Someone was going to take up the baton of hyper-violent, Indonesian action movies after Gareth Evans mic dropped The Raid 2 all over us and split to pastures new and so, eagerly waiting in the wings, was Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboei who were poised to tag in with Headshot, the latest slice of martial arts mayhem. Collectively known as the Mo Brothers, Tjahjanto and Stamboei even brought with them The Raid alumni Iko Uwais and Julie Estelle (Hammer Girl) to really draw the connection home while dealing up the same mixture of emotive drama and cranial trauma that typified Evan’s revelatory action blowout. But could two directors who, by their own admission, had never scripted or shot an action movie before, manage to keep the maniacal momentum going and produce a pulse (and fist) pounding experience for the ages. Short answer? Yes – but not until Tjahjanto made The Night Comes For Us two years later…


Awaking from a coma and naming himself “Ishmael”, a young man has to come to terms with a nasty case of amnesia after being found with a mysterious gunshot wound to the head. Thankfully he has the kindly Dr. Ailin to care for him as he recuperates in the rural hospital of the island he was found on but as time goes on, Ishmael can only remember the barest flashes of his past.
Meanwhile, the monstrous mobster known as  “Lee” stages an audacious, brutal, jail break with minimum effort and soon re-gathers his almost cult-like subordinates around him to violently take back his empire. However, during this takeover, a thug, desperate to live, deals out some information on a mystery man recuperating in a hospital due to a head wound. Sound familiar? Because it sure does to Lee who seemingly is responsible for Ishmael’s condition and quickly tasks his devoted underlings to capture or kill Ishmael but only succeeds in kidnapping Dr. Ailin and small child instead.
As Ishmael attempts to finds Ailin and, by extension, unlock his past, he starts to discover exactly how much of a nasty piece of work Lee truly is thanks to his habit of kidnapping children and putting them through ungodly training in order to fashion them into a perverted family of killers and smugglers and naming himself as their “father”.
With every bone crunching altercation, Ishmael comes closer to figuring out the truth about himself, but is it a truth he actually wants to hear as clubs swing, femurs crack and skin splits. With a final showdown in sight and both Ishmael and Ailin both living on borrowed time and collecting wounds and abrasions like baseball cards, this is one family reunion that’s really going to hurt.


Not to downplay the work of anyone involved in Headshot, but in many ways this unapologetically vicious crime movie feels more like a dry run for everything Timo Tjahjanto made later and suffers horribly when directly compared to the utter majesty of The Raid 2. It’s a shame, because Tjahjanto’s concept for the villains is genuinely gnarly and plays in nicely to the schismed family themes he later employed in his horror flick May The Devil Take You. However, it’s also a concept that could have benefited from more than just two of the family being fleshed out and the rest as just grinning maniacs. However, the hero with amnesia gimmick, while painfully overused, is fairly well utilised here, allowing lead Iko Uwais to stretch more than his quads as he uses those soulful eyes and boyish looks (this time topped off with an an ugly forehead scar that makes Harry Potter’s seem like a fashion accessory in comparison) as much as he uses his driving fists. Similarly, Chelsea Islan (who stayed on to continue having the shit kicked out of her during Tjahjanto’s horror period) gets some genuinely emotional moments despite both her and Uwais having faces that resemble mashed up burger meat. On the villainous side, Sunny Pang gives the child snatching Lee a hollow eyed intensity while Julie Estelle gets more character to play with than just dual hammers and a pair of shades and they both feel like legitimate threats.


However, while Headshot wisely distances itself from the raid movies in terms of story, choosing to take it’s action from being entirely set within the confines of ridiculously grubby rooms to more colourfully striking locales such as a forrest or a beach, the typically bruising action is very much of the same sadistic breed as Evans’ instant classics. Unfortunately, while loaded with legitimately gruesome incident (watch Ishmael push a bullet casing into the eye of an assailant with sphincter clenching slowness), the actual fighting sequences lack the same snap as the ones in The Raid with Uwais’ hero being initially starting off more of a brawler than the super-capable martial artist we’re used to seeing. The filmmakers try to valiantly mix things up beyond two-dudes-in-a-room-fighting and come up with various scenarios. A scene involving Ishmael wrestling on the floor of a gasoline-soaked bus, frantically trying to prevent a thug from sparking up his lighter works well, but anyone coming in expecting some mind blowing, adrenaline fueled, fisticuffs has to be patient as the action tends to be more of the traditional type of knuckle sandwich that something more flamboyant. However, as the film goes on, more classic punching and kicking are employed, but again, for all the head cracking and throat ripping, there’s nothing here that even comes close to the kitchen scene from The Raid 2 or the final rumble from the original.


Maybe it’s unfair to compare Headshot to a series that revolutionized people brawling for their lives, but in a happy coda, both Tjahjanto and Stamboei went on to separate and improve with every film as they slid in and out of various genres with the former in particular finally nailing that bloodthirsty tone with gusto.
Scoring an A for effort, featuring a decent concept, but mostly lacking the required amount of impact that doesn’t grip you as tightly as the villain’s hyper-strong hands, Headshot doesn’t quite nail you between the eyes…


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