‘Headshot’ Is the Spiritual Successor to ‘The Raid’
It’s got more melodrama, but it’s also even more violent.
In 2011, the world was gifted The Raid by Welsh director Gareth Evans and a cast of relatively unknown Indonesian actors. The close-quarters knife-punch-kick-shoot-fest, a sophomore collaboration between Evans and about-to-be star Iko Uwais debuted on the festival circuit and quickly garnered a cult following among action aficionados. I remember falling all over myself in my attempt to capture its violent bliss in my SXSW 2012 review. A few years later, Rob Hunter found himself in a similar position when Evans delivered a blistering sequel. Fans are currently anxiously awaiting the third film in Evans’ promised trilogy, but all signs point to a bit of a wait before production starts.
Lucky for us, star Iko Uwais has teamed up with The Mo Brothers (Killers) to deliver the next best thing: 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 local doctor (played by 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 finish the job they started when they shot him in the head.
The plot is very much The Bourne Identity, if Jason Bourne were covered in blood through most of the film. And it doesn’t shy from dipping into some melodrama, which drags through the middle of the movie. But there are several things that work very well for Headshot. The first being that the Mo Brothers have a penchant for wicked, gratuitous, and often very innovative violence. Like we saw with Evans and The Raid, there’s a lot of clever camera work that leads to frenetic action and cheer-worthy finishing moves. The hallmark of today’s Indonesian action renaissance are fluid shots in which the camera follows two combatants to the floor where one of them ends up on the wrong end of either a gun or a fist. There’s plenty of this in Headshot, and that’s what makes it fun.
As if it’s his life’s calling, Uwais (who acts not only as star, but a lead action choreographer for the film) can’t help but find himself battered and bruised by the end. Unlike the clean badassery of a Bruce Lee or the graceful dominance of a Tony Jaa, Uwais is the gritty modern action star, a glutton for punishment. The least realistic part of the movie is the fact that he survives even a quarter of the brutality he receives, but then again, that’s his signature.
If you’re a fan of The Raid and its sequel, Headshot is going to give you a lot of the same vibes. It takes a little while longer to get going and has a greater interest in building some of the relationships between its characters, but the action is just as gnarly (if not moreso at times). Uwais continues to grow as an actor, The Mo Brothers are worthy stewards, and Sunny Pang turns in a vicious bad guy performance. It’s the continuation of a promise that the modern crop of Indonesian action films will delight us with boldly conceived sequences and bone-crunching action at every turn. Once again, that promise is kept.