If there’s anything Headshot taught me, it’s that no matter how many graves need digging when Iko Uwais shows up, the movie is dead on arrival without a well-trained crew behind the camera.
What’s a big bummer for this guy is the underlying theme of Headshot — a clear allegory for Moby Dick (which it doesn’t hide). Uwais is the star, and you can call him Ishmael. In the beginning, the camera zooms in on someone reading Herman Melville’s timeless classic. When Uwais wakes up, she asks his name. He looks down at a drawing of a whale and the name Ishmael written in conjunction with it, and the rest is history. Later, it’s learned the main villain launched Ishmael in a water well when he was a boy, and wouldn’t let him out until he learned how to defend himself (by killing other boys in that same well — last man kid standing). Last, the film begins and ends — SPOILER ALERT — in water. Not a coincidence. So, to keep with the theme and me happy, Iko Uwais is both Ishmael and the white whale, and the villain (Sunny Pang) is Captain Ahab.
KAPOW, *sound of a man falling*, SPASH!
Weeks later, in a world of corruption and violence, a man wakes up in a hospital with no memory and a gnarly head-wound. While on his quest to figure out his past, he gets in deep with bad guys with big weapons. As he slowly regains his memory, the bad guys have forgotten that this man with no memory is a lethal weapon. (Did you read this paragraph like a movie trailer voice actor was explaining? Try it. Sounds cooler.)
This is the plot, I think, of Headshot.
“Uwais is charming and carries a lot of charisma and wears child-like innocence across his face (until he beats you to death).”
It’s actually unclear what Headshot is really about. A man trying to figure out his past and why he was shot in the head? A love story? Or, why people with bad tattoos, dull machetes and life choices are after him when it’s discovered he’s alive? That, dear reader, I don’t have the answer to, and I don’t think the directors — The Mo Brothers (Killers) — do either.
For some reason, after treating thug patient after thug patient for a long time, Doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan) decides to wait around and sleep on a couch until Ishmael wakes up, so she can be his love interest and give the movie a subplot. In the opening scene, the first storyline starts to let us know how crazzzz… sorry, nodded off for a moment explaining, how crazy the main villain is. If there’s one thing the Mo Brothers did right, it’s filling an action movie with every cliche possible.
For every film I’ve seen him in, Uwais puts in 110%. He wants a jazzy show for his audience and never disappoints. His mighty fists of fury and zippy action choreography are a marvel to watch. Moreover, he’s very likable on screen when not putting his characters’ adversaries six feet under; Uwais is charming and carries a lot of charisma and wears child-like innocence across his face (until he beats you to death). However, the “Uwais Team” of fight choreographers, Uwais’ charm, and fight scenes aren’t enough to save Headshot, a very messy film.
Speaking of the fight scenes, they are ruined by the choppy editing, sloppy and unnecessary CGI, and anti-climatic kills. No fight in this movie is exciting, and that’s not something you want to read in a review about a movie starring Iko Uwais (which will be referenced as “Kill Bill meets The Bourne Identity” by some writer who wants to be quoted on the cover of the DVD. Publicists: Please don’t use that for us.).
There’s a moment in the movie when Ishmael uses a table to defend himself and kill a man. Sounds awesome, right? It’s so humdrum, all I could think about is if the table was from IKEA and who put it together. Trust me; it pains me to say it as much as you to read it.
I’m don’t want to compare Headshot to Gareth Evans’ intangible duology with Uwais, The Raid 1 and 2, but it’s unavoidable. (To begin, most of the cast from The Raid 2 are in Headshot, including Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man.) So, to be a little fair, I’m only going to do it in this paragraph. The difference in Evans and the Mo Brothers is this: Evans and his camera know how to move around this lightning fast fighter and the goons he remodels into mush; a hard task, indeed, but Evans did with great panache. When you have warriors as fast as Uwais, careful camerawork and slick editing are critical — these are two things missing from Headshot.
OK, I lied. I’m not done comparing. Come fight me. (Must be under 5’2 and weigh less than 100 pounds.) In Headshot, Uwais’ Ishmael comes across superhuman. He takes a lot of beatings, gets shot and stabbed, and keeps going like he’s superhuman. Edwards knew when to slow down Uwais’ seemingly invincibility in The Raid franchise. In this first one, Uwais’ Rama couldn’t beat the last bad guy on his own. This hero would have died without help. Evans knows limitations, and the Mo Brothers haven’t figured it out (yet).
This is what makes me worry — Edwards won’t be directing every Uwais movie. Will the man so close to being the next cinematic Bruce Lee be able to survive without his first director? He has the heart, spirit, vision, and fists of fury for it. I guess only time will tell.
Another hard task is balancing the violence. Headshot is just gross. It’s not fun and takes away any pleasure left watching the choppy fight scenes. “But Whale, The Raid movies are ultra-violent.” Yes, you are correct, meticulous reader, but the blood splatter and sexy camerawork in The Raid 1 and 2 command you to clap and cheer at the breath-stopping fights and inventive kills.
Another big problem with Headshot — it meanders; just putters along and often forgets it’s a movie. It also feels like half of the movie is missing, like the Mo Brothers just focused on Uwais’ kicks and punches. To their credit, Uwais does flaunt some wild stunts, kicks, punches, and kills in this film, but they get lost in the bad cinematography, storytelling, and editing. A damn shame.
Headshot is the Mo Brothers’ first action film, so perhaps maybe a small applaud for trying. The heart is there; it just stops beating.
Headshot (2016) Directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto. Starring: Iko Uwais
This film earns a grade of “C-“