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Review: HEADSHOT Aims High, Nails It With Ballistic Action And Blunt Force
Sometimes I look back on Iko Uwais's career, and reflect on what life would be like without his prospects, and I think life would be a bit more boring without films such as Merantau and The Raid movies. In that sense, I think there's something providential here and especially since we now live in a time when action movies really could use a kick in the nuts, and there's no question that Uwais has been a leading force in that movement in the last eight years. For this, whenever most of of us who were born in the 80's or 90's think of the martial arts genre, we don't just think of the usual enterprises in the U.S. and U.K., or throughout Asia such as, Hong Kong or Korea and the like. Nope, our view has stretched beyond that measure with many places brewing with talent and a surge in film and Indonesia has certainly been much more prolific in recent memory since the genre's heyday in the 70's.
It is this prosperity that has led Uwais right before our eyes, and joined by some of the most amazing talent we would never know or hear of if someone with the werewithal and optimism didn't pay close enough attention for others to start noticing. That said, if you had asked me back in 2013 or earlier who the Mo' Brothers were, I couldn't tell you jack shit unless I Googled them - such is the practice I now partake in these days and now knowledgeable of their credentials as filmmakers since seeing their 2014 slasher, Killers, which was an absolute gorefest. I haven't seen Macabre or any of their previous joint titles for that matter and mostly seeing as how I'm not too into horror movies - although I won't say 'no' to watching it if the opportunities present themselves, but Killers was a pretty noteworthy sampling of how Timo and Kimo treat violence for intrigue and suspense-heavy stories. Thus, to see them step into the action arena with their newest venture, Headshot, was something of a big, warm, welcome hug from your cool uncle right before he hands you a beer AND a lounge seat in the mancave where the big TV and pizzas await.
So how does the film measure? Well, I can assure you that it won't bore you. From jump, you are literally thrown right into the bowels of hell with a hail of bullets and puddles of blood as your cushion. Following this, we meet a mysterious man pulled from the beach after washing ashore and on the verge of death. The man is hospitalized and taken into the care of a young nurse named Ailin who has been watching over him for close to two months in his comatose state and doesn't know what to do with herself apart from her usual routine... that is, until he wakes up. Disoriented and struggling with his environment and his periodic memory lapses, he slowly regains a sense of function with Ailin's help, and ultimately, her friendship. He takes the name 'Ishmael' with Ailin's approval and from there, a bond slowly blooms as Ishmael begins to regain some semblance of normalcy and restoration. Little do he and Ailin know that Ishmael's past has already taken afoot with the violent hooligans and killers he once called 'family' tracing his every footstep at the behest of a Lee, a vicious crime boss with a knack for manipulating children and turning them into coming-of-age soldiers. Soon enough, their efforts lead to Ailin's capture which forces Ishmael in his current, rickety mental state, to hone in on the skillset he's learned to face his enemies head-on, leading to a violent confrontation that will challenge him in more ways than several.
It was back in 2014 that I believe most of us were introduced to the likes of actor Very Tri Yulisman and actress Julie Estelle via Gareth Huw Evans's The Raid sequel, as well as Zack Lee and David Hendrawan. In Headshot, seeing all four cast members here was a tremendous service to fans being somewhat of a class reunion, and with roles that flesh out just a little more drama for each character to help carry the stimulus of the action as we witness Uwais, in the role of Ishmael, go head-to-head his former adopted siblings. Ishmael's confrontations with Yulisman as Besi and Estelle as Rika were two of the film's more distinctive and higher points for the film's story and accomplish most of what we needed to see happen.
With this in mind, it might have been useful to explore more of what happens between Ishmael and Besi, seeing as how this particular relationship is what contributes to the events leading up to Ishmael's near-demise prior to his rescue. It is the catalyst that ensues the violent upheaval and backlash in the film which ultimately consumes Ailin in the process, as seen handled by none other than actress Chelsea Islan. Her gravitas on screen lends greatly to the drama and growth we see from our actors, and primarily with Uwais who has all but maintained himself discernibly as an actor in large part. More to that end, theirs is a bit of a love story as well and while it is not made so obvious to the audience, it assures room for further exposition and intense development before all is said and done.
Coming into Headshot, it was also my introduction to actor Sunny Pang who I first learned of back in 2012. Hailing from Singapore as a prolific stuntman and actor, his latest role in Headshot stakes him a bit more noticeably on world stage some, here in the role of Lee, a notorious figure in the criminal underwold whose very reputation gets challenged by other seedy villains in the film. We witness this later on, though approvingly, the decision to introduce him first in the movie was an appropriate one. The film, unfortunately does suffer from a just few plot holes surrounding this particular character, and so in the course of meeting his "children", it was important to show who Lee was and specifically for the menace he is written to be as in the film. It serves the film well enough that you're not too lost in keeping up with the story, while Lee's unassuming figure almost guarantees his presence as a threat not to foolishly dismiss - a point in the character and quality, and overall brutality of the fight sequences.
As with The Raid 2, interestingly, the choice to give our film's own killers their own specialities in weapons is another rewarding characteristic in how the action is designed, as well as our characters. We see this with Besi and Rika as well as with actors Hendrawan and Lee who play Tano and Tejo, two of Lee's principally gun-toting henchmen who are equally skilled in throwing down and fighting dirty if necessary. The latter two especially bring a sense of depth to their intensity in their roles compared to what we are offered in the equally exceptional The Raid 2 and I especially thought Lee's performance was outstanding in its minimality.
