Before exploding onto the scene this year with action masterpiece The Raid, Gareth Evans released Merantau, a martial arts thriller that is as much of a coming-of-age seasoning for Evans as it is for his main character.
In Merantau, Yuda, following his culture’s tradition, sets off on a journey away from home (his Merantau) to gain experience, skill and to learn. After arriving in Jakarta he opts to save a young woman and her younger brother from some kind of sleazy pimp/strip club owner, his journey finds purpose.
Yuda is the unlikely hero to our story. Despite being a brutal fighter with his hands and feet (he is a classically trained in Silat), he doesn’t appear like our average badass who has arrived to save the day. He dresses normal, acts normal and is polite. This isn’t what you might expect.
Fans of The Raid will want to see this film. Don’t expect anything even close to the excellence and beautiful violence delivered in that film, but do expect to see Evans find his feet as a director of action and thrills. Merantau is guided by the fists of Yuda, who never backs down from fighting for what he believes is right. The Raid was an explosive masterpiece. Merantau is its little brother.
What actually had me laughing throughout was the film’s bad guys. Two stupid white guys are in Jakarta looking to amp up their game in the prostitution slave trade. They contract the sleazy strip club owner to provide him girls which they dump into a shipping container set to sail off to some foreign land. The two villains, Ratger and Luc, are weird. I’m not even sure what more to say about them other than the fact that they both got on my nerves and not for being part of a slave trade. They’re creepy and weird and ugh. You root harder for Yuda to smash their face in.
A lot of the fight scenes in Merantau are very well done, which shouldn’t come as a surprise for anyone who saw The Raid. There’s nothing as jaw-dropping as that, but Evans shows an early ability to stage fights and shoot them well. It’s clean, brutal action and it pays off in the end.
Yuda entered Jakarta thinking he was going to use his fighting skills to teach children. Instead, he’s saving two people he just met from a bunch of criminals. Funny the way that works. Still, it’s the most valuable lesson he could learn. He shows honor, dedication and is one of the least ambiguous characters I’ve seen in film lately. You know what and who he fights for. He’s a golden boy.
With the way The Raid was received and the early success seen in Merantau (his second film) it is clear that Evans has a knack for this kind of thing. I haven’t seen his debut film Footsteps, but his other two, despite their differences, play at the same angle. Introduce a character the audience will love and make him face the toughest test you can think of. His characters, whether deeply developed or not, pour their heart out and literally spill blood for the audience, making Evans and his films easy to fall in love with.