Headshot Review [TIFF 2016]
Dear America – please outsource all action films to Indonesia from here-on-out. How can you watch a movie like Headshot and be content with typical US ground-and-pound generics? The Mo Brothers (Kimo Stamboel/Timo Tjahjanto) break more bones than a twenty-story fall, (assumably) spending most of their budget on limb-cracking practical effects that still can’t distract from such aggressive beauty. Iko Uwais makes Jason Bourne look like a punk bitch in this brilliantly bone-crunching symphony of destruction, proving both the Mo Brothers and Mr. Uwais to be as boldly badass as we hoped their latest genre assault would permit.
Uwais plays a man who calls himself Ishmael, only because he wakes up in a hospital bed with no memory or identification. In the room is a napping Dr. Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who’s shocked by the previously-comatose patient’s now lively demeanor. She immediately begins nursing the empty-minded Ishmael back to strength, but not before a ruthless gang of killers intervenes. Eventually, Ailin finds herself kidnapped by an underground kingpin named Lee (Sunny Pang), who lures Ishmael to his complex with the feminine bait. Whatever past Ishmael can’t remember surely didn’t forget him, as memories flood back with each fist-to-face connection.
Surprisingly, the Mo Brothers attempt to make Headshot a bit more accessible than their previous genre fare (Macabre/Killers). While the action is gratuitously – and invigoratingly – hurt-so-good violent, Uwais also finds himself playing out a sweetly juvenile love story between Ishmael and Ailin. Without warning, Headshot goes from skull-fracturing baton beatings to sappy, way-too-long hugs under a cute plastic umbrella – something wholly unexpected from both Uwais and the Mos – and it mostly works. In like a gory-schoolyard-romance kind of way that’s sometimes campier than expected, but still adoring enough to offer more substance than punches, kicks and the occasional kicking a dude’s ass while chained to a table.
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But you’re here for the action – not Uwais’ lovestruck eyes. Some of that sweet, sweet Pencak Silat float-like-a-butterfly but sting like Hellboy’s fist type shit, which is so intense it’ll give you whiplash. Uwais and the Mo Brothers extend fight sequences to the point of exhaustion, and we still never want them to stop. Everything is a weapon – chopsticks, desks, broken plates, bus seats – and bodies are pulverized in animalistic fits of action brutality. Punishing is an understatement. Uwais’ expert choreography keeps the hits coming in a whirlwind of carnage and chaos, always expanding upon whatever adrenaline high had just previously been achieved.
Every performer works to deliver a more professional kind of action film, one that leverages weight and assaults through situational awareness. Sand is thrown to distract while faces are slammed onto machetes protruding between split desk wood. Nothing is taken for granted, as Ishmael fights his way through an increasingly arduous cavalcade of boss battles in the most video-game-surreal style. Two gun-crazy bros (David Hendrawan and Zack Lee) duke it out with Ishmael in a police slaughterhouse, but as sprawling and worthy their respective showdown becomes, it’s just a mere appetizer. Epy Kusnandar and Julie Estelle challenge Uwais’ hero to one-on-one exchanges that are nothing but fluid martial arts bliss, equating to a emphatic endorphin-high and surpassed expectations.
Then there’s the baddie, Mr. Lee – the Father Of Hell as he’s referred to. Ishmael has an obvious connection to the psychopath (revealed early on), and it’s Sunny Pang who chills to the bone as a ruthless mentor to his ass-kicking children. Aside from soulless, demon-like glares, Pang’s ability to keep up with Uwais come the film’s inevitable “Bowser” moment is a hearty finale, making the endurance test of Ishamel’s quest worth all the flashbacks, snapped-necks and slashed-to-hell corpses.
Headshot is yet another action film built for lovers of a genre who have been domestically underwhelmed for too long. Guns are an afterthought in Uwais’ mind, as fists and feet are much deadlier weapons when controlled by true masters. The story may play second fiddle to an almost forgettable extreme at times, but you won’t notice. You’ll be too busy wincing and cheering after every acrobatic deathblow that this top-notch fight for dominance delivers. Violence shouldn’t be this breathtaking or devilishly indulgent – but that’s the Mo Brothers and Iko Uwais for you!
As punishing as it is grotesquely poetic, Headshot is a healthy dose of breathtaking brutality that makes you hold on for dear life.