HEADSHOT (2017)

Headshot stars Iko Uwais, the man who propelled The Raid Redemption and The Raid 2 to an almost Ongbak level. I loved both the films. They were rough, raw and unabashed. Just like action films ought to be. Headshot is no different. Even though the emphasis is largely on the action and that’s exactly what we walked in to see in the first place, the film successfully weaves a very minimalistic and yet affecting story that makes the action that much more worthwhile. The story is very generic but the performances make it affecting and real.

A dreaded ganglord Lee (Sunny Pang) walks out of prison after masterminding a bloody war between the entrapped criminals and the security personnel. At almost the same time, a mysterious man, sustaining a bullet wound to the head, is fished out of the sea by a local and nursed back to health by a caring doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan). She affectionately names him Ishmael (Iko Uwais). Lee cleans up his competition systematically and during one such cleanup, a fall guy tells him that he has information on one of Lee’s gang members that he believes is dead but is not and is, in fact, recovering in a hospital. Soon Lee crosses path with Ishmael who doesn’t remember anything about his past but his uncanny abilities to self-defend signals to an ominous and violent past.

Headshot gets to the point in a hurry and makes way for an unabashed and no-holes-barred action bonanza that is not only great to look at but is also very tense. The film starts with a bang. The first shootout in the jail is gruesome. Indonesian films have their own way of approaching mass murder and mayhem and it has a distinct feel to it. The case is similar in this sequence. It is surprising to note that there were not too many people involved in the sequence but the manner in which it is shot from a high angle gives it a kind of exasperating feel that is hard to escape. It is brutal, breathtaking and horrifying.

In the next sequence, we are introduced to two of Lee’s henchmen and their way of fighting it out. One of them is Rika (Julie Estelle), the hammer girl from The Raid 2. She was wonderful in that film and she is great here too. In this sequence we see the two henchmen plowing through a room full of guys with clinical ease. Both the henchmen use different techniques and both their acts are enterprising to look at.

There is another mass murder scene on a bus soon after involving 2 more of Lee’s men and this scene is extremely disturbing to watch. The way they show the men being butchered through the bus window was strangely artistic and yet terrifying. It is only after this sequence that our hero finally gets his first fight scene. It is haphazard, it is unplanned and not pitch perfectly choreographed. just like a real fight should be. Once he learns of the kidnapping of Ailin, the film enters its hyper mode. At every stage, Ishmael packs off the illustrious henchmen of Lee bringing him a step closer every time to Lee and the love of his life. The rest of the film is one action set piece after another with some minor character buildup in between. We learn of Ishmael’s background as also that of Lee. It is done to instill a greater sense of fear and tension in our minds.

I am loving this brand of Indonesian action. Not only are the fights wonderfully executed, they have a certain physicality about them that is often missed in the action films of today. The camera work has a lot to do about that. The sequences are not cut haphazardly. There are long takes that allow us to enjoy the action as the fighter moves from one man to another. It has become a calling with the editors to hyper-cut action sequences these days which results in clips of less than 2 seconds making up sequences that are minutes in length. They also have a tendency to show a fight from all angles which not at all necessary. A film like Headshot successfully rises above these limitations and gives us a truly satisfying action film experience.

The actors, most of whom are martial artists emote and do just enough to make you believe in the characters that they are playing. Iko is getting better with every film and I am really hoping to see him excel in future films. Chelsea Islan is sweetness re-defined. If I was Ishmael, I would wreck the world to rescue her. She feels like someone for whom one would go to that kind of lengths. Pang is the perfect baddy. He is suave, he is evil and he makes you stand up and take notice of him. He plays the perfect foil to Iko’s Ishmael.

Overall, Headshot is a thoroughly entertaining and immersive action film if you have the stomach to take in that kind of ultra-violence. It treads a path similar to the Raid franchise but has a different story to tell. I was bowled over by its astute execution, terrific action, and competitive performances. I wouldn’t mind watching 10 films of this type over the weekend. A must watch for the action fans.

Rating 3.5/5 (3.5 out of 5 Stars)

 

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