recommend movies by Jeeja Yanin (Chocolate, Raging Phoenix) and Tony Jaa (The Protector, Ong-Bak but not Ong-Bak 2 or 3).

DISCLAIMER OF BIAS:  I will constantly compare this to the FAR BETTER The Raid: Redemption.  By comparison, Merantau was awful.  However, a lot of Amazon reviewers who saw this BEFORE seeing The Raid seemed to think it was pretty great.  I just don’t see it, but I thought it was only fair to let you know that a lot of folks think highly of this movie.  This reminds me of people’s opinions of which Hangover movie was better.  It seemed that whichever one they saw first was the one they thought was the best. In this case, I think you’d need to Merantau first to think it was good.

“Merantau” is the physical and spiritual journey a boy takes to become a man.  Yuda’s merantau takes him to Jakarta to teach the martial art of silat.  Instead, he finds himself helping a call girl and her little brother deal with an abusive pimp.  The movie is slow and takes forever to get to any action.  In the first 30 minutes, all we get is Yuda (Iko Uwais; The Raid: Redemption) manhandling the pimp.  It’s not impressive, brutal or fun to watch.  The next fight scene is “proficiently” choreographed, but strikes me as totally boring.  For this I blame director Gareth Evans’ fledgling experience since he really rocked his next film with Iko Uwais, The Raid: Redemption.

If anyone stumbles across this movie AFTER seeing The Raid, they should be warned that this lacks the “check your brain at the door” videogame action appeal.  This film actually has a plot, an Ong-Bak-esque story, and in the beginning it pays more attention to traditional Indonesian martial arts than choreographical sensationalism.  The violence kicks up in gear towards the end.  For the raw action fan, the first half of this movie may disappoint fans of The Raid much as Ong-Bak 2 and 3 disappointed many Ong-Bak fans; too much “quest for peace” and “doing what’s right” and not enough knees and elbows to the head.
Yuda vs. pimp and random goons = unsatisfying.
Yuda vs. motorcyclist = unsatisfying.  This image looks like it’d be cool I the movie.  It actually came out rather dull.

The fight scenes in the middle of the movie eventually hit an appropriate frequency but the lighting, camera work and choreography—plus some choppy editing—left a lot to be desired.  This feels like the combat quality I’d find in a Lifetime Network movie or Walker, Texas Ranger; put simply, this just doesn’t cut it.  I get that not all movies can be the life-changingly awesome and have things I’ve never seen before… but I manage to love Van Damme’s 90s movies.  They had far simpler choreography than this.  However, the way they were filmed they just “worked.”
Like Jaa and Yanin’s films, the highlights were in the stunt falls. Lots of guys get knocked off of walls, buildings, etc., and they are done exquisitely and certainly excite the viewers.

For some reason, as the movie persists the fight scenes get WAY better, even decent—outside of the extremely annoying fact that people in these fights are equally affected by quick jabs as they are elbows and knees to the face or throat punches.  In the end Yuda faces a HUGE number of tandem opponents with some brutal (on the stunt men) stunts and choreography.  These fights never hit Tony Jaa, Jeeje Yanin or The Raid quality.  Yayan Ruhian (Mad Dog from The Raid) costars in this, but is sadly under-utilized until he fights Uwais, which might be the best one on one fight of the movie, yet still not a very good fight having seen how much EPICALLY better both of them have done elsewhere.  I also found the “boss” fight at the end to be more aggravating than good because his opponents took far too much punishment to keep coming at him full force–or at all.  The choreography was good, but the fight just dragged on too much.
Despite very good choreography, I had a hard time buying that two skinny criminals also happen to be some of the best fighters in the movie totally out of nowhere!  They also fight in slacks and tucked in collared shirts.

As for Yuda’s merantau.  Well, he pretty much kicked the ever-lovin’ shit out of forty or fifty dudes.  So, I guess he gets to return home “a man.”

I’d skip it unless you’re a die hard Asian action cinema fan.  Even if you’re in the camp that would say this movie is good, there are far too many better executed and more finely filmed examples of great technical martial arts.  Feel free to leave harassing comments for my muck-raking review of this flick.  But consider seeing The Raid first–just to see where I’m coming from.

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