Sunday, March 5, 2017

Headshot review

A reunion between Indonesian action star Iko Iwas and his Raid 2 opponent Julie Estelle promised plenty of broken bones and blood. Does Headshot deliver?


A John Doe (Iko Uwais) washes up on a beach with no memory and a bullet in his head. He is taken to a local hospital where a trainee doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan) gives him a name, 'Ishmael', and tries to help him figure out who he was. However, the people who tried to kill him are still on his trail. When they kidnap Ailin, 'Ishmael' goes after them.

Anyone going into this expecting The Raid 3 should check their expectations at the door. Headshot is nowhere near that level. In style and tone, this is far closer to a traditional martial arts movie -- specifically a Steven Seagal movie from the early nineties.

The thing about The Raid that felt so fresh was that the combat did not feel structured -- instead it felt visceral and improvised. When Iko Uwais and his comrades are attacked, the villains don't hang back and attack one at a time, they rush in together. It made the combat feel more visceral and raised the tension.

Headshot's combat feels more old-school and suffers by comparison -- the fights feel contrived and go on too long. The one fight that feels close to The Raid is Ishmael's fight with multiple villains in a cramped bus, and another fight between Ishmael and a villain in a police office. Uwais is credited as one of the two action directors, and I wonder if he was responsible for this sequences.

The movie echoes Seagal in its basic plot, which is basically a variation on Hard to Kill, in which it is based around another ridiculously attractive medical professional who falls in love with our hero. The attraction here is as inexplicable as it was then, and it sums up the sexual politics here. Aside from helping Ishmael recover at the start, Islan's character has little agency and is merely a plot device, a way of justifying Uwais' ass-kicking. The movie does not care about her -- they even throw in a pointless attempted assault towards the end -- as though we needed a ticking clock to increase the sense of danger.

Julie Estelle's character seems to exist solely so she can have a final showdown on the beach with Iwas. You may think the location is the filmmakers tying the ending back to the beginning ala The Bourne Ultimatum, but no. It's just an excuse for her tank top to be soaking wet throughout.

Ultimately, Headshot is not terrible. Uwais is good in the dramatic parts, Sunny Pang is a solid villain and the rest of the cast are varying degrees of 'okay'. But it's not that good either. The plot is stupid, the fight scenes have their moments go on far too long, and the tone is too sombre. Check it out on video -- that way you can fast-forward to the good parts.

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