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Review: GUNDALA (2019)

While a great source of both action and horror films, Indonesia hasn’t produced much in the way of superhero films. Valentine: The Dark Avenger is the only one I can think of. Joko Anwar (Satan’s Slaves, Impetigore) however is out to change that, starting with Gundala, based on one of the country’s first comic book heroes. Anwar is an incredibly talented filmmaker, but can he compete with the Marvel and DC films with their nine-digit budgets?

Sancaka (Muzakki Ramdhan) learns the harsh realities of life at a very young age. During a labour dispute, he sees his father (Rio Dewanto, Foxtrot Six) murdered by the company’s enforcers. His mother goes away for what is supposed to be a day, but never returns. He grows up on the street, where he learns to fight and to mind his own business. Compassion is weakness, and weakness gets you killed.

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Now grown, Sancaka (Abimana Aryasatya) still minds his own business, ignoring the crime around him. Until it strikes close to home and his neighbour (Tara Basro, Killers) is attacked. He kicks ass, but they come looking for him and bring friends. He’s thrown off a roof and left for dead. But a bolt of lightning resurrects him and gives him superpowers. As he uses those powers, he draws the attention of mob boss Pengkor (Bront Palarae, Acacia Motel, Dukun) and his army of orphan assassins.

Updating the story from the 1960s to the present, Anwar starts the film off as a more straightforward martial arts film. In doing so, he makes the connection between the superhuman martial arts heroics of films like The Raid and The Night Comes for Us explicit. Sancaka is a skilled fighter even before he gains his powers. And it’s that skill which serves him best even after he becomes Gundala. All those characters needed was a costume. He has it.

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And he gets plenty of opportunities to show those skills. Gundala runs just over two hours, and the first part of the film is origin material for both our hero and Pengkor. But once the action kicks in, it’s frequent and frantic. The film doesn’t have many of the bigger names, though sharp-eyed viewers can spot Cecep Arif Rahman (The Raid 2, John Wick 3) among the brawlers.

Thankfully, Gundala doesn’t try to compete with the likes of The Avengers or whatever version of Batman DC is currently pushing. With a budget of just over $2,000,000, it would have been beyond foolish to try. Instead, Anwar keeps the action within the budget and delivers solid, if smaller-scaled entertainment. Maybe if this takes off in the West, the sequel can attract some studio funding.

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Gundala is however like them in one way. It’s the first film in what is intended to be the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe. Apart from a sequel, there are already plans for at least two other films. One, Si Buta dari Gua Hantu: Mata Malaikat about a blind martial artist, directed by Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre, Headshot). I’d like to see Anwar and Kimo Stamboel reteam, after Queen of Black Magic I can only imagine what they’d come up with for a supervillain.

Already a hit in its home country, Gundala will be released in North America by Well Go USA on July 28th. You can check out the Indonesian Facebook page or Well Go USA’s page while you wait.

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