I was introduced to the martial arts movie genre, by watching old Jackie Chan movies. Really, the guy is amazing, and whether or not you like his movies, I don’t think anyone can dispute his skills. Pretty much every martial arts movie I watched in those early days, had it’s origins in Hong Kong. However as my interest in those movies grew, I slowly began to discover that there were other countries that also made some very high quality martial arts films. Indonesia is one of those countries, and it turned the genre upside down with the phenomenal movies The Raid, and The Raid 2. The star from those two films is a man named Iko Uwais. One of the things I tend to do when I really like something is to find out as much as I can about it, or in this case the actor. To my surprise Netflix had one of Iko’s earlier movies on offer, and it turned out to be a hidden gem.
In Merantau, Iko plays the role of the young man Yuda who is an expert in Silat, a form of martial arts. Yuda lives with his mother and his older brother in the peaceful countryside. One day however Yuda leaves his home to go on his Merantau, which can best be described as a kind of journey to seek out experience and succes. His plan is to teach Silat to the children of Jakarta, and become a better man by doing so. When he arrives in the city, he soon discovers that things are very different from the countryside. What’s more while enjoying a relatively peaceful meal, his wallet gets stolen by a young boy. Yuda gives chase, and manages to catch the would be thief. Not long after the boy’s sister, Astri, appears who is found arguing with her boss Johnny. When Astri is struck in the face by Johnny, Yuda comes to her aid. From this point on things are beginning to go very wrong. A ruthless human trafficker called Ratger, will stop at nothing to get Astri back, and the only one standing in his way is Yuda. But Yuda finds himself outnumbered as Ratger has an enormous amount of henchmen at his disposal, that soon give chase. Will Yuda be able to save Astri, or will his efforts be in vain?
This movie is a fine example of a film that I expected absolutely nothing from, but which turned out to be an enormous surprise. I thought this would be a fairly standard action flick, with maybe one or two good fight scenes, but not much more on offer. I was completely wrong. The biggest surprise to me in this film, was the amount of touching moments it contained. Yes, this is an actionmovie, but the story itself, while nothing really unique, contains some genuine heart. This is in part because of the amazing chemistry between the two lead actors. Iko really shows that besides martial arts he can also act and his scenes with Sisca Jessica who plays Astri, are some of the best parts of this film. The villain of this movie is played by Danish actor Mads Koudal, and he does a great job in portraying a pretty psychotic human trafficker.
But ofcourse a martial arts movie stands or falls with it’s fight sequences, and it is also in this department that it truly shines. We have some seriously amazing fight choreagraphy on display here, and it is hard to pick a favorite scene. Iko sometimes seems to be made of rubber the way he manages to twist his body in almost impossible positions. With all the positive things on offer the movie does lose a bit of credibility near the end. There is one scene in an elevator that really goes way over the top, and is completely unbelievable. But that one scene wasn’t enough to spoil the film though. For everyone who is a fan of martial arts movies, and wants to experience something slightly different from what this genre usually has to offer, I recommend seeing this one. It is a high speed train ride that never lets up, but also doesn’t forget to put some heart into the storyline.
I give Merantau a 8 out of 10 score.