Written by Timo Tjahjanto
Directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto
A late night screening at the Roxie let me see martial arts film Headshot, it’s got Iko Uwais, Baseball Bat Man (Very Tri Yulisman!!!) and Hammer Girl herself, Julie Estelle! There are some other martial stars and a whole slew of fight scenes that keeps things entertaining even when part of the plot threatens to snatch that away.
The world of Headshot is a world where it takes dozens of bullets to kill someone, leading to many many scenes where characters are basically emptying clips from their machine guns into people before they finally die. It gets a little ridiculous. Okay, it gets very ridiculous. Insanely ridiculous. I had to assume it takes place in a universe where bullets only hurt as much as a bee sting or something. The violence and gore helps paint Headshot as more of a martial horror movie, it even opens in a filthy prison where dozens of characters machine gun each other down, only seemingly collapsing from the weight of the shear volume of bullets they pump into each others bodies.
Even the plot is set in motion because Iko Uwais was shot in the head and didn’t die, washing up in a coma on the beach and awakening in the hospital weeks later with amnesia. He’s then dubbed Ishmael by the local incredibly young Dr. Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who is infatuated with him and reading Moby Dick at the time. Any further parallel to Moby Dick is accidental beyond Ishmael’s determination to stop the villain Lee sort of like how Ahab was obsessed, but not in a self-destructive way that gets everyone dead, only a bunch of random innocent people. We know from Steven Seagal movies that coma victims are irresistibly attractive to women, so she couldn’t help it.
Ishmael wakes up, remembers nothing, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t still looking for him (or the former him, who was named Abdi), and soon Ishmael is violently getting his memory back and has to save the now kidnapped Dr. Ailin by punching and kicking his way through the army of villains. The main thing we are here for is the fights, to see Iko Uwais beat the snot out of people, and there is plenty of beating! The fight sequences are fantastic, and while they don’t measure to the top tier stuff from The Raid or the sequel, they are still worth your time, even if the rest of the plot is about as bad as The Raid 2‘s boring gangster drama.
The fight with Very Tri Yulisman is the best in the film, and they save it towards the end. Earlier fights have mixes of martial arts and gunplay (a fight in a police station seems to reference a scene in Die Hard before going in a completely different direction) A fight on a bus full of murdered people while goons are trying to burn it and all the evidence on it (and hopefully Ishmael as well) is a good highlight, the increasing danger as the fight progresses does a good job of building suspense while still giving plenty of nice fight choreography and brutal hits.
The boss villain Lee (Sunny Pang) gets several scenes that all do the same job of showing how he’s just an evil force of nature. His prison escape (from which he purposefully got himself captured just so he could escape?), his taking over of local drug gangs by killing anyone who dares resist him, and his history of kidnapping children after he raids villages, raising the children to be killers that he later uses as enforcers. As most of these kids are now in their mid-20s, this is like 20 years of investment into a bunch of powerful soldiers, all of which he sends against Ishmael in slow trickles so they can be defeated. Lee is more of a collection of villain tropes than an actual villain or even an evil father figure. They try to touch on the bad father figure part, but only spend a limited amount of time with, most of which is divorced from affecting Ishmael directly and instead hits Julie Estelle’s character more than anything in explaining why she won’t leave with Ishmael.
For Headshot you need to come for the fighting and wait for the next fighting. Luckily things start going by at a fast pace after the plot gets started, but it would be nice to once again recommend one of these Indonesian action films for the plot in addition to the fighting. I just want more, and I’m not going to settle for less.