It seems that every time I read or hear anything about Merantau, the new action film from Indonesia, it is invariably being compared with the Thai martial arts classic Ong Bak. Having just seen Merantau myself, I can certainly appreciate some similarities between the 2 films, in particular the starring of an unknown actor who has amazing fighting skills, combining speed, agility and fearlessness to wow the audience. However, there are also quite a lot of very obvious differences, as Merantau features a more interesting story, better acting and a female lead who is often scene-stealing. So I think I ought to stop mentioning Ong Bak in this review, and suggest you check out our reviews of Ong Bak 1 and 2 if you are interested.
’Merantau’ refers to the journey of a boy becoming a man in the Minangkabau culture. Yuda (Iko Uwais) is a simple, kind-hearted young man who goes to Jakarta on his merantau. Soon after his arrival, he saves dancer Astri (Sisca Jessica) from a group of thugs. What he does not realise is that at that very moment, both his merantau and troubles have truly begun…
The most impressive thing about Merantau is indeed Iko Uwais, the young actor with superb martial art skills. The style he practises is Pencak Silat, a unique Indonesian form of martial arts, reportedly never before featured in action films. The action scenes are incredibly fast and hard-hitting, and I believe the looks of pain on the faces of the stuntmen after being hit are real rather than pretend. These are tough fighters in action we get to see in the film. As a result, all the fight scenes, which are beautifully choreographed, are amazing to watch.
For a movie that focuses on action, the acting is surprisingly solid. Iko Uwais, who plays the main character, is actually pretty good in portraying the young hero’s emotions. The female lead, Sisca Jessica, with her good looks and decent acting ability, manages to dominate whatever screen time she gets given. Christine Hakim, who plays Yuda’s mother, gives a quiet, sensitive and touching performance. I must say however that I am less impressed with actor Mads Koudal’s performance here. He plays the main villain rather unconvincingly, and I find him less than menacing in his portrayal of what really is a very nasty character.
Overall, Merantau is a fun action film. The martial arts skills on display are impressive, and coupled with a decent story, the film is an enjoyable roller coaster ride through the mean streets of Jakarta. I think Iko Uwais has the potentials to become a big action star, and certainly hope his journey to major stardom isn’t quite as stormy as that of Tony Jaa’s.