Iko Uwais reliably kicks a lot of ass in Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto’s 2016 action thriller.
“The door swings both ways, my friend”
2011’s The Raid was something of an important movie in Indonesia’s rather short but still interesting cinematic history. As one of the country’s first films to really hit an international market (and hit it so hard the cast was given Star Wars cameos), it marked something of a turning point. It’s difficult for the film culture of another country – especially small island nations – to strike it big in the West, so it’s always good to see something like it land. The impact was similar to Thailand’s Hollywood big break Ong Bak.
Of course, this means that the country is likely to be typecast. Thailand had a tonne of Muay Thai films come out after the success of Tony Jaa’s breakthrough, from Warrior King to Rising Phoenix – so after The Raid (and its sequel)’s proved massively popular, would that mean that Indonesia would likely suffer the same fate? If the 2016 action crime thriller Headshot is anything to go by, then it certainly seems that way.
Hot off his two Raid films, Iko Uwais stars as an amnesiac who calls himself Ishmael. He is found on the beach by an old man, and brought to the hospital where he is cared for by Doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan). Meanwhile, a crime lord Lee (Sunny Pang), who has recently escaped from prison is re-establishing himself as top dog by killing other heads of gangs. When an underling informs him that Ishmael (or Abdi, as they call him) is still alive, Lee switches gear, sending his guys in to apprehend the man.
Headshot isn’t really anything original: a fact that is largely evident from a simple synopsis. The story is – as you’d imagine – fairly one-note and hardly makes an effort to surprise us. Ishmael is a wonderfully flat character, reminiscent of the roles that Van Damme used to play. I mean, he has amnesia, which is almost like an excuse, but then again so did Jason Bourne. Thankfully, Uwais is a hugely likeable lead and manages to get an excellent performance out of what could easily have been a cardboard character. As for the others? Pang does a great job as the villain and Islan is a charming face who brings decent drama: a much needed break from all the bloodshed.
And of course, you’re in Headshot for one reason – the fast-paced, hyperviolent fight scenes, which are extremely prevalent. Comparisons to The Raid are inevitable (see above), but it’s always going to happen. Where Headshot switches it up is through the heavy use of gunfights, which are just as common as martial arts, if not more so. However, the question then becomes should it be as common? The gun stuff is played as quite merciless as the rest of the movie, but it can get quite overly brutal, with characters dying in a pointlessly excessive hail of bullets. Trying to make the gunfights as grim as the martial arts often leads it into overkill territory.
The movie is absolutely at its best when it’s not using gunfire. The martial arts is great and Iko Uwais once again shows he can truly bring it. The action direction is very nice too, flowing smoothly across these big throwdowns. Fight scenes are always in motion, and by having the characters move across the sets allows us to see the carnage around them, like a ruined Tokyo during a Godzilla fight. It’s here that Headshot really shines. The mini boss battle in the police station stands out as one of the cooler fights, as we’re taken through the station, and see countless mooks KO’d all over the place.
It’s a mixed bag, really. As one of the very few Indonesian films on Netflix, Headshot is doing a lot of work representing its country and, frankly, there are worse films doing that for similar countries. It has excellent production values and even better choreography and direction. Headshot isn’t anything overly special – you probably won’t remember much of this a few days after seeing it – but it’s also proof that the country is capable of films that are worth paying attention to. If you consider Netflix’s inclusion of Thai comedies Iron Ladies and Holy Man as a metric, then I hope this means something similar will happen to Indonesia. However, until that happens, you can definitely content yourself with this one.
Verdict: A taste of what’s to come, Headshot shows Indonesia is a country to watch out for.
Overall entertainment: 7/10
Action choreography: 9/10
Weapon of choice: Guillotine blade
Alternate weapon of choice: Typewriter
Directors: Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto
Writer: Timo Tjahjanto
Iko Uwais – Ishmael
Chelsea Islan – Ailin
Sunny Pang – Lee
Julie Estelle – Rika
David Hendrawan – Tejo
Zack Lee – Tano
Very Tri Yulisman – Besi
Bront Palarae – Interpol Agent Ali
Yayu Unru – Romli
Ario Bayu – Jakarta Police Captain
Hirooki Goto – Japanese Thug