Tag Archives: Indonesian cinema



Format: DVD + Blu-ray

Release date: 1 September 2014

Distributor: Lionsgate

Directors: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto

Writers: Takuji Ushiyama, Timo Tjahjanto

Cast: Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Ray Sahetapy, Luna Maya

Indonesia, Japan 2014

132 mins

A co-production between Indonesia and Japan, Killers, the sophomore feature from directing duo Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto – better known as the ‘Mo Brothers’ (although they’re not related) – seems like a conscious step up in artistic integrity after their ultra-bloody but otherwise unambitious debut horror, Macabre (2009). Working under the increasingly influential auspices of Gareth Evans – the Welsh-born director behind successful Indonesian martial arts flick The Raid (2011) and its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal (2014), who serves here as executive producer – Killers is a grisly, multilingual serial killer-themed tale featuring two intertwining narratives set in different countries.

In Tokyo, Nomura (Kazuki Kitamura), a slick, emotionally aloof businessman haunted by traumatic childhood memories of his dead sister, lures women back to his secluded home where he videos their torture and murder before posting his efforts on the internet for all to see. In Jakarta, Bayu (Oka Antara), a disgraced journalist and viewer of Nomura’s videos, finds himself in a situation where he has to kill two men intent on robing, raping and possibly murdering him. Traumatised, he is compelled to document the aftermath and uploads the footage to the same website. Nomura sees the video and reaches out to Bayu, encouraging him to continue scratching this newfound itch for murder that Bayu insists he doesn’t have (or does he?). Meanwhile, Nomura undergoes his own crisis when he inadvertently befriends a potential victim, a meek flower shop owner (Rin Takanashi) saddled with her young mentally ill brother.

The film cleanly criss-crosses back and forth between the two protagonists as their respective storylines shift, develop and, occasionally, collide. It soon becomes apparent that Killers doesn’t intend to be a straightforward genre shocker, although the film’s pulse-pounding opening salvo, which sees a woman run for her life through the woods with a masked Nomura in pursuit, may lead you to think otherwise. This scene’s whomping stop-start sound design immediately announces that we are in jugular-grabbing horror territory. But what starts as horror melds into psychological thriller, which in turn segues into a revenge narrative, as Bayu sets his sights on taking down a corrupt public figure (Ray Sahetapy) who has caused him much personal strife. Bayu’s inner conflict both mirrors and is at odds with Nomura’s, whose interactions with Hisae the flower shop owner suggests that he might be losing his killer instinct. The Mo Brothers, along with screenwriter Takuji Ushiyama, are confident in heaping on dramatic complications that mould and re-mould the plot, giving the film some unexpected dimensionality and a welcome sense of not quite knowing how things are going to play out.

Visually, each strands adopts its own subtly differing traits: Nomura’s side of the story possesses a chilly baroque shimmer, whereas Bayu’s leans towards loose docudrama (the respective cityscapes that envelop them – the sterile glass and concrete facades of Tokyo and the more rundown and weathered Jakarta – emphasise this dichotomy). But what’s interesting is when the stylistic ephemera of one seem to seep into the other. Bayu’s butchering fantasy reveals glimpses of the violently artistic flourishes of Nomura’s killings, while Nomura’s lapses of control load stress on the pristine veneer that characterises his world. These are among many subtle decisions that lay the groundwork for the inevitable coming together of the two characters. Incidentally, the film’s weaker moments arguably lie when Nomura and Bayu are united – talking directly to one another over the internet using stilted English – and the film’s gripping denouement risks being undermined by some less-than-stellar slow motion and green screen effects.

