After disagreeing with a lot of the critical praise thrown in the direction of The Raid (The Raid: Redemption, Serbuan Maut) earlier this year, I was pleased to learn that I much prefer writer/editor/director Gareth Evans’ previous film, Merantau, which has just been released on Blu-ray here in Australia. Starring the same actor/silat expert, Iko Uwais, it tells the story of a young country boy, Yuda, who leaves home to try and make it in the big smoke of Jakarta. Whilst he’s there, don’t you know it, he stumbles upon a human trafficking ring and has to kick a whole bunch of people in the face.
Okay, so the plot isn’t anything special. It’s a bog standard example of the type of storytelling that you see in thousands of martial arts films. But, it has something that The Raid lacked: characters that you actually like. As impressive as the action was in that blood drenched high-rise saga, we were never given a chance to feel for the players (or even tell them apart). In Merantau we have the pure of heart country kid, the pretty woman in peril, her young brother who’s presumably even more imperilled, and the bad guy who deserves to be beaten to a bloody pulp. They’re familiar archetypes, but the simplistic storytelling does everything it needs to, which for the most part is simply a method of linking together the fight scenes.
And the action is wonderful. Highlights include bamboo poles, shipping containers and bar stools, whilst one particularly remarkable fight sees two combatants sharing the same elevator. The cinematography and editing is wonderful, not only capturing the action with a minimal amount of trickery but also showing classic cinematic flair. The performances are perfunctory but get the job done. Uwais is great at displaying wide-eyed innocence that morphs into the more serious “I’m going to punch you really hard” expression, whilst Dane Mads Koudal handles the bad guy duties with aplomb, even if his accent is mightily confusing.
The image quality is really good, even if the film’s colour grading likes to blow out the picture with some rather astounding reds and greens. The special features are thankfully in HD (the days of standard definition extras on Blu-rays seem to be a thing of the past, thankfully) and the content itself is pretty good, including some outtakes of people falling over (always entertaining. Always.)
If, like me, you found The Raid a gruesome and unsatisfying experience, then Merantau is more likely to please you. It features nothing original but boasts some extraordinary extended fight scenes.
Merantau is out now from Madman on Blu-ray and DVD.Rating: