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Film Review: Tarung Sarung (2020)

Gone are the days when local and regional films are thought to be inferior to Hollywood productions. Thanks to a burgeoning film industry, Southeast Asian movies are on the rise: and while they may lack the big budget their Hollywood counterparts have, some of these films more than make up for it through creative storytelling, beautifully choreographed scenes, and something Hollywood films might find hard to integrate – culture and heritage.

Tarung Sarung (literally ‘sarong fight’) is one of these movies, and it surprised me with how much heart it has, despite the simplistic plot. Directed by Archie Hekagery and starring young actor Panji Zoni in his movie debut, the film was supposed to be released in April last year, but was postponed due to the pandemic and subsequently released on Netflix on 31 December 2020.

Synopsis

Deni Ruso (Panji Zoni) is the spoiled and arrogant young scion of one of the richest families in Jakarta, who thinks that money makes the world go round. After a fight in a club which was caught on camera, Deni’s mother Dina sends him packing to Makassar, to manage a resort development project and learn some responsibility. There, he meets Tenri (Maizura), a local girl who is passionate about environmentalism, and is opposed to the resort project.

Deni hides his identity from Tenri in order to get closer to her, and sparks fly. Unfortunately, he gets on the wrong side of Sanrego (Cemal Faruk), a local thug who intends to marry Tenri. Sanrego challenges Deni to ‘tarung sarung‘ (literally, sarong fight) – a traditional martial arts practiced by the Bugis people of Makassar, whereby the participants take part in close one-on-one combat within a sarong. Naturally, Deni gets pummeled, and wanting revenge, seeks help from the village’s undefeated former champion Pak Khalid (Yayan Ruhian), who runs the local mosque, to train him in the ways of the sport. And while Deni starts off wanting to get back at Sanrego, he soon finds motivation and strength from other reasons: the love of Tenri, belief in himself, and ultimately, finding god.

Thoughts

Tarung Sarung is heavily inspired by The Karate Kid (I mean, Deni Ruso? Daniel LaRusso? lol) and follows the typical martial arts film formula, where we follow the journey of our naive and inexperienced hero undergoing training and tutelage under a master, emerging not only stronger physically but as a better person. And while the film doesn’t bring anything groundbreakingly new to the table, it still makes for a surprisingly entertaining drama about teenage love and discovering one’s self, with bits of action thrown in.

Now, I haven’t watched many Indonesian films so I don’t have a benchmark to compare it with, but I felt that the acting was pretty good, especially from Panji Zoni, who pulls off the role of rich, spoiled brat really well. (If I was 10 years younger I’d probably be fan girling coz he’s pretty cute).

Yayan Ruhian as Pak Khalid is also superb. He exudes a tranquil, Mr Miyagi vibe; friendly and wise, but not someone you’d want to piss off. Granted, I did feel that some of the other performances felt rather forced, like Deni’s two sidekicks Gogos and Tutu (who are there to provide comic relief), and the villain Sanrego whose one-sided personality seems to comprise of only over-the-top machismo and angry grunting…but overall I liked the characters and performances, as they feel relatable and believable. Tenri, for example, is a well written character who, despite wearing a hijab and being covered up, is a strong, independent girl with her own dreams and aspirations – a departure from the usual damsel-in-distress roles girls that look like her are supposed to play.

What I really enjoyed, however, is the film’s unique Indonesian perspective, which is refreshing to see in a sea of cookie-cutter action films themed around fighting and violence. Deni, who believes in nothing but the power of money and influence, is slowly guided to discover more about god and religion, which is obviously a big part of Indonesian life. Prior to watching the film, I had also never heard about tarung sarung (which is a real thing in Indonesia), so it piqued my interest in art. Back in the day, duels were fought to the death with badik (a traditional dagger) but this is no longer practiced today (in the movie, they fight bare fisted instead).

There are also interesting bits highlighting Indonesian culture, such as a scene where Deni takes part in pindah rumah, a practice where everyone in the village works together to help carry an entire house from one place to another (this can be done because the traditional homes in Makassar are usually made from wood and have stilts, so they don’t have piling in the ground unlike regular houses). Pindah rumah is also done in other Austronesian countries like Malaysia and the Philippines.

Another thing the movie does right is the cinematography, which is gorgeous and highlights the beauty of rural Indonesia – it’s sandy beaches and blue seas, the charm of its small towns and villages, and the warmth of its people. Without spoiling too much, I’d also like to commend the clever ending, I think some audiences might not like it, but I felt like it was very different and subverted expectations.

That being said, Tarung Sarung does have a couple of flaws. For me, it’s the long and draggy run time – at nearly two hours, I feel that the film could have done without certain scenes that don’t add much to the story. The fight scenes are all well choreographed, as expected of a film starring Yayan Ruhian (he was in John Wick 3, by the way. remember that epic scene with the two Indonesian shinobis?), but they are few and far between, which may leave audiences wanting more, since this is supposed to be an action film after all.

Verdict

Tarung Sarung has a standard if somewhat cliche plot and characters, with a uniquely Indonesian flavour and a good mix of romance, coming-of-age, action and drama. And while it won’t be winning any Oscars anytime soon, I think it’s a nice and entertaining film nonetheless. Worth a watch.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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Movie Review: The Hitman’s Bodyguard

I know what they say about actors having to be versatile in order to succeed in the long run; but I also believe that some actors are tailor-made for certain roles. Think Schwazzeneger as the iconic Terminator, or Sylvester Stallone as Rocky. You simply can’t imagine anyone else playing those characters.

