AKA Merantau Warrior
Starring Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica, Christine Hakim, Mads Koudal, Yusuf Aulia, Alex Abbad, Yayan Ruhian, Laurent Buson, Doni Alamsyah, Ratna Galih
Directed by Gareth Evans
Expectations: High. Heard some great things. Also heard it’s bad. We’ll see.
Told simply, Merantau is one of the most impressive martial arts débuts of all time. Iko Uwais, a practitioner of Silat since childhood, busts out of nowhere in his first film and literally annihilates the competition. He’s no joke, and he’s easily the next big thing in martial arts cinema. Watching Merantau gave me the same feeling I had when I first saw Tony Jaa work his magic on-screen in Ong Bak. Uwais comes off as a combination of Jaa’s hard-hitting brutality and Jackie Chan’s playful, “grab your surroundings as weapons” style, and it’s a true joy to watch. He’s doesn’t seem as athletic as Jaa, or as inventive as Chan, but he is a great amalgamation of the two distinctly different styles. There’s nothing in the world like watching a master martial artist at work, and Merantau is filled with stunning, thrilling examples of just that.
The merantau referenced in the film’s title refers to our hero’s journey from his small village to Jakarta. It’s his merantau, or the time in his life when he must leave his village in search of enriching experiences and success. It is Yuda’s dream to teach Silat to others and he hopes to do just that when he hits Jakarta. He does teach some baddies just how badass and effective a martial art Silat is along the way, but somehow I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. In any case, not much info is given on what the merantau entails before it begins in the film, and not much is needed. From the opening scenes it is clear that it is a perilous journey, and one fraught with danger and intrigue. It is a journey that every man in the village must endure, and we as the viewer will undertake it without prior knowledge, the same as Yuda.
As much as I loved Merantau, it definitely has its flaws. But for a martial arts début, it is nothing short of stunning and Iko Uwais is definitely one to look out for. In fact, you can look out for him to hit a cinema near you soon (or perhaps currently, if you’re in a major market) in the newest collaboration between Uwais and Evans, The Raid! I’m going to be checking that one out as soon as possible. It opens on Friday near me, so if everything goes to plan, expect a review early next week.
And as a small side note, I love the fact that Merantau continues the Hong Kong tradition of having wildly over-the-top, asshole Western characters as the villains. To many non-martial arts fans, I’m sure this would be a turn-off, but for me it really hit the spot. The fact that these Westerners are also of the “super kicker” variety so often seen in Jackie Chan films of the 80s only furthers my love for the film.