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STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes
- Deleted Scenes
- Making Of Merantau
- Video Production Journal
- The Bamboo Pole Stunt
- Storyboard To Screen: Fight Comparison
- International Trailer
Face punches it’s way right into your heart
Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica, Yusuf Aulia, Mads Koudal, Laurent Buson and Alex Abbad. Directed by Gareth Evans.
Yuda (played by Iko Uwais) is a practitioner of Silat Harimau (the tiger inspired form of the traditional Indonesian martial art pencak silat) in a small town in the highlands of Western Sumatra. As a member of the Minangkabau (meaning victorious buffalo) people, he must go on a merantau, which is basically a rite of passage for the youth to become adults by leaving their home and making their way in the big city. In this case, the city is Jakarta and Yuda will have to deal with homelessness, robbery and (like you do) a European human trafficking ring while protecting a sexy orphan and her little brother. Tons and tons of ass whipping ensues.
I don’t need much when it comes to martial arts films (or horror movies). Give me a good bad guy, some jaw dropping fighting, a badass lead and hopefully a plot that I haven’t seen a thousand times before and I’ll be happy. Even if the plot is shaky, it doesn’t matter too much. My favorite martial arts film of all time is Fist of Legend, and that was just a typical revenge plot bolstered by Jet Li beating ass on a level I had never seen before. Merantau manages to have three good bad guys, four or five set pieces that really get the blood pumping, an awesome new action star in Iko Uwais and a plot (while being very similar to the plots of The Transporter and Ong Bak) that defies expectation by the end in order to tell the story it wanted to, instead of the story that was expected.
Merantau also gave me a peek into a culture and fighting style that I had never even heard of before this. The Minangkabau (also known as the Minang or Padang) culture is fascinating. For one thing, it’s a matrilineal society, meaning all wealth and property are passed down mother to daughter, while the men deal with religion and politics. The merantau custom is still going today, as the main purpose behind it is for the person on the merantau to bring back to the village what they have learned in order to enrich their society with new ideas and skills. I was trying to imagine what this tradition would be like if it was practiced in America and I had this image of feral packs of 18 and 19 year olds, traveling the country and using whatever skills they have to get by and I realized we had that in the Gutter Punk movement, although I don’t think it’s so much a movement or a tradition as much as it is a way to escape violence or poverty.
As Yuda left his village I imagined him walking or taking a boat to Jakarta since his home seemed to be in a very rural area of Western Sumatra, but he only walked a little ways until he caught a cute little bus that looked a lot more comfortable than a Greyhound. It looks more like they were going on a magical mystery tour or to solve crimes with the help of a stoner and his wily best friend.
Once Yuda arrives in Jakarta, nothing seems to go right. He left his village with only a shoulder bag of supplies, a phone number and an address. Except when he arrives, the number is disconnected and the address is an empty lot, so he ends up on the street sleeping in giant cement pipes in a disused construction site. The next morning at breakfast his wallet is stolen by a plucky little orphan boy, Adit (played with way too much wide eyed sadness by Yusuf Aulia). The chase through the narrow, heavily tagged alleys of Jakarta is the first truly thrilling sequence of the film. Adit leads Yuda to an alley right outside of the club where his older sister, Astri (the lovely Sisca Jessica) works. They’re just in time to see her getting manhandled by the club’s owner, Johni (Alex Abbad), who is trying to take her to the evil slaver, Ratger (played with vaguely European menace by Mads Koudal). That’s pretty much it. Yuda saves the girl and pisses off the bad guy and has to fight his legions of thugs for the entire final hour of the film.
The main problem I think serious action fans are going to have with this film is that the first 45 minutes pass fairly leisurely. It’s a lot of quiet conversations and inner contemplation and if you didn’t know you were watching a martial arts film, you might think you were watching an Indonesian fish out of water art film. But it’s not. I mean, it is, but with face kicking.
A lot of people are going to compare Iko Uwais with Tony Jaa, even though the only thing they have in common is that they look like they could be brothers. Their movement and fighting styles couldn’t be more different. Muay Thai (at least in the Tony Jaa movies I’ve seen) attacks the head with furious elbows and knees and leaves the opponent knocked unconscious with a broken bone or two, whereas Iko’s Silat Harimau style seems more about backing the opponent away instead of seriously injuring them. Tony’s fighting has more strength and brutality behind it while Iko’s is more graceful and fluid.
This is definitely not bone crunching martial arts. That’s not to say there isn’t bone crunching, but it’s all saved up for the final boss fight of the film. The film is really more about enjoying the silat fighting style and the quickness and dexterity of Iko Uwais, who bounces around and dodges kicks and punches without any speed ramping or effects of any kind. There were a few instances of obvious wire work, but only with the stunt team and extras.
It’s all shot very stylistically, yet simply by Gareth Evans; whose camera is always moving but never once gets in the way of the action and never once resorts to using shaky-cam techniques. The editing allows for very long takes of the fight sequences, which are expertly staged and choreographed and never leave you confused about spatial relationships of the fighters in the way The Expendables did.
I hope people catch on to Merantau and Iko Uwais and give him the same warm welcome they gave Jackie Chan and Jet Li and Tony Jaa (before Jackie got old, Jet got bored and Tony got nutty). It received honorable mention honors at Fantastic Fest in 2009 so I guess neeeerrrrddddssss know all about it already, but I think the film deserves some mainstream success; maybe not Crouching Tiger success, but at least House of Flying Daggers numbers. It’s not just a dumb martial arts flick that makes no difference whether you fast forward through the talking to get to the fighting; it actually builds to a very surprising and dark climax that it earns through character behavior and action instead of just creating conflict in order to get us to the next big set piece.
I feel like Uwais has just shown us the tip of the iceberg in regards to what he’s capable of, and judging from his nicely understated and calm performance in Merantau, he’s already a better actor than any martial arts star I can think of off the top of my head. Except for Wesley Snipes. That guy is the shit.
Merantau is completely awesome with a massive amount of asskickery and kung-foolery (sorry) but also a little elegant in the stylistic flourishes of it’s direction and the lead performance. It made me giggle more than once at the display of sheer superhuman martial arts prowess and ninja-like precision and I bet it will make you giggle, too. Not like me, though. I giggle alone.
This disc came decked out with all sorts of cool stuff. First, you can either watch it dubbed in English, or in Indonesian with English subtitles. I recommend watching it subtitled, as watching things dubbed is for fucking idiots and blind people. There are 20 minutes of deleted scenes which really should have been left in the film, as they go into Iko’s philosophy of the use of silat as well as showcase the single greatest beatdown in the entire film which takes place at a Jakartan fight club. There’s also a lengthy Making Of Merantau featurette that features even more deleted scenes, as well as a ton of production diary shorts that focus more on the actual filming. Finally, there’s a look at how they did one of the more impressive stunts in the film, a comparison of the storyboards in relation to the finished product and an international trailer. It’s around an hour and a half worth of bonus material that really makes purchasing the DVD a requirement.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars