|It's all about the martial arts!|
I don't really like violent movies, but as a lover/aspiring writer of the middle grade/YA genre, I thought I would check this movie out. I don't remember exactly how it came to my attention, but this movie seemed to check off all the boxes on my list at the time I decided to watch it: Young people? Check. Coming of age story? Check. International? (It's a film set in Indonesia directed by a Welshman). Check.
The movie starts off showing us Yuda, the main butt-kicker in his hometown in Western Sumatra. The grass is green, the tomatoes are red, and everything, even Yuda, appears golden (cinematographer's choice?) In other words, Yuda's hometown is the best place in the world. The scenes with his mom and brother emphasize this. Yuda has a good life--good family, idyllic surroundings. And to top it all off, he is really good at silat a kind of Indonesian martial arts. There's a great sequence with Yuda practicing in the fields, with dramatic music and the mountains in the background which makes me want to take out some curved blades and do some silat like Yuda!
Alas, Yuda's lovely existence on the farm comes to an end, as he embarks on his merantau, a coming-of-age tradition in the Mingkabau culture where the young boy leaves the community and comes back a man. His mother tells him he doesn't have to go, but Yuda wants to make a difference in the world. He sets off for the seedy capital of Jakarta to make his mark. His life is changed when he rescues a girl named Astri and her little brother from being beaten up by Astri's boss. From that moment on, all hell breaks loose.
I didn't exactly dislike the movie, as much as it just wasn't what I was expecting. I like that the movie highlights silat, which is a lesser-known martial art. The choreographers did an amazing job with the fight scenes, fight scenes on par with any great martial arts movie. The cinematography and musical score were mind-blowing. But (surprise, surprise) the story was a little thin on the characterization, and for a two hour movie, that's just sad. I wanted to know more about Yuda. I wanted to know who he was before, and how being in Jakarta changed him. Without this part, there's really no coming-of-age, because coming-of-age means becoming mature. Yuda stayed dignified and bad-ass the entire time. He was a static character, and because of that, not very interesting. This movie is also very bloody. I have a low tolerance for gore, so I didn't like it as much as others might.
If you are looking for a good coming-of-age story set in Indonesia, or other parts of Asia, skip this movie. If you are looking for some high-action, martial arts goodness with a ton of blood and very disturbing villains, this is the movie for you. Please don't watch it with your kids.
For more information about Merantau, head to the Merantau IMDb page.
The picture of Merantau was taken from here.