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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Review: Asun Mawardi's Hitman Thriller, #66, Hits Hard And Jagged, Maintains A Bloody Bodycount


Following Asian cinema, one thing you will realize with certain titles is that they never see the light of day beyond their own respective nations' and territories. Places like Indonesia and Malaysia are a good example of this misfortune where some otherwise appealing films get stuck despite presenting viral and pretty appealing trailers, many of which I know action fans would enjoy to some extent or another if given the chance.

It's certainly a palpable topic for director and actor Asun Mawardi whose 2011 film, Pirate Brothers, didn't see a U.S. release on VoD and DVD until several years later with the new title, Mortal Enemies, and much to our delight as a film that consumers like myself don't have to torrent with a company like Lionsgate stepping up to stake its claim. For this, I hope that directors like Anggy Umbara, Awi Suryadi and others will be able to ascend their films to other markets, especially as Mawardi has with his latest action thriller, #66, which has already landed a raft of awards, nominations and official selection nods in the festival circuit including in China, the U.K., and in North America.

Taking the lead here all the same is Mawardi himself who stars in the title role - an aged and battle-worn hitman at the end of his rope and ready to start anew. After failing to carry out the hit order of a witness at the behest of a local crimeboss, he heads home to rekindle his broken relationship with his father, Norman (Yayu AW Unru) and brother, Ari (Ricardo Silenzie) but the reception is neither immediate nor warm. While he works to regain what he lost after leaving his family, his actions soon catch up to him when he realizes that the auspices of the criminal underworld he thought he left behind have a far greater reach than he expected.

Forcibly hired by local businessman Mr. Martin (Erwin St. Bagindo) as a bodyguard to his daughter Fara (Donita), #66 struggles to balance the calm of being a mere criminal underling while also keeping care of Ari whose debt to Mr. Martin may also extends to employment where and whenever necessary. It's another mere notch in the succession politics of the criminal underworld that also embroils Fara's own non-profit charity in the swarm of controversy surrounding her father's business dealings, including with ambitious land developer Mr. John (Ali Syehan). Those politics are soon put to the test when Mr. John attempts to usurp power from Mr. Martin and his family, landing Fara in danger and leaving #66 no choice but to fight one more all-or-nothing battle for more than his own freedom.

What stands out the most in films like these is the action. Most of it is solid while only a few moments does the choreography slip, and largely due to poor camerawork or execution. Apart from this, you can expect tons of shining moments that introduce you Mawardi as a talented actor who can perform action and make it work on camera. The film itself doesn't wait too long either before showcasing Mawardi in action and singlehandedly taking out two loansharks.

The design and look of his character is also interesting to observe and even fun. Grisled, he dresses rugged with ripped jeans, long dark hair and a black leather jacket, and he rides a motorcycle. He keeps to himself as he deals with his stoicism and affliction as a killer, tired and desperate for a change and quietly yearning for more and better, invoking a humility and wisdom to the benefit of his almost unassuming image, and the only way you'd probably know he were a threat is if you attacked him or goaded him into a duel. His growing chemistry with the beautiful and headstrong Fara doesn't extend so far as any romantic interest, which keeps things grounded instead of absurd and typical, although some of this could have been treated a little more leniently by the end.

The film certainly carries a few memorable performances, especially with that of actor Djaitov Tigor who plays Jack, #66's spikey-haired blonde senior henchman under Mr. Martin's employ. What will definitely intrigue you to some degree is the intertwining drama and politics within ?Mr. Martin's family, including his uncle, James, played by Joshua D. Pandelaki, with Syehan, as Mr. John, gripping the turning point of the film past halfway as any good movie villain should. His motives brandish more than one dimension along with his persona, so much so that for one glimmering moment and despite his accumulating duplicitous nature and intent, you're almost pulled in. His is a role that loses complete sight of which way is up, which makes his character all the more exemplary, advanced further by a largely good script and a cast of worthy principles who can carry drama from start to finish.

A polished production would have served this film much better in ways that would definitely enhance the action, as well as the overall tone and ambience of the film throughout its progression. The story is not without its share of holes, but the few that are present don't undercut the journey our viewers take in meeting these characters one by one. Actress Donita's performance as Fara lends heart and soul to the dark and criminal world we are immersed in - admirable traits on top of an otherwise helpless supporting heroine whose petit build, idealistic views and willful ignorance toward her father's growing notoriousness may draw ire every now and then.

The violence is well kept in its gruesomeness and execution, laden with treatments of noticable CG gunfire, bulletholes and bloodsplatter that often outweigh some of the more practical effects in various set pieces. Key here, however, is the attentiveness to speed, tonality and ingenuity of the choreography courtesy of editor and action director Ryan Adrian Tedja, and fight choreographer Franki Darmawan with the brusing and bone crunching stuntwork of the stunt team within Mawardi's Creative Motion Pictures banner. Empty-handed fighting and gun battles comprise a bulk of the action while others include the use of bats, clubs and even knives, the latter which accomodates one or two of the most fast and violent kills you'll ever enjoy watching in an action movie.

In sum, I would say that #66 is right up there with John Wick. It succeeds in telling a conducive story with the necessary drama to balance it all out, along with just enough scant humor to show a little more dimension. The film delivers escapist action and violence in spades, along with good acting and performances that otherwise uphold Mawardi's standing as a filmmaker worth paying attention to.

Part of meeting Mawardi's #66 also invites the possibility of learning a little more about who he is and where he comes from as per the assassin's organization he worked for - hence the number where his name used to be. The film doesn't explore this aspect of his character development - with slight exception to the presence of fellow hitman #33 played by Hendra Louis Alexander Eman - and unfortunately fumbles the few other ways it could have harnessed this particular setup before all else, and you're essentially left with a story that moves forward on its own. Alas, the film is far from perfect and might even leave you with more questions than the film was able to answer. For all intents and purposes, however, Mawardi and his team bring a watchable, thrilling and entertaining piece of Indonesia's local talent to the world and caters to the action niche, serving its purpose accordingly. On that end, the film works, and I hope Mawardi's own moviemaking prospects land him further opportunities from here on, and with any luck, one which will allow viewers to explore the world that made #66 who he is.

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