Merantau (2009)
Magnet Releasing
Cast: Iko Uwais, Mads Koudal, Sisca Jessica
Extras: Bloopers, Featurettes, Trailers

Making its North American debut at Fantastic Fest, 'Merantau' is already expected to be a heavy hitter. This is because the annual film festival, which showcases select genre films from around the globe, is known for some hard hitting, no-holds-barred cinema. As a veteran of the fest, I have mainly focused on their horror and sci-fi specialties, but have been impressed with the martial arts selection as well. Films like 'Flash Point' and 'Kiltro' were entertaining enough to get my blood pumping. More recently I was in awe of 'The Man From Nowhere' and its ability to juggle a good story with white knuckle action. The bar for Fantastic Fest films is a high one. Can 'Merantau' hold its own now that it is off the festival circuit? Magnet seems to think so.

Yuda (Iko Uwais) is becoming a man. The traditional rite of passage for him is to undergo "Merantau", in which he must leave his West Sumatera home and make a name for himself. Yuda, being polite and ambitious, wants to teach Silat to the people in Jakarta, but finds himself on a dangerous side road. He has an encounter with Astri (Sisca Jessica) and ends up in battle with a gang whose leader Ratger (Mads Koudal) profits from human trafficking. This doesn't sit well with the kind kid from Sumatera and he is prepared to fight for what he believes is right. "Merantau" will certainly show what Yuda is made of.

The film feels an awful lot like Tony Jaa's 2003 fist fest 'Ong-Bak'. There is a young martial artist with a knack for finding the thugs in the world and has a fight once about ten minutes of movie time passes. 'Merantau' is certainly polished and attempts to provide depth by making this a 'coming of age' tale, but the overall feel of the film seems a bit restrained. Martial arts fans have seen this story unfold countless times, which forces the film to lean on the fights scenes to rise above the competitors. Iko Uwais is great in the lead role and has amazing skills that would destroy my body if I tried to pull them off, but the fight scenes just don't pop the way I hoped they would. This polished film doesn't have the raw energy that really makes this martial arts film memorable and it takes itself too seriously which leaves Ratger, an over the top boss, feeling like a parody. The end result will leave viewers longing for the grit and realistic combat from movies like 'Ong-Bak'.

'Merantau' is presented with a 1080p, AVC encoded 1.78:1 transfer. Given the film was shot in high definition, one would expect the end result to look much better. Flesh tones are a bit off and colors seem a bit too bright. Overall, the end result is a bit too murky. How can a picture be bright and murky? This transfer is unbalanced. One would assume this has to do with post production, which contributes to an unfortunate end result. The optional subtitles are easy to read throughout the feature.

Why does this film default to the DTS-HD 5.1 English dub? It not only gives the film laughable voice acting, it takes away from the authenticity of the film. Film lovers should stop being lazy and choose the DTS-HD 5.1 Indonesian track. Subtitles won't hurt anyone and you'll still see everything that unfolds on the screen. That being settled, the Master Audio track does a good job balancing dialogue levels and action effects. Most of the movie's sound takes place on the front field, but the music fills rear speakers in a great way providing a bit of depth to the sound field. 'Merantau' won't be a reference disc for audio, but it gets the job done.

The highlights may be in the extra features department as Magnet seems to have rolled out the red carpet for 'Merantau'. All are presented in standard definition and start with 'Deleted Scenes' (19:05). The film had an original runtime of over two hours and it seems these three scenes are the ones that fleshed out that runtime. After the brief 'Bloopers' (2:42), there is 'The Making of Merantau' (18:07). This feature is a bit less Hollywood (not a ton of self-congratulatory comments) and does give curious viewers a look at some behind the scenes footage along with interviews from the cast and crew. The bulk of the additional features is found in a 'Video Production Journal' (54:07). There are ten installments here that were used to update fans via the internet on how production was going. This gives plenty of behind the scenes footage and is almost like a director's cut of the 'Making of' feature. 'The Bamboo Pole Stunt' (1:22) shows all twenty-two takes on perfecting this scene. 'Storyboard to Screen: Fight Comparison' (6:26) isn't quite as advertised. Rather than seeing concept art or storyboard art, it is a picture in picture feature showcasing rehersal footage and the final product. Rounding out the disc are the 'International Promo Reel' (5:17), 'International Trailer' (2:55) and other Magnolia trailers for 'Rubber', 'Monsters', and 'Down Terrace'.

I have been tough on 'Merantau'. My high hopes for a solid Fantastic Fest alumni title has left me a bit disappointed. The film will no doubt entertain for a couple of hours, but it just doesn't rise to heights I hoped for. The average audio and video quality complement the average movie. I was impressed with the extra features on the disc. Magnet certainly brought the goods for this little known film and their efforts are commendable. Add this one to your Netflix queue and keep expectations low – you'll thank me for the foreign popcorn flick.