In 2011, the world was gifted The Raid by Welsh director Gareth Evans and a cast of relatively unknown Indonesian actors. With blistering action set pieces and exhilarating hand to hand combat, the collaboration between Evans and breakout star Iko Uwais debuted on the festival circuit and quickly garnered a cult following among a wider audience. After an equally well received sequel, Evans has promised fans a third installment will follow. In the meantime though, occasional Evans collaborators, Timo Tjahjanto and Kimo Stamboel (Known as the Mo brothers) have utilised Uwais’ impressive martial arts skills for their own stand alone effort, Headshot.
It’s the story of a mysterious man (Uwais) who wakes up on a beach after being shot in the head and dumped. Unable to remember who he is or why someone put a bullet in his skull, he forges a friendship with a kindly local doctor, Ailin (Chelsea Islan) and calls himself Ishmael (after the protagonist of Moby Dick). It’s all very charming and peaceful until the forces of the nefarious Mr. Lee (Sunny Pang) come to town to try and finish off Ishmael. When they initially fail, they then kidnap Ailin to bait him, thus setting up his quest for revenge and answers.
The plot is very much in the mold of The Bourne Identity. But the execution is not as polished as Doug Limans seminal actioner. For instance Headshot doesn’t shy away from dipping into some cheesy melodrama, which predictably drags the film down when it occurs. In fact the acting is a bit stilted overall, and Uwais isn’t the most charismatic of leads. He can certainly kick ass, but it’s hard to engage with him on any deeper levels.
It’s certainly not the most complex piece of story telling. With its computer game-like narrative, we simply follow Ishmael as he staggers from one boss battle to the next, eventually arriving at the ‘final level’ sliced-up and drained. The simple approach can still be entertaining, but sometimes a bit more is needed. Especially if the characterisation is lacking, as it is here.
So while the Mo Brothers have strung together action set pieces with professional efficiency. And for the most part they’re exciting to watch, brutal and bloody is the order of the day. There’s just not much in the way of drama or emotion around these fight scenes to make it a cohesive whole.
Despite its flaws, It’s by no means a bad film. If, like me, you enjoyed The Raid and similar ‘martial arts badass kicks the shit out of bad guys’ productions, then there will be enough in Headshot for you to enjoy. But while it is a good effort, there is not much that makes it particularly memorable. Especially when compared to it’s spiritual predecessors.