Nevertheless, Killers is a suitably impressive work, refusing to simply tick the boxes of its genre in favour of aiming for something higher. The film hits hard when it needs to; its punchy sound design, use of music and explosive moments of violence give certain sequences the kind of intensity that many films of this ilk strive for but often can’t quite deliver. A genuine investment in the characters goes a long way in this regard, which the film takes the time and trouble to nurture. The result is a tense yet strangely intricate dramatic thriller that not only delivers on viscera but also ruminates on grander themes concerning the desire to kill, the need to document it, and our curiosity in, and perhaps even obsession with, the morbid. Part of Nomura’s motivation to kill stems from the views his videos receive, and the burgeoning popularity of Bayu’s videos creates further cause for insecurity. Although some of these ideas aren’t as fulsomely explored as some may like, the film never spoils the fun by lecturing self-referentially about the viewer’s foregone compliance over consuming violent media. With its commendable handling of style and substance, Killers confirms that the Mo Brothers are a filmmaking pair to watch.

Mark Player

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Shackled (Belenggu)


Format: DVD

Release date: 25 November 2013

Distributor: Terracotta Distribution

Director: Upi Avianto

Writer: Upi Avianto

Cast: Abimana Aryasatya, Avrilla, Laudya Cynthia Bella, Jajang C. Noer

Original title: Belenggu

Indonesia 2012

100 mins

Indonesian writer/director Upi’s first foray into psychological horror sticks to a well-trodden path, but Shackled has enough twists and turns in the second half to keep viewers interested. And while budget restrictions and lack of finesse prevent it from being especially gripping or frightening, Upi’s grubby visuals and claustrophobic camerawork lift what could have been a very mediocre story.

The influences are obvious from the first scene: a woozy, Lynchian dream sequence where a bedraggled man, Elang (Aryasatya), is picked up from the roadside by someone in a bunny costume with a car-load of bloodied corpses. It’s one of many gory delusions suffered by Elang, a twitchy outsider who everyone thinks might be the town’s infamous serial killer. The riff on Donnie Darko is clear, except this rabbit looks like it’s come from a cheap kid’s party where only the very young would be remotely afraid.

Elang soon falls in with an abused prostitute, Jingga (Therinne), who tries to convince the unstable loner to kill the men who raped her. Halfway through, the film shifts from Elang’s unreliable perspective to that of the policemen trying to piece together exactly what the hell is going on. While the explanation is intriguing, it’s laid on a bit thick. Anyone who’s been to Shutter Island will probably have a good idea where things are headed, but even going through the motions, Upi is able to create some bold visuals, steeped in tension and baroque religious iconography.

The horror itself is quite tame, almost comical. Elang’s frequent visions feature a mother and daughter who live next door being slaughtered by the rabbit, but the violent acts themselves are over the top. The arcs of thick blood and squelchy noises, with little shock factor, seem strange given the rest of the film’s controlled approach. They are fantasy sequences, but everything is done too seriously, and these missteps might be more to do with Upi’s inexperience with the genre.

Performances are similarly restrained, except for Aryasatya in the lead role. His bug-eyed gurning gets a bit tiresome, but unfortunately he’s given very little to do except to sweat and panic. It’s something of a relief when the plot shifts to being about him rather than trying to tell the story through his eyes.

With its rabbit hole of a narrative, Shackled is engaging when it doesn’t try to overthink things. There are some clichés, but it’s refreshing to see Indonesian cinema succeeding in going for a genre story that competes with its bigger, and much better funded, neighbours.

Richard Badley

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The Raid

The Raid

Format: Cinema

Screening date: 18 May 2012

Venues: Nationwide

Distributor: Momentum

Director: Gareth Evans

Writer: Gareth Evans

Original title: Serbuan maut

Cast: Iko Uwais, Ananda George, Ray Sahetapy

Indonesia/USA 2011

101 mins

Asian action cinema, and in particular Asian martial arts films, has been on something of a downward turn of late. Maybe it’s because the old stars are, well, getting older - Jackie Chan has just hit 58 this year, even Donnie Yen is nearing 50 - and the void has not really been satisfactorily filled. Tony Jaa was the great big hope, but we all know what happened to him - one only hopes that his reunion with Prachya Pinkaew (Ong-bak [2003], Warrior King [2005]) on Warrior King 2 will serve as his redemption. The scene, bar a few outstanding films such as Ip Man 1 (2008) and 2 (2010), has been somewhat lacklustre of late, with action roles falling to Asian pop stars seeking a film career rather than talented martial artists.

