J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Fantasia ’15: Golden Cane Warrior

The best martial arts film often approach the level of classical tragedy with their tales of cruel fate and deep seated grudges. An entirely home-grown, domestically-produced Indonesian action historical is a definitely down with that program. When the leader of a revered martial arts house takes on the children of her vanquished rivals as protégés, it ends rather badly. However, her rightful heir survives to fight another day in Ifa Isfansyah’s Golden Cane Warrior (trailer here), which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

As the holder of the Golden Cane, Cempaka is above the sort of tournaments the rest of the warrior houses compete in. Her oldest students, Biru and Gerhana have learned much from her and enjoy the status they have as students of the Golden Cane. They assume she will chose Biru as her successor, but Cempaka anoints the young Dara instead. Slightly disappointed, the dastardly pair murder Cempaka, framing Dara and the ten year old-ish Angin, whom Cempaka took in to remind her of sins to be revealed during the third act.

Much to their former fellow apprentices’ frustration, Dara and Angin escape with the Golden Cane. Worming their way into the next most prestigious house, Biru and Gerhana quickly complete their evil scheme to dominate the world of warriors. Soon they start terrorizing the idyllic village that offered Dara and Angin sanctuary. The good news is the villagers have Elang, a protector who is even better versed in the Golden Cane style than any of Cempaka’s students. The bad news is he has taken an oath that makes it hard for him to do anything useful.

Utilizing a lot of staff-fighting techniques, the martial arts of Cane is fantastically cinematic. Fight scene for fight scene, it can hang with any big budget wuxia film produced in the Chinese-speaking sphere. Unfortunately, it has a bit of a draggy mid-section and never really explains what the full deal is with Elang. Nevertheless, when the feet are flying and the staffs are swinging, it is quite a spectacle.

As Biru and Gerhana, Reza Rahadian and Tara Basro have terrific romantically villainous chemistry together. They are so dramatically more charismatic than the good guys, the likable but bland Eva Celia and Nicholas Saputra as Dara and Elang, it nearly unbalances the film. However, young but scrappy Aria Kusumah more than carries his weight as Angin.

By Indonesian standards, Cane had a princely budget, but you can see it all up there on the screen. It really looks like it was shot in ancient villages that exist somewhere outside time, while Isfansyah and cinematographer Gunnar Nimpuno give it an appropriately sweeping look and vibe. Recommended for fans of martial arts seasoned with tragic mysticism, Golden Cane Warrior screens today (7/31), as part of this year’s Fantasia.

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