J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Headshot: You Can’t Keep Iko Uwais Down

You have to respect a film that knows martial arts and Moby-Dick. Well, at least it knows the first page—and plenty of ways to administer a good beat-down. While he has amnesia, an attractive intern’s mysterious patient will be known as Ishmael, but his true self might not be so pleasant to meet. Nevertheless, he will do whatever it takes to rescue her from his former associates in the Mo Brothers (Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto)’s Headshot (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Mr. Lee, as he is simply known, is about to break out of prison—and the carnage will be breathtaking. Around the same time, a comatose body with a cranial bullet wound washes up in a fisherman’s net. During her residency in a provincial clinic, the Jakarta-based Ailin nurses him back to health. She dubs him Ishmael because she is reading Melville and takes a liking to him when he comes to. Ishmael remembers little, but periodically he gets violent flashbacks, featuring Mr. Lee and his loyal lieutenant Rika. Even though he suspects he is kind of a bad cat, Ishmael (or Abdi as Mr. Lee and his men knew him) is determined to protect Ailin. He is therefore somewhat bent out of shape when Mr. Lee’s thugs kidnap her to flush him out.

From here on out, it is essentially pedal-to-the-metal butt-kicking. Of course, the cops are no help. They even cuff him up, making him even more vulnerable to Mr. Lee’s hit squads, but it hardly matters. This is a man who could shake off a bullet to the head—and he wasn’t even that motivated at the time.

With action choreography credited to “Team Uwais,” Headshot is an adrenaline shot through the breastplate very much in the tradition of his breakout hit franchise The Raid. Although Yayan “Mad Dog” Ruhian is absent this time around, Julie “Hammer Girl” Estelle is on-board as Rika, one of the deadliest of Mr. Lee’s henchfolk.

The fight scenes offer no quarter, incorporating all sorts off back-breaking, skull crushing moves. It gets brutal, in a spectacularly cinematic way. Although it represents a departure from the Mo Brothers’ previous horror films (like the disturbingly vicious Killers), Headshot most likely boasts a higher body-count. In fact, they stage two flat-out massacre scenes (at least one of which is admittedly somewhat unsettling).

Still, there is no denying Uwais’s skills. He also builds some appealing chemistry with Chelsea Islan’s Ailin. She is quite a discovery, playing the prospective doctor with warmth and intelligence. As Rika, Estelle still keeps pace with Uwais, even showing some dramatic range this time around, while Sunny Pang chews the scenery with fierce conviction as Mr. Lee. Plus, several dozen supporting players and stunt performers sport some impressive chops of their own as they put themselves through the meat grinder for our entertainment.

Some might confuse the Mo Brothers’ Headshot with Pen-ek Ratanuang’s Thai crime drama Headshot, which is also a terrific film. Basically, our position is any Asian action film called Headshot is probably worth seeing. In the case of the Indonesian Headshot, nobody was taking half-measures. The Mo Brothers, Uwais, and Estelle throw it down with authority. Highly recommended for martial arts fans, Headshot opens this Friday (3/3) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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