In hindsight, bearing all these on the table, it still would have helped to delve a little more in key portions of this aspect of the story to magnify Ishmael's past some, in addition to the presumed closeness of these characters with that of Pang's. Instead, the plot does play itself short on some of these ends, although not too short to where we end up not completely caring. It's this end of the storytelling that also carries the fight action and that, fans will certainly love. It attributes some of the best things we have come to know and love in all of actor Uwais's deserved growth as a star and action hero in every right with the ability to choreograph fights that are ample, filling, hard-hitting, unrelenting, soft on mercy and hard on flesh and bone. The fight scenes in this film, from top to bottom, are a binding promise to fans that while we await Gareth Evans's third chapter continuing the Raid saga, Headshot is the meaty, fight-heavy, carb-loaded appetizer you seek in a world rife with PG-13 salads and super shaky cam dressing diced with the poor editing choices of either sequels from Bourne or Taken.
Headshot came out in the wake of major hype over Logan and had a limited release in theaters. Here, it played only at 11:00pm time slot at Cinema Village in Manhattan, N.Y.C.. It wasn't a huge movie theater chain establishment either as the screening room we were in was much smaller and initimate than what I'm normally used to, but what was even more surprising was how accessible it was. I got to the theater at around 9:45pm to buy my ticket, rushing an hour and a half in fear that the film would sell out as I had every intention of keeping my committment to seeing the film on the big screen. I told Sunny I would and while it would have been nice to see Logan as it was much closer to home and guaranteeing more time to sleep, I wasn't about to break my word...plus I hoped I would see some familiar faces there and needless to say, nobody I knew showed up out of the, say, twenty people who arrived in a room meant to seat about sixty-six.
The room was so small that when a woman who arrived ten minutes late to the film with her kids and didn't get off of her damn phone the entire time decided at one point that it would be a fun idea to try and take a selfie with her camera flash on, she almost immediately complied when a select few of us yelled at her, myself included and I was conveniently closer to her for her to get the hint. So, that was a thing. Apart from this, I looked at the crowd and seeing how small it was, it took me back to the earlier points that film duo Frank Grillo and Joe Carnahan made in defense of their push for a reboot of Uwais's 2011 thriller, The Raid, to which they stated in part that not a lot of people had heard of, and given the crowd size of Headshot whilst not really knowing of other crowds in theaters, it certainly confirmed the case that the two made, which kind of reverts this analysis back to the intial points on talent.
I absolutely LOVED The Raid 2. While the film wasn't a huge box office hit, it was shown in a major cinema chain with a larger crowd where I was which made its commercial reception so surprising and really, I'd like to believe this was the same instance everywhere else the film played. For this, I reckon why Vertical Entertainment might have been more keen on screening the movie through smaller chains and perhaps to reduce too much risk in its investment, and maybe they were right to. I don't know. I would like to think that more showtimes would have allowed for bigger crowds for the film...say, a 9:30 or a 10:00 p.m. showing or something. It's difficult to comprehend, I guess. I'm just an observer outside the beltway so I couldn't tell you why earnestly or completely distribution models run differently except for what my own opinions can offer. I personally think it would have been worth it to market the film just a little more if possible so that crowds could improve and perhaps Uwais could be much more known as a verifiable action star for moviegoers outside of Indonesia, and especially since appearing briefly in Keanu Reeves's Man Of Tai Chi and in J.J. Abrams's Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
He deserves it, and, as does Estelle who is both VERY talented in drama and action, and multilingual. Her range in Headshot impressed me to the point where I hope, now more than ever, that she will be the lead in her own equally stimulating, brutal and albeit fantastic action vehicle, and ever more so in genre that will never run out of a demand for more women in action roles. I love every inch of her as a performance artist and what she brings to the table - Point in fact, I say Kellie Madison should cast her with Amy Johnston in their feature film extension of The Gate and make it official. Action movies need her, and I wholly believe Timo, Kimo and even Iko would agree.
As for Headshot, you are presented with a thrilling, promising feature film pivot from two distinguished horror directors who are nevertheless still in their element with this particular treat. The story staggers just a smidget somewhere in the middle and the cinematography is not perfect, but you're given a mostly flawless presentation of quality work from a great team and prime performers who deserve every chance that comes their way to bring great action movies to the forefront for audiences. 2017 has already seen itself through with some of the best in action cinema, accordingly with the resurrection of Donnie Yen's prospects in Hollywood after xXx3 and the operatic, violent escapade shown in John Wick: Chapter Two, and as we speak, with the insurmountable praise received by viewers of the movie, Logan, over the weekend. Proudly, and with what more awaits for Tjahanto on his solo debut for The Night Comes For Us with Stamboel producing and Uwais joining lead actor Joe Taslim of The Raid fame, invariably, Headshot stands as an equal, milestone achievement.
I think it's safe to say you know your movie sucks when you not only screw the rights holders whose name and content you base your unsanctioned film on, but when said rights holders join the chorus of critics panning your movie from literally every angle of the internet. That is the level of achievement you have reached if your name is George Nolfi and you've directed a film called Birth Of The Dragon, long hyped to be a hopefully legendary homage to Bruce Lee, the late founder of Jeet Kune Do and patriarch of American martial arts movie fandom.
I could go on and on until I'm blue in the face about how excited I am for the new action thriller, Triple Threat. I won't, but I will throw my hat in with some words for seasoned stuntman and filmmaker Jesse V. Johnson who, in the wake of a stagnant directing career salvaged by the appeal drawn from his latest release, Savage Dog, has risen above expectations in opportune fashion.
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