Headshot (Cert 18)
1 Disc (Distributor: Arrow Video) Running Time: 118 minutes approx.
Recently I reviewed the 2014 Chilean action film Redeemer and commented on how its violence was more gory than most horror films. Trust the Indonesians to make a film that is even more grisly than that!
A man is washed up by a small beach and taken to hospital where student doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan) looks after him. Upon waking up the man (Iko Uwais) has no recollection of who he is or what happened to him, the only clue being the bullet lodged in his head. Ailin names her patient Ishmael and nurses him back to health but his past seems to bother him.
Meanwhile criminal gang leader Lee (Sunny Pang), known as the Father From Hell, learns that Ishmael is still alive and sends his men out to bring him in but with his memory still foggy, Ishmael is less than willing to go peacefully. So, Lee has Ailin kidnapped to make it easier – and as Ishmael goes in pursuit, he gradually get his memory back.
Co-directors The Mo Brothers aka Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto – the latter also the writer – were clearly inspired by The Raid films but were also intent on not producing a carbon copy, at least in terms of story and Uwais’s character. Action and violence wise there is a sense that outdoing The Raid was another primary motive as bold as that sounds, which may seem like pure folly.
Sensibly, Iko Uwais serves as action choreographer as he did on both The Raid films so we know ahead of time that quality is assured when it comes to the fights. Once again relying on pencak silat Martial Arts, the close combat fights are more of the bone shattering, fast kicking and heavily bruising affairs that put Uwais on the map.
The Jackie Chan-esque acrobats have been toned down a bit but that doesn’t mean Uwais has made things any easier for himself. In one scene Ishmael has to contend with a machete wielding nutter whilst handcuffed to a table in a small police interview room, whilst another scrap sees our amnesiac protagonist fighting inside a burning bus.
In keeping with Ishmael’s mysterious character he relies on extreme methods to survive as much as his fighting skills, not limited to such gruesome but desperate acts as ramming a bullet in an opponent’s eye socket or snapping a funny bone through an elbow joint! Through piecemeal flashbacks, it is revealed how this seemingly unassuming man is able to fight as dirty as his adversaries but not why he is such a threat to them.
Despite the open hostilities and attempts to take Ishmael’s life, Lee’s minions talk with familiarity to Ishmael but whatever hold Lee has over them is enough for any residual compassion to have been completely eroded. Only bespectacled hipster assassin Besi (Very Tri Yulisman) tries to reconnect with Ishmael but is resigned to the fate of his duty when he is rejected.
Another familiar face to viewers is female killer Rika, played by The Raid 2’s Hammer Girl Julie Estelle, another former close ally of Ishmael’s. She actually get some lines this time although you have to wait 82 minutes to hear them, otherwise she quietly smoulders before doing some severe damage to unsuspecting fools. With the credible moves, charisma and looks, Estelle must surely be prime for her own film lead?
The story may not offer too many surprises – the main reveal concerning Ishmael and lee’s relationship is shocking – but is functional enough to serve its purpose in getting the audience invested in Ishmael’s journey. Finding message or theme isn’t going to be easy but Lee’s history does suggest a subtext about bullies picking on the weakest, possibly even as a metaphor for Indonesia’s own social issues.
Some of it is by-the-numbers contrivance. For instance, Ishmael is the only one of his old criminal brethren who isn’t shaven headed or covered in tattoos, making him too clean cut to be evil. Then there is Ailin being a de facto love interest for Ishmael, telegraphed by the tied back hair, glasses and dowdy wardrobe failing to disguise how attractive she actually is.
In fact Chelsea Islan probably turns in the strongest performance, especially in the final act when her emotions get the better of her after all the torture she endures. Uwais is the same as he ever is while Sunny Pang revels in being so utterly evil and amoral as the megalomaniac Lee. Some of his dialogue is in English but he is hard to understand through the mumbling and his accent, and HOH subtitles are not supplied. Boo!
But this is about the action and boy does it ever deliver as already discussed. Fights are aplenty, shot with a very busy hand held camera and often in one take, pushing the skills of the performers to ungodly levels in the quest to be consistently precise, not discounting the immense physical punishment their bodies take.
For those enjoy the unbridled gore aspect, there is bloodshed barely two minutes into this film, setting the stall out nice and early for further scenes of claret spilling, flesh ripping, bone breaking and bullet laden chaos. Japanese wrestling fans should also look out for a cameo from NJPW star Hirooki Goto, who probably wished he was back in the ring!
The Mo Brothers have shot everything in luscious HD and it looks great but they have tried to make this orgy of blood and guts into a piece of art; some shots are very impressive and they experiment a lot with the camera angles and composition but ultimately most people won’t care as long as butts are being kicked.
Headshot may not possess the same finesse of The Raid films but that isn’t a concern at all. Enjoy this deliriously insane and viscerally gory action entertainment par excellence from Uwais and co. that stands up on its own blood stained merits!
Rating – ****
Man In Black