Merantau (2009)
By: Captain Red Eye on January 4, 2012  | 
DVD
Madman | Region 4, PAL | 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced) | Indonesian DD 5.1 | minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Gareth Evans
Starring: Iko Uwais, Sisca Jessica, Mads Koudal, Yusuf Aulia, Alex Abbad, Laurent Buson
Screenplay: Gareth Evans
Country: Indonesia
External Links
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Reportedly the first Indonesian martial arts film in 15 years and to date the only film to showcase the martial art of Silat Harimau, Merantau is an action-driven coming of age tale that prominently, and rather effectively, incorporates Jackie Chan-style fisticuffs and no shortage of clever stuntwork into its 'damsel in distress rescue flick' motif.

The film's title refers to a timeworn practice whereby males of the rural Minangkabau people, upon the onset of adulthood, make a pilgrimage to Jakarta in order to garner the skills and experiences that will allow them to make a meaningful contribution to village life.  Setting out on such a trek is Yuda (newcomer Iko Uwais), who upon arriving in the big city quickly realises he might be in for more than just a tranquil journey of self-discovery. Having barely had time to unpack, Yuda is doing a casual spot of sightseeing amid some of Jakarta's seamier back alleys when he stumbles upon a beautiful teenage stripper (Sisca Jessica) being unceremoniously manhandled by her boss. Being of a gentlemanly bent Yuda unthinkingly intervenes, which in this instance and numerous others like it involves putting the hurtin' on the beastly pimp and his gang of cronies. Several high-octane fight sequences later it emerges the thugs are part of an operation which kidnaps young women for a sex trafficking ring run by a dastardly Dane named Ratger, and it'll be all Yuda can do to rescue the comely lass, Astri, from their clutches.

Though perhaps relying a little too heavily on outright melodrama and by-the-numbers bad guys, Merantau nonetheless manages to captivate. It's an ambitious and painstakingly crafted sophomore outing from Welsh director Gareth Evans, who had the good fortune to discover a ready-made martial arts superstar in his boyishly handsome lead; in spite of his tender years Uwais is a 15-year veteran of Silat, and his unaffected performance combines urgent physicality with a believable vulnerability that helps temper some of the pathos. Co-star Sisca Jessica lends an adroit counterweight as the spirited Astri, which further ensures a resonance to the film's weightier themes of displacement and the loss of individual liberty. Perhaps most importantly for a movie of this ilk the fight choreography is uniformly well-staged, inventively incorporating aspects of the urban landscape (think rooftops and scaffolding) in a manner reminiscent of the Hong Kong action fare to which it is so heavily indebted.

Merantau received an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response both overseas and in its native Indonesia, where it was hailed as a welcome counter to the ghost stories and insipid sex comedies which have traditionally prevailed throughout the region. Syrupy denouement and the odd cartoonish villain aside, the film stands as a successful, genre-bending morality tale in which ancient rites of passage are transposed to a world of corruption and urban decay, amidst which the purity and timelessness of their message ultimately remain unassailable.
Video
The cinematography is lush, the action sequences expertly captured and the transfer itself spotless.
Audio
Nothing to fault here either; the Indonesian 5.1 audio is balanced and resonant. The soundtrack itself is also an impressive affair, comprising a frenetic blend of Orientalism and electronica that augments the many action sequences and mirrors the contrasts of Yuda's journey from country to city. 
Extra Features
Plenty on offer in this regard, including a Making Of (15:11), two Deleted Scenes, no less than 10 short featurettes - The Beginning (5:04), The Choreography (5:07), The Test (5:50), The Cast and Press Conference (5:18), The 56 Takes (5:06), Bekasi (5:13), Bukkit Tinggi (6:03), Streets & Alleyways (6:03), Studios & The Recruitment Centre (5:47), Rumah Susun (4:28) and several trailers.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Yes, Merantau has its flaws. Yes, the fake blood is pink on occasion and the bruises sustained by Ratger look like purple eyeliner daubed on by a vision-impaired octopus. And yes, it perhaps borrows a little too heavily from its predecessors (a certain Thai film springs to mind). But it's also an enjoyable and effective showcase for the Silat form, and at the end of the day a pretty damn cool fight flick.

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