MARCH 18 ― Remember a few years back when action movie fans were treated to John Wick, The Raid 2: Berandal, The Equalizer and my personal favourite Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear all in the same calendar year?
Remember how blissful it was soaking in not only all those gloriously choreographed fight scenes and shoot-outs, but also how gloriously in sync they were with the camera movements and cutting?
If anything, a beautifully-executed action movie is one of the prime examples, if not the best example, of how art, industry and craftsmanship can combine to produce an undeniable piece of movie magic.
Because there are so many bad and mediocre action movies flooding the market, action films, especially of the fight flick kind, have always had to live with a very bad reputation.
It’s not an undeserved reputation, since there aren’t that many things easier than just doing really fast edits and pumping up the soundtrack with upbeat music and sound effects to give the impression that a fight scene is exciting.
It’s a vicious cycle ― because it has a bad rep, people think it’s easy to do action movies and because of the misguided idea that it’s easy to do action movies, they in turn get a bad rep.
That is also why cinephiles the world over will rejoice every time a brilliant new action movie arrives on the scene. Remember how unbelievable the hype was when The Raid: Redemption dropped?
Or how everyone couldn’t stop talking about how awesome John Wick was? It’s when you watch these brilliant examples of the art and craft of action movie-making that you’ll likely realise that to make even a good one requires not only an enormous amount of preparation and skill, but also talent.
And when it comes to fight flicks, it’s not acting talent that we’re talking about but the talent to beautifully execute a punch, a kick or a combination of punches and kicks, for the camera.
Hell, even taking a punch for the camera requires real skill to make it look good and believable.
And all those skills are in full view in the incredible new Indonesian fight flick called Headshot, the latest film from Indonesian horror maestros the Mo Brothers.
Headlined by none other than The Raid’s Iko Uwais, with action choreography also by Uwais and his team, one might be tempted to think that Headshot is an attempt to produce another international action sensation a la the two The Raid films, but other than sharing a lead actor and a crime world setting, that is where the similarities end.
Having directed one beautifully gory film (Rumah Dara aka Macabre) and one extremely disturbing and blood-soaked dive into the minds of not one, but two killers (aptly called Killers), it’s quite clear that the Mo Brothers will be painting the screen red again with this one, even if this one’s not a horror movie.
This is where the first crucial difference from The Raid films is, which is in the film’s unabashedly gory aftermath of every wound, fracture and kill.
Uwais of course does another sterling job of choreographing (and performing) a stunning series of fights, where anything can be used as an instrument of killing, including something as innocuous as a bus seat.
And the Mo Brothers prove truly up to the task of capturing these fights for maximum impact, instinctively knowing when to keep it wide and when to go in for a close-up, when to keep the camera moving and flowing in one take and when to make a cut.
Where Headshot feels a bit special for me is in the similarity it has with Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear, which is that the fights somehow work not only to keep our adrenaline pumping, but to also advance the lead character’s inner journey.
You see, in this film Uwais plays a mystery man who washes up on the beach with a head injury that leaves him in a coma for a few months, and with no memory of who he is and how he turned up there.
A cute nurse helps nurse him back to health when he wakes up, and names him Ishmael because she was reading Moby Dick at the time. But that Moby Dick reference and parallel is more than just a passing mention.
It’s actually the structuring principle and emotional bedrock of the movie. I do not want to spoil the movie for you, but once you’ve seen it you’ll be able to clearly figure out who the movie’s Captain Ahab is and what the movie’s whale is.
And just wait till you find out what Ishmael’s real name is and marvel at how thoughtful the movie’s script is, no matter how simple the narrative may be. In fact, if you truly pay attention to the fight scenes, you’ll notice that all the kill shots will involve some sort of blow to the head from Ishmael. So it’s called Headshot not just because Ishmael got one to get the plot running. Talk about thematic unity, right?
Quite frankly it’s in the movie’s shameless pretension to deeper meanings and feelings that is its real power. It aspires to tell a deep and emotional story in the most economical of ways.
And it goes about doing so with some of the most beautiful bloodbaths you’ll see this year, or any other year for that matter. John Wick 2 now has a true challenger for the 2017 action movie crown. Now bring on Undisputed 4: Boyka!!
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.