March 28, 2017

Headshot (2016) - courtesy Vertical Entertainment

Iko Uwais’s star has risen after his energetic, concussive appearances in Gareth Evans’s The Raid (2011) and its even more violent sequel, The Raid 2 (2014). Uwais’s rapid, destructive style of martial arts combat, coupled with Evans’s balletic camerawork, brought something completely new to a saturated genre, and it still seemed new when the second film landed.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that Uwais’s first leading role since The Raid 2 sees him continuing to do what he does best: hitting people very hard, very quickly. Headshot could be a spiritual sequel to the former films, not only because of the equally impressive fight scenes but because overall its tone is just as dark and most of its settings just as dingy as the tower block that officer Rama originally fought his way up.

In Headshot, Uwais plays a Bourne-like amnesiac who washes up on an Indonesian beach on the brink of death. After being nursed back to health by a friendly doctor called Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who christens him Ishmael after the character in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, he draws the attention of a local gang. Led by the sadistic Lee (Sunny Pang), they kidnap Ailin to get to Ishmael, as it turns out their pasts are inextricably linked.

It’s clear what we’re in for right from the start of Headshot, during Lee’s gleefully violent escape from prison. He is a marvellously written villain, someone who is good at getting his hands dirty but even better at compelling others to dirty theirs on his behalf. In fact, this ability goes to the very heart of the relationship he has with Ishmael. At one point, there is a suggestion that Lee allowed himself to be arrested and imprisoned but oddly, the reason for this is never elaborated upon.

This will barely even register, however, as Ishmael kicks, punches and shoots his way through Lee’s many sidekicks. If anything, there’s a little less grace in Headshot than there was in The Raid and many of the fights are messy brawls that leave each opponent scrambling for the nearest weapon. Uwais sells the damage his character takes well; by the end of the film, he is little more than a staggering sack of wounds. However, the degree of damage that some of his assailants can take will encourage your scepticism; broken bones elicit an angry roar a lot of the time but don’t seem to inhibit the bearer’s movement too much. This superhuman imperviousness to pain culminates in a last-gasp moment which is equally infuriating and predictable.

Directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto (aka The Mo Brothers) have produced a relentless, exciting action movie with Headshot, one which will unfortunately lose out to the inevitable comparisons to Iko Uwais’s other films. They try to replicate the uninhibited camera movements of The Raid by constantly spinning around their combatants and, in one particularly nice touch, inverting the frame entirely as Ishmael dives through a bus window into the road. Accompanied by a neat story, in which Uwais’s character fights the requisite number of end-of-level baddies before reaching the final boss, Headshot ticks all the boxes of a decent action film. It’s entertaining, but you might watch it with the feeling you’ve seen it all before.

Headshot poster

CountryIndonesia LanguageIndonesian Year2016 DirectorsKimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto WriterTimo Tjajanto StarringIko Uwais, Sunny Pang, Chelsea Islan Runtime118 minutes

More about Alister Burton

An aspiring writer and obsessed film fan putting the two together at worldcinemaguide.com. Favourite film - 2001: A Space Odyssey. Favourite director - Fritz Lang. Guilty pleasure - Hard Target.

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