Wednesday, 26 July 2017

On demand: "Headshot"

The tremendous success of the Raid films has led Western buyers to look East - much as they did in the wake of John Woo's The Killer and Park Chan-wook's OldBoy - and led Eastern filmmakers to resume production on the kind of high-octane actioners liable to grab Western buyers by the collar. Headshot takes us back to Indonesia, and combines the expected kick-assery with elements of a puzzle-picture like Memento. Iko Uwais, the Raid franchise's lithe, bullet-quick hero, washes up without memory on an unfamiliar shore, and is prompted - first by a kindly nurse, then the arrival of heavies with guns - to figure out the cause of his amnesia; initial evidence points to the likelihood it has something to do with the violent jailbreak we bear witness to before the opening credits. As he sets out on this quest, we inevitably wind up making mental comparisons with the Raids. Headshot takes rather more time to get up and running after that prologue, and can feel tatty whenever Uwais isn't duffing someone up: functionally plotted (its memory games boiling down to a standard-issue matter of vengeance) and variably performed, it's the 21st century equivalent of those action titles that headed direct-to-video in the van Damme/Seagal era.

What is thrillingly apparent, however, is the extent to which action choreography - the staging, shooting and cutting of fight scenes - has been radically improved in recent years, not so much by new ideas (although it's clear lightweight digital cameras help to throw an audience right into the thick of it) as by the return of an old, simplifying, quasi-musical one: letting us know exactly where these bodies are in relation to one another, such that entire sequences here can hinge upon the precise angle of a gun or a knife, or pivot on a close-up of metal fragments protruding, Wolverine-style, from between one ne'er-do-well's knuckles. Uwais, whose resemblance to the young Phillip Schofield makes his eruptions of murderous rage all the more surprising, marauds through these stand-offs, which is my warning to viewers of a delicate or sensitive disposition to avert their gaze - but he's also possessed of a dexterity and flexibility that allows him to punctuate his big beats with those deft touches that made Jackie Chan a huge crowd favourite back in the day. Yes, you'll yelp as he snaps yet another arm or neck on his route to the truth, but watch him thwart the heavy who's just doused a commuter bus in petrol by blowing out his lighter, and try not to smile.

Headshot is now streaming on Netflix, and is available on DVD and Blu-Ray through Arrow Films.  

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