PLOT: A man (Iko Uwais) with a bullet in his head, washes-up on the beach of a small town in Indonesia. He’s nursed back to health by a kindly doctor, but when thugs come looking for him, his dark past rears its ugly head and threatens the woman he’s fallen in love with.
REVIEW: For those not caught-up on the rapidly expanding state of Indonesian action cinema, The Mo Brothers are best known for co-directing with Gareth Evans the famed “Safe Haven” segment of VHS 2, which they followed-up with a solo thriller, KILLERS. HEADSHOT is their attempt at a legit actioner, borrowing liberally from THE BOURNE IDENTITY, but mixing it in with an ultra-violent aesthetic true to their horror movie roots.
Most importantly, it’s yet another opportunity for star Iko Uwais to kick unholy amounts of ass, with dozen and dozens of baddies getting the sh*t killed out of them in the two hour running time. Some get sliced and diced, some (the lucky ones) get shot, and others beaten into ground beef by Uwais. They actually try to dial back his ass-kicking prowess at first, with Uwais’s amnesiac calling himself Ishmael, and not knowing the extent of his Silat prowess. At first.
Some early reviews (out of TIFF and Fantastic Fest) complained that HEADSHOT was a bit slow, but having seen the movie for myself (finally), I’m not quite sure what they were on about. Not more than ten minutes ever goes by without someone getting roughed up. There’s a little more plot than your usual martial arts extravaganza, but THE RAID 2 also had a pretty complex one – so why complain? Since when is story a bad thing?
Rather, the real issue with HEADSHOT is that, coming so hot on the heels of Evans’s game-changing sequel, HEADSHOT feels much smaller. Still, The Mo Brothers have their own style, which involves unrelenting, horror-movie levels of violence throughout. Most of this comes from the main baddie, who we learn has spent his career stealing children and turning them into invincible, remorseless assassins. Among their ranks is Tri Yulisman and Julie Estelle, aka "Baseball Bat Man" and "Hammer Girl" from THE RAID 2.
What’s kinda nifty here is how Uwais works his way up the ranks of baddies as the film goes on. At first, he contends with thugs, who he’s able to mostly deal with even though he doesn’t quite recall his training. But, as the film goes on he meets more and more of the higher caliber killers, and his quest to rescue his comely love interest becomes a brutal, painful one. The fights are bone-crunching and shocking in their violence, with most adversaries winding-up beaten to death or sliced up beyond recognition (a machine gun massacre of civilians on a bus goes a little too far in the brutality for my tastes). In the recent pantheon of Asian actioners, I’d rank this below the two RAID films, or the Korean THE MAN FROM NOWHERE (and the underrated follow-up, NO TEARS FOR THE DEAD), but ahead of most recent HK-China actioners (I’m still waiting for Bollywood to put out a really solid action flick).
For action fans, HEADSHOT is a must-see, and The Mo Brothers, while not working at the same level as Gareth Evans, have crafted a brutal, visually arresting romp. Uwais really is the greatest living Asian action hero, and here’s hoping he gets more solid vehicles like this one in which he can show his stuff.