Iko Uwais returns in this Raid-esque martial arts blast.

Indonesian martial arts actor and The Raid star Iko Uwais makes an explosive return to the big-screen with Headshot, captained by writer/producer of the brilliant Japanese-Indonesian psychological thriller Killers (2014), not to be confused with the Ashton Kutcher film of the same name.

Having collaborated with director Gareth Evans’ Indonesian martial arts movies (Merantau, The Raid, The Raid 2: Berandal), Uwais has appeared in both Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (the latter alongside other Raid actor Yayan Ruhian), but has arguably gone a little underused in both instances, considering the awesome talent of the emerging action star. His brief appearances in these western films feel more like filmmakers wanting to showcase that they too recognise and appreciate the explosive talent birthed by Merantau and The Raid. This is probably serves to boost the awareness of the films currently being produced in Indonesia, with Iko and Yayan set to perform in the surprising sequel to Skyline.

Our stuntman, choreographer, martial artist actor plays Ishmael, an injured amnesiac whose memories come to haunt him in the most stupefying of ways following (yep, you guessed it) a headshot. Although the basic plot summary of Headshot sounds suspiciously close to that Steven Seagal Hard to Kill (1990), Seagal’s movies have been going direct-to-DVD for some time, the man himself refusing to reinvent himself as other 1980/90’s action stars like Stallone and Schwarzeneger have done via a number of means, including the self-parodying nature of The Expendables movies.

The film, as with that of The Raid or John Wick, can be forgiven for it’s more simplistic narrative, with a core focus within the film and the martial arts genre as a whole aimed at awe-inspiring talent and stunts on show. We are not looking for the next Godfather film, afterall, instead ticking all of the relevant and intended boxes. Headshot‘s plot is interesting as Ishmael tries to discern whether he was a good or a bad person, but numerous flashbacks mean that audiences will see the answers materialise far before they come to fruition in the film.

That some English is used in the film by Indonesian actors, as opposed to the usual native of prior movies, is of particular interest. We have already taken note of that fact that western filmmakers are already intrigued by these films, giving Uwais small parts and building upon the already impressive reputation of Indonesian martial arts film. The addition of English language seems a little bit arbitrary, a conscious decision to make the film more marketable to wider demographics who shudder at subtitles, but mirrors the way in which martial arts masters Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen gained fame abroad following the cult success of Bruce Lee and the subsequent Brucesploitation cycle, slowly introducing western elements while eastern aspects feed into the western mainstream, in an ongoing circle.

The talented Uwais too lead the choreography for the film during pre-production, and it shows, with fighters in the film representing a wide variety of martial arts techniques, including silat, wushu and brutal fighting. The naturally visceral martial arts of Uwais is emphasised by the fact that fellow The Raid 2 actors Zack Lee, ‘Baseball Bat Man’ Very Tri Yulisman and ‘Hammer Girl’ Julie Estelle also co-star. These actors have already learned one another’s techniques and boundaries and personalities, thus honing the believability and gritty realism of the onscreen fight sequences – the true meat and gravy of the genre. Take your pick of tradition one-on-one fight sequences produced with expert precision, or the many one-versus-many that call back to that of The Raid movies in the very best of ways to suspends your disbelief, Headshot hosts a multitude of breathtaking sequences.

Cinematography by Yunus Pasolang makes for an incredibly visual action thriller. Camera motion involved in the many fight sequences mimic that of The Raid, flawlessly executing an intense and immediate style that perfectly flows with the onscreen action. In happy contrast, other scenes are shot with a high level of consciousness towards balanced composition and neat attention to the rule of thirds, accentuated by the grungy colour pallet employed.

Mixing the impending threat and dark psychological tone of Killers with the explosively amazing action of both of The Raid movies, Headshot should serve to tide us over in the wait to the The Raid 3, with Evans having put the franchise to bed for the time-being to purportedly work on some other films, one of which includes a martial arts film with Uwais. Personally, it’s a smart move. Both he and Uwais struck gold with The Raid, and mined an oil deposit with the sequel, so time may be the best factor in avoiding the curse of part-three syndrome. In the meantime, Headshot, as a Raid 2.0 of sorts, more than suffices to quench our thirst for the high-octane intensity of Indonesian martial arts movies, ending with a final fight sequence that exceeds expectations.


The Film Fanatic