At first, Merantau will probably get an inevitable comparison to Ong-Bak. Well, at least, I did and at first, the resemblance was there, too. It features a young man who has a penchant of a traditional martial-arts. He was on some sort of quest (here, the motivation differs) that put him up against some bad dudes. Soon, fight ensues, and you know the drill. For the sake of fair review, I’ll stop making the comparison here. Merantau is kinda overlong, and I can’t say that the series of fights are really worth the wait. However, they are exactly on par with my expectations so I really don’t have a problem there. Plus, I love how the film choses to laid the fates of its characters. At such, I found that I could enjoy Merantau, and even manages to get out of the theater with a smile.
Yuda is a young man grows in a traditional village somewhere in West Sumatra (my wife, who has a thorough knowledge on the area says it’s probably around Baso). By tradition, when it comes to a certain age he will go on a voyage to adulthood called “Merantau.” Oh, and he’s pretty good Silat fighter as well. His voyage bring him into the heart of Jakarta where he met some friends, and of course, foes and just like its advertisement says, one would expect a lot of martial-art showmanships.
First and foremost, I hated the pace. It’s horrible, bordering to agonizing at times. At more than two hours (they say, the international version would be shorter), the film lingers a lot with hope that it’s going to build some emotional aspects. I personally found that they’re a bit excessive particularly if the scene involves the kid actor which is when I started to cringe and swaying impatiently in my seat. In fact, you could get in the theater thirty minutes into the film just when Yuda is set to depart from his home village and won’t missed a thing (unless crisp colors and beautiful scenery of West Sumatra are your thing) because the way the film goes, you’ll be ended up rooting for him along the way, anyway.
In film like this, you don’t expect gray characters and this holds true with Yuda. He’s white with no hints of gray and you’ll see him as such. As well with the main villain whom as black as you would expect which gives you pretty good idea and who you’ll be cheering on when it’s time for them to trade fists in the finale. I went into film expecting a lot of fights with a thin coat of plot and characters to merely give them reasons to fight more. However, I was surprised that there are actually two characters I fell in love with. The first is Eric, Yuda’s companion who at first, I had mistakenly for a petty-robber who would get beaten and forgotten before everybody else. You know, sort of like the first level’s boss for Yuda to beat in order for him to go to the next level. In my opinion, Eric, is as close as gray character you’d get in this film and I had enjoyed his minimal on-screen time. Not strong enough to steal the light, but good enough to get noticed and loved by yours truly here.
The second one, and it’s rather hard for me to admit, I liked Astri’s character however cliche her story may sounds. She may not perfect in term of acting, yet, but at times, her emotional oozes out and it screams potential and also, how the film laid her story has a good share of contribution for me to like her character. The only character I really despised is perhaps Adit, Astri’s younger brother he’s more annoying than innocent as the film wants him to be but probably it’s just me because kid actors are seldom pleases me.
Now, the fights. It is WELL DONE. They didn’t beat my expectation (mind you, my expectation was pretty high) but they didn’t disappoint. Far from it. There are exactly three times where I goes “ooohhh,” which means I was pleased with how the stunts did their job. In order they are, the crossing bridge scene, the rooftop and a bamboo scene, and the red cargo crate scene. You’ll know it when you see it. Some of the audiences (the theater is fully packed, by the way) are actually clapping on two separate scenes (I forgot which, but one of them is certainly during the very first fight scene). These testimonies alone should give you ample enough reason to have no doubt that the fight scenes, plus the stunt jobs are exceptional. Remember, we’re talking about Indonesian film here.
All in all, “Merantau” is a pretty good experience. Sure, the film is slow, and probably left you impatient during the first act. But when the fight starts you’re probably found yourself hold that bathroom call a little longer and the ending is rather unexpected. In fact, I love the ending and if you knew me, you’re probably going to have a pretty good idea how the film is going to end. Oh, one more thing, I love this film better than I love “Ong-Bak.” Both films and I didn’t talk like that because I’m an Indonesian.
My rating: *** / **** Well polished. I may like it better if they cut the film some more (they say the international cut is almost thirty minutes shorter than the version I saw today). Good cinematography, exceptional stunt jobs, and above average characters. One of the best Indonesian film I’ve seen for quite a long time.