September 23, 2020

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Action flick a fix for those missing Hollywood

Tale of an orphan-turned-superhero faintly resembles Batman, but with grittier origins

It would be too easy for western audiences to assume that superhero movies from Asia are merely riding the coattails of Hollywood’s recent cycle of films from the Marvel/DC universes.

It’s not true, of course, and it’s especially not true of the Indonesian film industry, which has been translating comics to celluloid since the early 1970s, if not earlier.

Given the vacuum of Hollywood product created by the COVID-19 pandemic, now is an especially good time to check out the differences. Gundala, newly released this week on DVD, is adapted from a comics character created by Hasmi Suraminata in 1969.

It’s the first of a planned series of films in the BumiLangit Cinematic Universe (BCU). It is also the second movie go-round for the lightning-powered character, who first appeared on screens back in 1981.

Well Go Entertainment</p><p>Gundala, starring Abimana Aryasatya as Sancaka/Gundala, may resemble a product of the Marvel universe, but is much more raw and gritty.</p>

Well Go Entertainment

Gundala, starring Abimana Aryasatya as Sancaka/Gundala, may resemble a product of the Marvel universe, but is much more raw and gritty.

While it may have borrowed some elements of, say, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (including an end-credits "stinger"), it’s a movie very distinctive to its Indonesian origins.

It’s much grittier, for one thing. Western audiences may be most familiar with Indonesian-style action via Gareth Evans’ 2011 film The Raid and its sequel. Gundala, at times, feels just as raw as that.

Also, the origin story of its hero makes Bruce Wayne look downright coddled. We meet the child Sancaka (Muzakki Ramdhan) being raised by a loving mother and father on the mean streets of a decrepit Javanese city. Dad is a labour leader, murdered by one of his own men during a strike action. Sancaka’s mom disappears a year later, leaving the child to fend for himself, although he does get help from the streetwise Awang (Fariz Fadjar), who teaches Sancaka how to fight.

Years pass, and the adult Sancaka (Abimana Aryasatya) tries to live by Awang’s edict: Trust no one. But when his beautiful neighbour (Tara Basro) is harassed by thugs, he demonstrates his martial arts ability, which eventually puts him up against burn-scarred Indonesian crimelord Pengkor (Bront Palarae), another orphan, who commands a secret army of orphans to do his bidding.

He’s outnumbered and outgunned. But the lightning-phobic Sancaka learns he gains power from lightning, and can use it against his enemies.

Well Go Entertainment</p><p>The orphan Sancaka (Muzakki Ramdhan) learns to fight from fellow street kid Awang (Fariz Fadjar). </p>

Well Go Entertainment

The orphan Sancaka (Muzakki Ramdhan) learns to fight from fellow street kid Awang (Fariz Fadjar).

In creating a menace for his hero to foil, director Joko Anwar, who also scripted, devises a truly bizarre plot point: pregnant women have been infected by Pengkor’s minions with a poison that will render their children… immoral. That may be a curious kind of menace, but presumably, it speaks to specific generational issues afflicting Indonesia. (For context, see the documentary The Act of Killing, which focuses on the perpetrators of the Indonesian genocide of 1965-66, which led to the deaths of almost a million people.)

Still, one can’t deny Anwar’s talent for creating decent superhero spectacle on the kind of money that would barely cover the catering in a Marvel movie. Much of the action owes to the Indonesian martial art silat utilized so well by Evans in the Raid movies.

That said, Gundala isn’t necessarily a good substitute for Marvel/DC fare. Children — including the hero — are often the victims of violence, and the plot is potentially upsetting for pregnant women as well.

Otherwise, for teens and adults jonesing for superhero action, Gundala may be the fix they need.

Twitter: @FreepKing

Well Go Entertainment</p><p>Outmanned and outgunned, Sancaka discovers he gains power from lightning.</p>

Well Go Entertainment

Outmanned and outgunned, Sancaka discovers he gains power from lightning.

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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