Ever since the release of The Raid (2011), it seems like Indonesia is the go to destination for hard hitting action. Of course they had been making quality films well before Gareth Evans put Iko Uwais in a high rise, but it seemed like that was the film that made Western audiences take note. Since then there’s been the likes of Headshot (2016), The Night Comes for Us (2018) and Hit and Run (2019).
Now director Randolph Zaini steps into the ring with his debut feature, Preman: Silent Fury. While it in no way compares to those features mentioned, Zaini has made an exciting first movie with enough interesting material to make audiences take notice.
Sandi (Khiva Iskak) is a deaf gangster, or “Preman”. A “Preman” is defined as a gangster who has a self-serving form of justice. Sandi works for the corrupt Guru (Kiki Narendra) who is the head of a criminal organization that was originally created to help people before being twisted into something that would willingly see the same people on the street.
With this Sandi is given the unwelcome job of clearing out a local neighborhood so that Guru can sell off the land. One person unwilling to leave is Pak Haji (Egy Fedly) who was once the leader of the gang before turning to a life of peace. Sandi has a history with Haji, with him being the person who took care of him years ago when he had the accident that struck him deaf.
Deafness isn’t all that plagues Sandi, with him being haunted by a series of weird dreams where he is surrounded by people in animal costumes. As the film progresses we begin to find out more of what these dreams mean.
For all his troubles, Sandi still tries to be a good father to his son Pandu (Muzakki Ramdhan) even if he isn’t exactly the best role model. He would be more than happy to continue his life of crime if it wasn’t for his son witnessing Guru’s murder of Haji. This causes the two of them to flee, with Guru sending a group of henchmen after them, chief amongst them being the sociopathic Ramon (Revaldo). Realizing he can’t run forever, Sandi will have to face his pursuers.
The U.S. educated Zaini has gone to great lengths to make Preman: Silent Fury something a bit different from typical martial arts fare. Notably, he is clearly more interested in the relationship between father and son than he is making a typical action movie. This works in the movie’s favor, working better as a drama as the one drawback of the film lies in its action scenes.
While the fight scenes are certainly unique, with there being very little in the way of traditional hand to hand fight scenes, they don’t exactly get the pulses raging. I did appreciate that Sandi chose to use a flail (the “Monkey Fist”) rather than a traditional weapon, with it having devastating results. However, it doesn’t exactly call for Stunt coordinator’s Daniel and Jonathan Ozohany to create any elaborate choreography, with the majority of the fights being either basic or all too brief.
Saying that, Zaini along with the brothers Ozohany do manage to include two noteworthy fight scenes, both for different reasons. One is the brutal one on one fight between Sandi and Ramon, with Sandi being continuously sliced and stabbed by Ramon’s scissors. The other is the finale which Zaini shoots in a totally unexpected way, one which could have audiences cheering at the sheer audacity of the director or on the other hand could leave you totally bewildered. I won’t get into the specifics of the scene as I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise.
The plot of Preman: Silent Fury isn’t exactly original, but Zaini adds touches of social commentary along with some unexpected surreal elements which makes the film feel fresher than it otherwise would have. Sure, not everything in the film works, with it sometimes feeling like two different styles of film competing with each other, but Zaini for the most part makes everything work.
Zaini, who also wrote the screenplay, doesn’t make any judgments on his characters. Early in the film Haji speaks of how Sandi is essentially a good man, just that he is in with the wrong crowd. As the film progresses, it seems less and less that this is the truth.
While we are led to believe that Sandi has been caught up in this life of crime, we begin to see that he has had opportunities to leave this world behind. His selfish life choices have resulted in his son being brought up around violence, something Sandi doesn’t seem too much in a rush to change until he is given no other choice.
There is very little in the way of female presentation in the movie other than Putri Ayudya’s Mayang & Salvita Decorte’s Cherry, who both berate Sandi on the lifestyle he has chosen. Both characters seem to be the only voices of reason in the film, with everyone else caught up in a maelstrom of violence, either oblivious to the harm they cause or impotent in their attempts to stop it.
Clearly Zaini is working with limited resources, but for all that he has, he created a visually stylish thriller. He and his director of photography Xing-Mai Deng include some impressive visuals, with the surreal moments allowing Deng to go especially wild, with the crazy finale being one of the film’s most memorable sequences.
Zaini additionally gives the film something of a comic book feel in certain scenes, not just in how the characters are portrayed but in how he frames the action and plays around with the aspect ratio. On occasion this does slightly jar with the rest of the film, but I can understand that this being Zaini’s first film that he would be experimenting with his visual style.
Khiva Iskak conveys a lot considering he has no dialogue, with everything being expressed through his face. His hand dog expressions add immeasurably to the downtrodden Sandi, a character that clearly loves his son and wants better for him even if his lifestyle is what puts his son in danger. He equips himself well in the more action orientated scenes, using his “Monkey Fist” against his opponents, only changing to a blade when the time arises.
Having Sandi be deaf adds an additional obstacle that Sandi has to overcome, with him not always aware of what is going on around him. While his disability could be seen as a hindrance, it is smartly used to his advantage in one effective scene, where his opponents are almost deafened by high pitched speakers. As everyone else holds there ears, struggling to deal with the noise, Sandi is able to quickly take down his prey.
Iskak shares the majority of his scenes with the young Muzakki Ramdhan, who surprisingly doesn’t play Pandu as an annoying little shit like so many kids in action movies, giving quite a naturalized performance. Sure, he does act out now and again, with one particular scene standing out where he begins to beat his own father before Sandi can calm him down. Even so, this is understandable considering the life he has been forced to live at such a young age.
The main standout for me was Revaldo as the flamboyant Ramon a.k.a The Barber. Totally un-PC, Revaldo’s comically evil villain feels like he belongs in a different movie, with his character at once being stereotypical and blackly comic in equal measure. His choice of weapons additionally makes for a change. I can’t remember the last time, if ever, I saw an assassin’s choice of weapons be a pair of hairdresser’s scissors.
The reason the character works is partly to do with how Revaldo plays it, but also that you get the feeling Zaini knew how ridiculous this character was when he created him and is just having fun, something which the film needs due to the bleak subject matter. However, I could totally understand people being annoyed by his character, as he still does play into an age old stereotype which could be upsetting to some.
Of the remaining cast members, Kiki Narendra as Guru is a standout, with his villain being a truly deplorable human being, who hides his inadequacies through his power and violence. Clearly he is no physical threat, but with his army of gangsters behind him he gleefully lords over those in his command. He is the type of character that an audience will be waiting in anticipation for him to get his comeuppance, which Narendra seems to excel at.
As mentioned, there isn’t much in the way of female characterization although Salvita Decorte does well as the tough cherry even if she is underused. Her appearance does allow Zaini to include some commentary on misogyny, with her being the victim of a horrific rape, a scene we are thankfully not shown. How the men react to this is disgusting, with even her boyfriend acting like the crime was done to him until he is put in his place.
Considering the terrific action movies that have been coming from Indonesia in recent times, I would suggest lowering your expectations when approaching Preman: Silent Fury. Those expecting a full blown martial arts saga will surely be disappointed, but for those willing to give something a bit different a chance will find much to enjoy. While not a runaway success, Zaini has created a well made calling card that should lead to bigger things in his future.
Thanks to the good people at Well Go USA, Preman: Silent Fury is available on the streaming service Hi-YAH! before hitting Digital, Blu-ray™ and DVD on September 27th.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3/5 Overall: 3.2/5