So thank heavens for writer-director Gareth Evans and new shining light Iko Uwais, who between them have created two beacons in an otherwise faltering genre. Their first collaboration, Merantau (aka Merantau Warrior, 2009), is a highly enjoyable action flick that introduced the world to the formidable talents of Uwais and his preferred martial art, Silat, an Indonesian form that had never really been showcased on film before. It’s a simple coming-of-age set-up: a young boy (Uwais) leaves his remote village to become a man and must face the hardships that come with growing up in an unrepentant and crime-ridden city (in many ways, it’s similar to Ong-bak). While not altogether ground-breaking, there’s enough raw energy, passion and style on show to suggest that a more accomplished film would come.

The Raid is the film that delivers on that promise. Having already stunned festival-goers around the world, The Raid is now set to take the UK by storm. And that’s exactly what it is, an unbridled storm, a thunderous lightning bolt of action cinema that will sweep you up and blow you away.

Once again, the set-up is simple. There’s a murderous crime boss, Tama (Sahetapy), living on the top floor of a tower block, a high-rise concrete maze that he’s populated with seemingly every hardcore villain and violent madman in Jakarta. A team of crack special forces cops is sent in to take him down, quietly and with no fuss. But, as in all good action films, there’s a dirty cop on Tama’s payroll and soon the spec ops team have been betrayed, and, cut off from the outside world, they are facing certain annihilation. Fortunately, one loyal cop, Rama (Uwais), has eaten his Shredded Wheat for breakfast and sets about cleaning shop in the most brutal way possible.

Watch a clip.

Like Merantau, The Raid starts with Uwais warming up, stretching his muscles and practising his martial arts skills - the quiet before the storm. But when the action hits, it’s relentless. Each breathtaking set piece is perfectly orchestrated, from Uwais’s intricate skill set through to Evans’s peerless and pacy direction. The fights are artfully done, played out like ballets of destruction, culminating in a final three-way fight that is stunning in its execution: I can’t recall any other action film finishing with a fight between hero and villain where the latter is the one who is outnumbered (two vs one) but is so talented in his art that the heroes are the clear underdogs.

Uwais is certainly the star of the film, mixing the charisma of Tony Jaa with the hand speed of Bruce Lee, but the performer who really captures the eye is Yayan Ruhian as one of Tama’s psychotic henchmen, the appropriately named Mad Dog, who delights in causing pain. Slight in build, Ruhian, who served as the film’s fight choreographer with Uwais (a role the pair also filled on Merantau), is a lithe, lightning-fast bundle of muscle and sinew whose performance as Mad Dog is set to make it one of the genre’s most memorable villains ever.

As a full-on martial arts action film, The Raid wears its influences on its sleeve, taking the very best traits from the cream of Hong Kong cinema, in particular John Woo’s classic heroic bloodshed movies of the 80s and 90s, such as Hard Boiled (1992) and A Better Tomorrow (1986). Even Oldboy (2003) gets a nod with what has become a de rigueur scene for Asian action cinema - a fight in a corridor. But with the director being Welsh (yes, we don’t really get how that happened either), it also has smatterings of Western cinema too, such as Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Die Hard (1988). Indeed, one scene, where Rama tries to hide an injured fellow officer in a wall crawlspace as one of the villains systematically stabs through the plasterwork with a machete, is so nerve-twitchingly intense it would be more at home in a horror film than an action flick.

Overall, The Raid is hard to fault. OK, it’s not breaking any new ground, more so reinvigorating it, and the action dominates character development (although there’s just enough to make you care what happens to Rama et al). Equally, some of the more visceral violence will put off a few, and even have hardcore fans wincing, but, as a whole, The Raid is such a refreshing take on the action film it makes you realise just what you have missed from the genre for the past few years. It’s been a long time since I’ve left a cinema so pumped with energy that I just wanted to watch the film again immediately, and I can’t wait to get it on DVD so I can watch in more detail the blistering fight action.

It’s early days yet, and there are still some excellent films to come, but already I think I’ve found my film of the year. Bring on Evans/Uwais collaboration number three.

Toby Weidmann