For me, Ryan Reynolds found his niche when he played the sarcastic and punny Deadpool – and he seems to fit into this ‘snarky but cute and somehow likeable’ image well. He reprises this persona in his latest movie, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, co-starring Samuel L. Jackson. 

Synopsis 

Private bodyguard Michael Bryce (Reynolds) offers top notch protection services and has his star on the rise – all until a shot through a plane’s window kills a corrupt Japanese businessman he was protecting. Reduced to protecting druggie corporate executives, he blames his ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia Rousell, for allegedly leaking the info and getting his client killed.

Meanwhile, ruthless dictator of Belarus Vladislav Dukovich (Gary Oldman) is brought to trial for crimes against humanity at the International Court of Justice, but is on the verge of being let off due to lack of evidence and witnesses being killed on his orders. In a desperate attempt, the prosecution calls for notorious hitman Darius Kincaid (Jackson) to give testimony, with the promise that they will release his incarcerated wife Sonia. Rousell is assigned to escort Kincaid to The Hague to testify, but the convoy is ambushed and everyone killed except them. Realising that operations have been compromised and that there is a mole in Interpol, Rousell is forced to call Bryce for help. Initially Bryce is reluctant as he has had run-ins with Kincaid in the past, but ultimately agrees in exchange for the restoration of his good name. Hilarity and action ensue, as the mismatched pair attempt to escape pursuit and make it to court on time.

Verdict

One reviewer called the film ‘cartoonish’. It’s certainly OTT, but in a fun way. Kincaid and Bryce are like yin and yang – the former brash and impulsive with a wing-it attitude, the latter meticulous and likes having everything planned out to a tee. Their on-screen chemistry and jokes make for a barrel of laughs, and just about holds the rather cliche plot together. The story itself is very straightforward with no major twist and turns, but I do like some scenes that add depth to the character’s backstory: like the story of how Kincaid became a hitman and his notion of justice. There’s also plenty of good action scenes.

All in all, the bullets fly, blood is spilled, explosions aplenty and epic car/boat/bike chase through Amsterdam make for a fun summer blockbuster.

Score: 7/10.

 

Movie Review: Valerian and the City of A Thousand Planets

Ever since I saw the trailer for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets last year, I’ve been waiting to watch it coz it looked so visually enticing. The movie is based on the best selling French comic series, Valerian and Laurellin, and is directed by Luc Besson (of Fifth Element fame). According to interviews, Besson had originally wanted to create this film rather than Fifth Element (now a cult favourite – and one of my favourite movies too :)) but he was only able to realise his dream recently. It is crowd sourced and funded by Besson himself at a budget of 200mil, making it the most expensive ‘independent’ movie in French history. You can definitely feel the Fifth Element vibe in this film though, just from the trailer:

Synopsis 

It’s the 28th century, and top space agents Valerian (Dane de Haan) and Laurellin (Cara Delevingne) are working for the police force atop the Alpha, a human-built space station that is now home to millions of creatures from different planets, who live in harmony and exchange their knowledge and cultures. While out on a mission, Valerian has a dream of a peaceful humanoid race living on a tropical paradise, where they fish for energy pearls and use animals called ‘converters’ to duplicate them – before everything is destroyed by falling debris from the sky, and he is jolted awake.

The pair travel to a marketplace, where their mission is to retrieve a package from a black market dealer. The package turns out to be the converter Valerian had dreamnt of, and the customers in the deal are two of the mysterious humanoid race. After escaping from the dealer’s pursuit, they return to the Alpha, where they are told by Commander Fillit that part of the station has been infected by an unknown radioactive force, with no troops returning and the infection spreading. The two are assigned to protect the commander, but before the mission can continue the room is stormed by the humanoids, who kidnap the Commander.

Who are the mysterious humanoids, and what do they want? How is it related to Valerian’s dream, and why is the converter they are carrying, the last of its kind, so important? Our top agents set off through a series of adventures across the massive space station to find out…

Verdict 

Many reviewers have bashed Valerian, saying that the story is shallow and the acting wooden. I agree to some extent – but that’s not what i was expecting when I bought my ticket. I was expecting explosions, space action, colourful-looking aliens – and the movie delivers with aplomb. It is such a joy to behold the wonderful characters and the world that is Valerian’s; it’s like entering an exotic land for the first time to a sight and sound sensory overload. The story itself loses focus as it steamrolls to the end, but I felt that certain characters were developed well – just not our two main protagonists. The Pearl race(the humanoids), have an interesting backstory, and they’re extremely pretty to look at (the wonders of CGI). Even Rihanna, who plays Bubbles, a shapeshifter, has some golden moments, and the General who leads the team after the Commander’s kidnapping was also stellar in his performance.

The weakest link in the whole film were its two ‘heroes’ – Valerian and Laurellin. Which is ironic, seeing that the whole film was to be based around them. Perhaps Besson wanted to remain true to the love story between the two, but DeHaan and Delevingne have absolutely zero chemistry between them and the supposedly romantic/lovey-dovey conversations felt forced and emotionless. Delevingne, despite having starred as Enchantress in Suicide Squad, seemed not to have improved in the acting field. There was a comment that said the two looked like siblings, which was totally true. It felt incest-ual somehow lol.

No doubt Valerian falls short of Besson’s sci-fi piece de resistance, Fifth Element, but it has just enough of special effects and mindblowing scenes to carry its own. Years down the road, it might even become a cult favourite! We shall see.

Rating: storywise/acting, 4/10, visuals: 10/10. Average score: 6.5/10.

 

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