Headshot *** / *****
Directed by: Kimo Stamboel & Timo Tjahjanto.
Written by: Timo Tjahjanto.
Starring: Iko Uwais (Ishmael), Chelsea Islan (Ailin), Sunny Pang (Lee), Very Tri Yulisman (Besi), Julie Estelle (Rika), Yayu A.W. Unru (Romli).
Iko Uwais is a truly talented motion picture martial artist. No, he isn’t in the Bruce Lee-Jackie Chan-Jet Li territory yet, but one day, he may get there. I even admire how he’s been fairly selective in his choices up until now – Headshot is only his sixth film since his debut in 2009. He is still best known for the two Raid films (2011 and 2014) – even if he did have a brief appearance in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Uwais is pretty much the only reason to see Headshot, and overlong, bloody martial arts movies in which he plays a man with amnesia, who has to save the beautiful doctor who nursed him back to health and take down a criminal enterprise, mostly through the art of kicking people. He is excellent at that art, and when Headshot is just about Uwais fighting, it is excellent. Unfortunately, there is a whole lot more time than necessary when Uwais isn’t kicking things, and that drags the movie down.
The movie opens with a great extended sequence inside a prison – where a cop comes in to mock a prisoner named Lee (Sunny Pang) – who is being kept under extreme security, apparently facing a death sentence. Of course, Lee will find a way to get out of that prison cell in an action sequence that sets the stage for what they will all look like for the rest of the film – it is long, brutal and bloody, and doesn’t skimp on the body count. By the end of the first 10 minutes of Headshot, dozens of people are dead on the floor – and we’re just getting started.
You don’t really need to know the plot of Headshot to enjoy it. Basically, Lee is a bad guy, Ishmael (Uwais) is a man who wakes up om a beach with amnesia, who eventually figures out what his connection with Lee is, and has to fight through his henchmen to get to him – especially after kidnaps Ailin (Chelsea Islan) – the beautiful doctor who helped Ishmael, and a small, innocent girl – from a bus, after machine gunning everyone else on that bus down. Ishmael may not remember who he is at first, but there doesn’t seem to be any problem with him remembering how to kick people.
In many ways, you could say that Headshot resembles a video game – as Ismael has to fight his way past one henchman after another, in different colorful locales, and each a little more difficult than the last before getting to Lee. As a fighter, Uwais is generous – in that while he is always going to win, he lets whoever his sparring partner is get in more than a few good licks. The action sequences in the movie are visceral and exciting – and show more skill than American action directors, who rely on rapid fire editing to falsely create that kind of tension. Here, there are extended, long takes of fighting, and it is exciting.
The rest of the movie is, to put it kindly, not all that good. The story is lame and I hated the fact that the brought in a child just to put her in peril. But the reason to watch the film is to watch the action – and on that level, and only that level, Headshot delivers.