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Review: BUFFALO BOYS (2018) – New York Asian Film Festival

As a producer, Mike Wiluan has had a hand in films such as HEADSHOT and BEYOND SKYLINE, helping to establish Indonesian films in the world market. With BUFFALO BOYS, he makes his debut as a director. The result is a big, rowdy mix of classic Western and martial arts film traditions.

Jamar (Ario Bayu, THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, JAVA HEAT) and Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso) are sons of a Sultan killed by Dutch colonial troops and raised in the American West by their uncle Arana (Tio Pakusadewo THE RAID 2). After Arana is nearly killed, they decide it is time to return to their homeland and avenge their family.

Almost immediately, they are caught in the middle of a struggle between the local villagers and their colonial occupiers. Farmers are being forced to grow opium rather than food. Bodies hanging by the road show the fate of those who resist. And the man in charge is Van Trach (Reinout Bussemaker THE 4TH MAN), the man who killed their father.

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Mixing Indonesian history with both Hollywood and Spaghetti Western stylings BUFFALO BOYS is a unique beast. Filled with fights and frequently brutal violence, it delivers on the level of an action film. As a Western, it’s filled with gunfights and fist fights. As an Indonesian historical film, there’s also plenty of swordplay mixed in. The brutality with which they are used and with which various tortures are applied carries the feel of the nastiest of the Italian Westerns. The ride through the forest of hanging bodies evokes some of the more Gothic Italian horrors, for that matter.

I was concerned that the combination of genres would feel forced, like the “Space Westerns” that flourished during the VHS era. But it actually fits the time period well, Van Trach and his men are perfect replacements for the traditional gang of outlaws and the brothers are a reasonable substitute for the vengeance-seeking stranger. And it all boils down to an epic final showdown.

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BUFFALO BOYS is an auspicious directorial debut for Wiluan. It’s also one of the best Westerns I’ve seen in ages. It played closing night at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival and debuts in its home country July 19th. Here’s hoping it finds distribution here soon, this is one I’d love to see again.

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