Saturday, August 17, 2013

Instant Action: Merantau (2009)

That's a heck of a lot of ass kicking to dole out for a girl you hardly know!

Written By: Gareth Evans
Directed By: Gareth Evans

I was floored by the action in Gareth Evans 2011 effort, Serbuan maut. That film had a lot of hype accompanying it, but I was still impressed by the type and tenacity of action presented by Mr. Evans. My mind was a blank slate going into Serbuan maut, but the same cannot be said for my state of mind when I started watching Merantau. Thanks to my previous exposure to Mr. Evans most popular film I came into his sophomore effort with certain expectations. Most of those expectations were met, and that's both a positive and negative in this case.

There's only one place to begin a discussion of Merantau, the martial arts action. I remain super impressed with the way that Mr. Evans films his action scenes. They are hard hitting and visceral in the best of ways. This isn't the stuff of light tag that is too often present in Hollywood action films. When someone is hit in Merantau their pain is easy to feel. The violence of the film brings with it a level of immediacy that makes the action easier to swallow. A lot of the action in Merantau is far fetched, but I bought into it because of how immediate said action was presented.

Where Mr. Evans most shines as a director is in his understanding of space and surroundings. The fight choreography of Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian deserves special mention. However, without Mr. Evans having his camera in the right place at the right time during every single fight the choreography would have been lessened. Mr. Evans focuses on the area around the fight, and to great effect. Some fight scenes have a claustrophobic feel, while others feel like the entire world is at the fighters disposal. Added to this is the way that Mr. Evans implements the sound work of Ichsan Rachmaditta. The various working parts of Merantau are really good in and of themselves, but it is the guiding hand of Mr. Evans that brings those elements together to craft a very well made film.

That's not to say that Merantau is a perfect film, or even that it is on the same level as Serbuan maut. In every aspect Merantau is an inferior film to Serbuan maut, but it's still a good motion picture. The main problem I had with the film was that it did drag in the non-fighting moments and that on the whole the film could have stood to lose a good fifteen to twenty minutes from its run time. The fighting, or martial arts if you will, in Merantau is lean and mean, but the movie doesn't always follow suit. The story that surrounds the fighting is bare bones. That isn't a problem all by its lonesome, but Mr. Evans spends far too much time on such a weak story. This in turn causes the film to drag and lose a lot of the momentum that the fight scenes build up. Luckily the fight scenes do eventually come around and get the movie back on track. But, Merantau is a tad too on the bloated side for the type of film it wants to be.

Merantau falls well short of being a great film, but it's still a darn good action flick. The story can be tossed aside, and the bloated nature of the film shouldn't pose too much of a detriment to the film. The fighting in Merantau is where it's at, and in that aspect the film delivers on all of its promise. The kinetic energy of Mr. Evans action direction pulled me in and refused to let me go. Any action fan should find something to like in the action provided by Merantau. I know I did, and I know that Gareth Evans has emerged as one of the best young action directors working today.




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