“Merantau” Indonesian Martial Arts Movie Review

In Merantau, Yuda (Iko Uwais), a young man from rural Indonesia trained in the martial art of silat harimau, heads off on a coming-of-age journey called a merantau. On his journey, he aims to go to the urban center of Jakarta and teach silat. After meeting orphans Adit (Yusuf Aulia) and Astri (Sisca Jessica), his path tangles inextricably with that of an underground slave trade ring, and his merantau quickly turns ugly.

When watching martial arts films, there is a range from the stylistic combat to straight up brutal and bloody violence. Too stylistic and you’ve got something that’s more ballet than martial arts; too brutal and bloody, and you’ve got something that just looks like a butcher house on the big screen. The film Merantau strikes a good balance between the two extremes, and the story is elegantly executed, too. More after the jump.

With any action film, there’s always the difficulty of integrating the action with the story, and most action and martial arts films tend to be more heavy on the action than the story. The action in this film not only struck a good balance between the stylistic and the brutal, it also integrated very nicely into the execution of the plot. The protagonist Yuda is strong and skilled, but not invulnerable. He’s noble but still inexperienced in the ways of the world, his naivete is both his weakness and his greatest strength. As the story progresses, it leans towards being hackneyed but never crosses that line, delivering a tale that is not full of dramatic twists but is clear, cogent, and heartfelt and substantiated with a lot of realistic consequences and honest emotion, somewhat in the style of the Rocky series. Though it’s hard for me to judge the acting clearly since I don’t speak or understand Indonesian, overall, the expression of the characters’ hopes, pains, and worries definitely felt like they were coming from living and breathing human souls.

I had really watched this film as a preface for the movie The Raid: Redemption because that film is (1) a martial arts action film and (2) prominent Japanese American musician and activist Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park scored the soundtrack.

Expecting “Merantau” to be just another violent, heartless action film, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the production, martial arts highlights, and overall story telling, and not because I had low expectations (really). Hopefully, “The Raid” will be just as good or better, with some nice Shinoda beats as it’s underlying heartbeat.

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