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Playing as a part of the Nerdvana section of the Glasgow Film Festival, Headshot is a brutal martial arts movie that appealed to a young male audience and one of the most adrenaline-pumping films at the festival.
In a small fishing town in Indonesia an unconscious man (Iko Uwais) washes up on the beach and spends two months in a coma. His doctor, Ailin (Chelsea Islan) names him Ishmael and the two quickly start a relationship. However, Ishmael is really a highly trained martial artist and when his old boss, Lee (Sunny Pang), finds out Ishmael is alive, he sends his men (and woman) to find and kill him. When Ailin is kidnapped by Lee’s men, Ishmael has to go on a rescue mission and bring down Lee’s criminal empire.
Headshot is the first major film to star Iko Uwais from The Raid series who worked on the action choreography with Timo Tjahjanto – one-half of the directing team. And the action is the big selling point of the film, offering some of the most brutal fight scenes in recent memory. If you like The Raid then you will love Headshot! Bullets turn people into Swiss cheese and limits are broken in a no-holds-barred way. My own vocabulary devolved to ‘aww’ and ‘ooo’ because of the brutality of the action.
Headshot does live in the shadow of the first two Raid movies, which breathed new light into the action genre. Headshot even goes down the same distribution route as the first Raid – premiering at the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival and getting a March release date.
Compared to the first Raid movie Headshot has slightly more story: The Raid jumped straight into its story without much setup, Headshot attempts one, even if is it the outdated save the damsel in distress template and there is a backstory about Lee kidnapping children so he can train them up to be his loyal operatives. This is all an excuse to make sure all of Ishmael’s opponents are skilled fighters. Ishamel’s clean slate living in the fishing town bears some similarities to The Bourne Identity and The Long Kiss Goodnight.
The movie is really a collection of well-constructed action scenes. Headshot starts with a bloody prison break before slowing to show Ishmael and Ailin’s relationship and then becomes near constant action. There was an attempt by the movie to have a theme about free will and mental conditioning because Lee’s fighters say they are fighting for him, but considering their upbringing is it really a choice? This was a secondary concern in Headshot. The movie also had a troubling attitude towards women considering the treatment Ailin receives at the hands of her captives, being slapped, beaten and nearly raped.
One of the criticisms leveled at Headshot is its lack of story, yet the original Raid was praised despite its simplistic story. Action fans will not be concerned about this issue. Sit back and enjoy the ride.
Uwais does fight various opponents, from a big brawler of a fighter in a police station to a woman (Julie Estelle, AKA Hammer Girl from The Raid 2) who was proficient with throwing knives. These are all well-executed fights and Uwais’ skills as a material artists are fully on display. The camerawork and editing were perfect – making the fights easy to follow and every bone break felt. Yet Headshot did relish the violence a bit too much: there was a focus on the injuries caused like broken bones ripping through skin. The Raid movies were violent but there wasn’t the sadism like there was in Headshot.
The directing team, Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto who are sometimes credited as The Mo Brothers, had to use stylish camera tricks and swirls to compete with The Raid series. It’s not a deal breaker, the action was terrific and different enough from its rival, but the camera swirls were a sign of the directors trying too hard. The bird’s-eye view shots of the fights and shoot outs gave them a refreshing angle, especially a shoot-out between prisoners and prison guards at the beginning of the film (and quickly gleamed at in the trailer).
Headshot is a film for fans of action movies and Asian cinema. It lacks the depth of other films at the festival but it was one of the most gleefully enjoyable and the audience loved it.
Headshot will hit theaters and VOD on March 3 in the UK and limited release in the USA.