HEADSHOT: The Unofficial THE RAID Sequel We All Want
Headshot is a bit too melodramatic and tries to emulate The Raid sequels too blatantly, yet it is just enough to satisfy action junkies.
When it hit the festival circuit back in early 2012, Gareth Evan’s The Raid made an incredibly quick impact on the action movie scene as soon as it was released. Coming from seemingly nowhere, Evans’ simplistically plotted but intricately choreographed martial arts film became the new reference point when it came to great action cinema; despite being an Indonesian title, it became an extremely well known picture worldwide.
Part of the film’s success was the introduction of actor/martial artist Iko Uwais, the film’s protagonist who kicked tremendous ass in the film, displaying his abilities as an engaging lead man who was unafraid to do his own stunts, instantly becoming the Indonesian Jackie Chan. Since its release, The Raid has had quite an understated influence in action cinema, even leading to an appearance by Uwais in Star Wars: Force Awakens (where he was sadly wasted in a one-line cameo).
The reason I chose to highlight The Raid is because of how much of the film exists in the construction of the Mo Brothers‘ latest action film Headshot. It’s directed by the Mo Brothers, Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto, a pair of Indonesian genre filmmakers whose previous entries include the gory horror film Macabre and crime thriller Killers (which was executively produced by Gareth Evans), both of which are compellingly violent pictures. Timo Tjahjanto also co-directed a segment with Evans for the horror anthology VHS 2, so there is a definite link from the Mo Brothers to Gareth Evans, both of the major players in the rise of Indonesian genre cinema that’s now getting attention in Western markets.
Despite his lack of credit here, everything about Headshot screams The Raid, from the casting of Iko Uwais and Julie Estelle, the cinematography, the video game structure of the narrative, and the overall feel of the picture. Whilst this isn’t a bad thing, especially for someone like myself who is an obsessive fanboy of The Raid series and Evans’ work overall, Headshot fails to create a separate identity itself, continuously languishing in the shadow of Evans’ iconic martial arts films.
The Basic Story
Iko Uwais stars as “Ishmael”, a mysterious man who is found washed on a beach by a lonely fisherman. Taken into hospital with a large head wound, the man is named Ishmael by his attending nurse Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who is instantly taken by the ambiguous stranger. Eventually waking up from his coma, Ishmael cannot remember anything about his past at all, creating a new life with Ailin and the fisherman who saved his life. As the powerful gang leader Lee (Sunny Pang) learns of Ishmael’s reappearance, he kidnaps Ailin in an attempt to force Ishmael to confront his secret background and slowly find out about the man he once was.
As a consistently entertaining action film, Headshot absolutely fits the bill. Following the video game-like structure of The Raid movies (and other martial arts films before it), Headshot employs a pretty simplistic narrative to hang its various action set pieces on, making sure the plot never gets in the way of its relentless fight sequences. Starting off with an aggressively fierce jailbreak scene that immediately sets the grisly tone for the film which it never strays from, the upbeat energy established at the beginning is only paused momentarily during the clunky first act.
During the empathy-driven first act, the film sets up its emotional and narrative stakes in a way which is clear, but filled with a series of clichés and unearned romantic moments that delays the film’s inevitable fighting sequences. Although, with the film front-loading its melodramatic elements like this, the relentless action in the second half carries throughout the rest of the narrative with enough setups and character motivations that every scene makes sense, and the film never has to slow down or pause to reestablish personality traits or plot motives.
Emotion in Motion
Whilst people may feel the narrative of Headshot may be overly melodramatic, especially as Ishamel and Ailin begin their virtuous romance, it gives the film an emotional undertone that attempts to give the characters a role above objects that fight each other. The melodramatic elements intrude in the film’s action-centric second half at times, especially distracting between a penultimate fight scene between Ishmael and Rika, played by The Raid 2‘s Julie Estelle. Apart from that and a questionable choice for the end credit music (a bit too cheesy compared to the gruesome carnage that occurred before it), the film keeps these moments quick and sporadically placed, so I never felt like they were overly dragging the film down or limiting its potential.
A mixture of gunplay and hand-to-hand combat frequently reshapes the action sections so they never get old, employing a diverse lot of different locations that avoids the typical action film tropes of old warehouses or open fields (bland locations that allow the viewpoint to be focused on the combat). Much like the second half of The Raid 2, the narrative of Headshot falls into a series of one-on-one confrontations, as Ishmael slowly fights his way through an assortment of assassins who each engage in their own unique brand of fighting, which range from batons, knives, pistols and more. Something that distracts from these scenes is the high usage of CGI blood, a shabby looking effect that cheapens the awesome martial arts/gunfight battles that are escalating on-screen.
One factor that contributes to the film’s blistering violent set-pieces is Iko Uwais’ martial arts abilities and his capacity to take as much as damage as he deals out. Whilst the traditional martial arts film features leading men who deal out justice and violence whilst staying completely untouched or unaffected, Headshot goes towards a more Die Hard route and makes Ishmael quite a vulnerable hero. Even though the film exaggerates the amount of harm that the usual person could take and continue living (and fighting), Ishmael is continuously compromised during his fight scenes and must genuinely fight his way to winning his battles, rather than it being an unearned series of one-sided fights.
Headshot is a brutally efficient action film, one which fulfills the cravings that Gareth Evans’ Raid films have left us with. Employing their roots in gruesome genre cinema, the Mo Brothers have shown a stronger handle on directing action, even though they tend to frequently borrow from The Raid series a bit too much, a pair of movies that Headshot is so obviously trying to emulate.
Iko Uwais reminds us of his leading man skills, able to shift between the film’s different emotional beats and the bouts of ferocious carnage that he constantly finds himself in. Due to a consistently changing parade of characters and locations for Uwais to battle within, the constant fight scenes never get boring, and are the highlights of the film’s nearly 2-hour running time. If you can look past the movie’s clichéd script and sporadic melodramatic elements, Headshot is a turbulent bloodbath, a film which understands what action junkies demand from their movies and attempts to give them the martial arts massacre that they desire.
Are you a fan of the emerging rise of Indonesian genre cinema?
Headshot opened in cinemas on March 3.
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