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In Minangkabau, West Sumatera, Yuda a skilled practitioner of Silat Harimau is in the final preparations to begin his "Merantau" a century's old rites-of-passage to be carried out by the community's young men that will see him leave the comforts of his idyllic farming village and make a name for himself in the bustling city of Jakarta. After a series of setbacks leave Yuda homeless and uncertain about his new future, a chance encounter results in him defending the orphaned Astri from becoming the latest victim of a European human trafficking ring led by the wildly psychotic, Ratger and his right-hand man Lars. With Ratger injured in the mêlée and seeking both his "merchandise" and bloody retribution, Yuda's introduction to this bustling city is a baptism of fire as he is forced to go on the run with Astri and her younger brother Adit as all the pimps and gangsters that inhabit the night hound the streets chasing their every step. With escape seemingly beyond their grasp, Yuda has no ... Written by
PT. Merantau Films
Gareth Evans met Iko Uwais when he was hired to make a documentary film on Silat produced by Christine Hakim production company. Impressed by the young man's screen presence, Evans casts him as the leading role for his first action movie. See more »
In the fight towards the end, the crowbar used by Luc appears to bend when struck against the Yuda's rod, indicating it's a rubber prop. See more »
Being an ardent lover of martial art flicks and all its heroes- Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa, to name my favourite ones- I have been waiting for a long time to have the hero of my own country, Indonesia; of our own martial art tradition, Silat.
My long wait is over now. Here comes Iko Uwais in his first movie, Merantau. It's hard not to compare the movie with Ong Bak, and Iko Uwais with Tony Jaa. Not only because the two movies come from the same region and introduce us to the new generation of martial art actors, but also because the vague similarities in their faces. But admitting bias as I am, I would say Merantau is a much better movie than Ong Bak and Iko Uwais is a much better actor than Tony Jaa.
Merantau story is quite simple and almost cliché. About this guy named Yuda, played by Iko Uwais, in his journey of Merantau, a tradition still very much in practice by the young males of Minang tribe in West Sumatera, in which they have to prove themselves worthy to be called a real man by migrating to other place and surviving against all odds in the new place, gaining new experience, new skills that will benefit their hometown or their village. Before going on Merantau, they usually prepare themselves with certain skill that would support their survival in the new place. Yuda's skill is Indonesian traditional martial art called Silat, or Silek in Minang language, of the Sumateran Tiger (Harimau) style. He wishes to establish a Silat school in Jakarta.
But in Jakarta, fate brings Yuda's journey to the life troubles of a stripper, Astri and her pickpocket brother, Adit. His goody country boy nature made Yuda can't let injustice happens to those siblings, although he has his own problem to be solved. Can Yuda help them? Will he survive in his new place and prove to people back home that he is a real man? You have to watch the movie by yourself and I guarantee you won't be disappointed.
Merantau gives a balanced combination of drama and action. Instead of watching a purely action movie, I feel like watching a drama whose main protagonist happens to be a really good martial artist. Supported by excellent casts, combining first time actors and the more experienced ones, the acting look natural. I can feel the anxiety, loneliness and despair of Adit when he was forced to hide when his sister was chased by the thugs. I can feel the rage and determination of Yuda when he broke into the strip club to safe Astri, and I become misty-eyed when Yuda's mother waves goodbye to Adit.
Iko Uwais proves himself to be a capable actor, despite the fact this is his first acting experience ever and he has to play the role of a guy from different ethnic group, with different accent and language and different Silat style. For those uninformed, during the first part of the movie some of the language used is Minang language, that I, an Indonesian of Betawian descent (just like Iko), has to read the subtitle to understand what it means. Iko is blessed with great camera presence and natural facial expression. He is able to give a sweet smile (he has wonderful smile indeed) and brutal angry face with enough convincing acting. A very good start for a new movie star whose last occupation was a truck driver for a telecom company.
However, what sell most from Iko's skills in the film is his fighting skills. The choreography team, led by Silat Harimau master, Edwel Datuk Rajo Gampo Alam (acts as Yuda's silat master in the movie) is smart enough to put Iko's skills in the combination style of Tony Jaa's brutality, Jet Li's fluidity and Jackie Chen's environmentally-inspired acrobat. Without using much tricks and less wire-fest than most current martial art movies, the films is able to show great fight scenes, that left me "Ouch, that must hurt so bad" uncountable times during the film. Numerous times the audience give big applause after the glorious fight scenes. Some of the scenes should also go into the "martial art cinematography history" as creative and mind-blowing. The laundry pole scene left many jaws dropped, while 'don't take my towel' scene led the audience into hilarious laughter (the small kid few rows in front of me couldn't stop laughing for quite a long time).
In short, Merantau is a movie you should not be missed if you're an action junkie. If you're a drama type junkie, Merantau offers enough drama with strong characters and profound meaning of what it means to be doing your best for your survival and for your society. Gareth Evans is not Zhang Yi-Mou nor Ang Lee with their colossal wire fest kungfu fantasy, but he has proved that even modern realistic martial art cinematography can look this good and mean this deep.
4 out of 5 stars.
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