Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

"The insane amount of violence is in danger of becoming totally monotonous, but is rescued by Iko Uwais' dynamic and hitherto unrevealed comic sense of motion and timing."

Thanks to the phenomenal Raid series by Gareth Huw Evans and his dedicated cast and crew, Indonesian cinema is beginning to make it through to festival circuits and mainstream cinema in equal measure. Sadly, like the Tartan Asia Extreme explosion of the early 2000, what we get seems to be curated in a way that is too concerned with creating a genre unto itself rather than expressing the multiplicity that national cinema often affords international audiences a chance to see.

Written and directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto of Killers fame (the latter worked with Evans on the incredible Safe Haven short from V/H/S/2) and starring Indonesia's biggest export, Iko Uwais, Headshot is a messy but entertaining film for fans of hyper violence and grotty Indonesian crime capers. As such, it’s a great slice of action for dedicated fans, but might leave those with a taste for something a little different underwhelmed.

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Iko plays a scarred and broken man who washes up on a small town beach with memory loss from a severe head injury. His doctor (Chelsea Islan) dubs him Ishmael as she’s reading Moby Dick at the time (a bizarre and seemingly irrelevant plot point) and she nurtures him back to health. As his violent past comes to light, she finds herself in jeopardy. A violent abduction means that Ish is left with nothing to do but brutally murder his way back to his past.

The past is helpfully represented by a surly criminal ‘family’ formed by devilish patriarch Lee (Sunny Pang), a shady recluse who abducts children and forces them to fight for their lives in order to become his most trusted and loyal footsoldiers. In true martial arts tradition, they all have their gimmicks, including an athletic woman with a nasty stub-knife and a spry hipster with a baton, played by Julie Estelle and Tri Yulisman (whom fans of The Raid 2 will recognise as Baseball Bat Man and Hammer Girl). Also present are a pair of brute force brothers who face off against Ish in a gruelling and dynamic fight in a police station, and a gang of cannon fodder grunts wielding the loudest and most inaccurate AK-47s in cinema history.

The insane amount of violence is in danger of becoming totally monotonous, but is rescued by Iko Uwais' dynamic and hitherto unrevealed comic sense of motion and timing. Given the plot, Headshot often feels like an ultra violent retread of Hong Kong action comedy Who Am I? and Uwais frequently pratfalls and uses his environment and a variety of comedic props like a bloodthirsty Jackie Chan. The outrageous nature of a lot of the fights and the more ridiculous deaths do a lot to subvert the grim feel, especially when the umpteenth goon getting shredded by an AK-47 threatens to tilt the film’s action past the absurd and into the banal.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of meat on the bones, but they’re good bones at least. The action is fast and heavy, the blood is very often traditional wet SFX rather than CGI (a point that will surely win over a few martial arts purists), and the violent gags do their best to break up the pace, inducing a winces and a snort simultaneously. Headshot is missing the taut story of The Raid, and despite its length it doesn’t hold a candle to the epic nature of The Raid 2, instead being content to be a series of emphatic and entertaining fight scenes held together by a thin shred of a plot.

Reviewed on: 21 Feb 2017
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Washed ashore on a small Indonesian island, a man wakes up in hospital with no memory of who he is or how he got there - but a gang boss is on his trail.
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Read more Headshot reviews:

Jennie Kermode ***1/2

Director: Timo Tjahjanto, Kimo Stamboe

Writer: Timo Tjahjanto

Starring: Iko Uwais, Chelsea Islan, Sunny Pang

Year: 2016

Runtime: 117 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Indonesia


Glasgow 2017

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