After the adrenaline ride, that was The Raid and its sequel The Raid 2, catapulted Iko Uwais onto international circles, it was only a matter of time before the buzz he acclaimed in recent years embarked him on an entirely new project. Audiences beware; Headshot is not for the faint-hearted.
As soon as the lights faded in the Broadway Cinema, and the red curtains showcasing the Mayhem logo drew to the sides signaling the beginning of the film, it became rather clear that whatever hopes I may have had for Headshot to be an entirely different beast from The Raid franchise, were to be disregarded. In fact, the very first scene in the film is in some respect the bloodiest, most brutal affair in the whole movie. It features notorious criminal leader and child abductor Lee – played to perfection by Sunny Pang, whose indifference toward brutality really depict the character’s cruelty – as he escapes imprisonment by using many other inmates as fodder for the guard’s onslaught of shots.
The plot itself revolves around Uwais’ character Ishmael, an amnesiac who washes ashore, and whose troubled past leads him to confront Indonesia’s most despicable crime lord, Lee, and his number of followers, notably Tejo (David Hendrawan) and Rika (Julie Estelle). As is to be expected, Ishmael’s path makes him discover he is more skilful than most…particularly when it comes to combat.
“Director, Kimo Stamboel, manages to give the scenes a sense of urgency and unpredictability, without compromising the bread and butter of the fight scenes, the actual fighting.”
To say that Headshot plays out the same as Raid is not entirely correct. There is certainly a fleshed out plot this time around, with a romance weaved in that although not entirely believable, does give the movie some much needed emotional stakes. However the plot is very minimal and feels at times like an instrument to get from fight scene A to fight scene B.
While we are in the topic of fight scenes, I feel the need to stress something to the best of my abilities: they are GOOD. Of course, this was to be expected. The usual elements of any of Uwais’ films are present, whether it be the seamless choreography of the action, the long, almost episodic structuring of the scenes (reminiscent of fight scenes in anime), or just the sheer violence of it all. All the elements mix well together and the result is a hodgepodge of intense badassery.
The directing has a lot of merit in how stylistic the fight scenes look. The over-emoting of the fighters, together with the vivid colour schemes give even the goriest of fight scenes an almost comic-booky feel. The camerawork employs shaky cam yes, but it does so without the fast-paced editing that many western action flicks use with it to hide an actual lack of choreographed fighting. This way the director, Kimo Stamboel, manages to give the scenes a sense of urgency and unpredictability, without compromising the bread and butter of the fight scenes, the actual fighting.
Instead of the fast edits, Stamboel opts to have the camera follow the action from a single character’s perspective. A notable choice as it is far too easy to fall into the trap of simply setting up a number of wide shots and letting the action happen within them. We see every movement down to the last detail just as Ishmael does, which keeps the scenes from getting stale and, more importantly, keeps us guessing as to what the opponent is going to do next. Trust me, the adrenaline kicks in.
I personally am a fan of movies like The Raid for what they are, and my initial disappointment over the overly formulaic nature of this film was quickly swayed by just how well executed it was. Fans of the asian action genre and people coming in with certain expectations will enjoy this film.
That being said, when it comes to the plot and how cohesive it feels, there are many missed opportunities, and spectators waiting to see a more traditional film will be checking their watches constantly. This is especially true towards the last third of the movie, where it devolves into a series of back to back fight scenes.
An extremely well executed action film with terrific performances, that will unfortunately alienate several people with different expectations.
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