Iko Uwais continues his ass-kicking ways in the frantic HEADSHOT, a 2016 Indonesian actioner directed by Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto. This picture, which was written by Tjahjanto, is fluid, organic and cruel in all the best ways. It carries a familiar plot, but there are surprising layers as the protagonist kicks, punches, stabs, shoots, and scrapes his way through a convoy of enemies. There is variety and flavour to the action, with the smashing fight choreography making use of a pile of different styles.
Uwais stars as an unknown man convalescing in hospital under the care of Ailin (Chelsea Islan), who’s reading MOBY-DICK. When the guy wakes up, she decides to call him Ishmael and wants to take care of him. Ishmael can’t remember a thing and sets out to find himself. Regrettably, a crime lord (Sunny Pang) has a stake in things. He’s been raising orphans to operate in his gang and Ishmael is one of them. When Ailin is captured, the hero gets going and carves his way through a veritable militia.
At its core, HEADSHOT is about the reclamation of identity. Ishmael discovers that the violence he was born into is entrenched deeper than anything good. He can’t remember his name or any particulars. He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. But when the shit hits the fan, Ishmael knows exactly what to do. He becomes the ruthless killing machine his “father” built him to be. He clashes with other characters who could notionally be his siblings, including the viciously tragic Rika (Julia Estelle). Each fight, of which there are many, tests Ishmael physically, personally and spiritually.
HEADSHOT presents a world awash in bloodshed and violence. It’s grubby and lethal and nobody is spared the consequences. Stamboel and Tjahjanto, along with cinematographer Yunus Pasolang, institute an inflammatory world that lacks harmony and resonates with churning, crushing visuals. Uwais’ character is less person than tool and his journey is one of purification by violence. It’s a near religious proposal, involving the comprehension of guilt and the opportunity of redemption. Of course, the path to such redemption requires a whole lot of graphic violence. And boy does HEADSHOT deliver.