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The Ishmael identity
The Raid leading man Iko Uwais stars as an amnesiac with a dark past forced to fight for his life and that of the doctor who has been caring for him in HEADSHOT, the Mo Brothers' largely glamour-stripped first action movie. Slarek puts up his fists and reviews the film on Arrow's bare bones Blu-ray.

In a prison drained of almost every colour except green, the governor and a group of armed guards enter what we can assume is Death Row, where they push their way past the scrawny prisoner who's mopping the floor and make their way to the metallically sealed cell at the far end of the block. In it sits Lee (Sunny Pang), who from the pictures that the governor throws in and angrily orders him to look at has probably been convicted of doing something horrible to children. While the governor taunts Lee, the prisoner with the mop produces a secreted knife and stabs one of the armed guards. A battle ensues that leaves all of the guards dead, the prisoner mortally wounded, and the governor horribly injured and crawling across the floor. Lee, meanwhile, has managed to grab a gun from the governor after he stupidly stuck his pistol through the cell door's observation window in an attempt to shoot his prisoner, and now uses it to open the world's weakest maximum security cell door lock, and kills the governor by doing something horrible with his mouth. In what appears at first to be an act of criminal unity, Lee then sets the other prisoners free and gives them all weapons. When this armed mob turns the corner, however, another squad of armed guards is waiting with their guns drawn. The prisoners and guards shoot the crap out of each other, and when they're all dead (except one, and he soon will be), the unmarked Lee calmly makes his way to freedom. As you should have surmised by now, he is the film's bad guy. He even has a couple of distinctive facial scars.

Lee concludes his business

An unspecified time later, an elderly shore fisherman finds the unconscious body of a young man (Iko Uwais) when he washes up on the beach. Bearing a wound that indicates that he was shot in the head – a headshot, if you will – he is transported to hospital and remains in a comatose state for some time under the care of pretty doctor Ailin (Chelsea Islan). With no clue to his identity, Ailin names him Ishmael after the narrator of the book she is currently reading. You don't need me to tell you which one, do you? When he finally comes to, amnesia leaves him unable to recall what happened to him or even who he is. Ailin becomes quite fond of him and suggests he travel to Jakarta with her to have someone look at the shrapnel that's still stuck in his head. How is all this connected to the opening scene? Time will soon tell.

The at-large Lee, meanwhile, has been supplying guns and drugs to a surly gangster who is unimpressed with the quality of his merchandise and has decided to cut him loose, and has assembled a team of armed goons to do the cutting in question. Lee shows up late for their warehouse meet and proceeds to mess with the gangster's head by breaking out some chopsticks and starting to eat his lunch. He's accompanied only by Rika (Julie Estelle), whose icy demeanour, neckerchief-covered features and consistent alert eyes suggest she probably has a surprise or two for anyone daft enough to mess with her boss. Just outside, another posse of goons is heading towards the warehouse, but a group of Lee's people are lying in wait and it only needs the baton-wielding Romli (Epy Kusnandar) to take the entire party down, which he does in a superbly choreographed whirl of no-nonsense moves captured in a single, circling, handheld shot. Rika then shows those inside the warehouse why Lee only needs a single young female bodyguard. The sole survivor of her merciless response and Lee's stabby chopsticks is the tattooed Bondi (Ganindra Bimo). He pleads for his life and I mean really pleads, and turns out that he has information of interest to Lee, information regarding Ishmael's location. Aha... What Lee needs now is someone to go to the hospital and dig a little deeper, and he thus gives Bondi the reason he needs by shooting part of his ear off. The resulting injury prosthetic is one of the least convincing I've seen in some while, with enough extra cartilage added to the injured ear to clearly mismatch it to its unharmed companion.

Ailin treats Bondi's ear

Once at the hospital, Bondi starts throwing his weight around and physically threatens Ailin for information, behaviour that is brought to a sharp halt by the arrival of Ishmael, who slams Bondi against a wall and disarms him of his gun with a swiftness and skill that he didn't seem to realise he had. Is any of this starting to have a familiar ring? But the tentative connections to Bourne prove to be just that. On her way to Jakarta, Ailin is kidnapped when her bus is ambushed and the passengers massacred by Bondi and a pair of ruthless goons named Tejo and Tano. The alerted Ishmael arrives too late to intervene but just in time to get into a messy battle with the boys who've been sent to dispose of any evidence. Finding himself the chief suspect for the massacre, the desperate Ishmael becomes determined to track down and rescue Ailin, a quest that will see his memory gradually restored and bring him face to face with darker aspects of his past.

For anyone who's been keeping an eye on the cream of international action cinema, the principal draw here will be lead player Iko Uwais, who made such an impact in Gareth Evans' The Raid films and their earlier Marantau. But if you come expecting martial arts battles of the breathless speed and choreographic dazzle of those in The Raid: Redemption and The Raid 2, there's a good chance you'll be left a little wanting. There's a more down and dirty approach to the combat here, which intermittently plays out as you'd like to believe such encounters would if people with martial arts training really did have to fight for their lives. As a result, they make mistakes, become injured and sometimes resort to crudely lashing out or grabbing anything to hand to swing at their opponent. During one crucial fight in which both combatants are finding it increasingly hard to continue, one of them is suddenly halted by the severity of his internal injuries and walks away from the fight to die quietly alone. I'm not sure I've ever seen that in a martial arts film before. There's also some real variance in the style and content of the fighting and the weapons used, though it is worth being prepared for just how many times victims are violently stabbed or impaled with whatever the aggressor can lay his or her hands on.

Ishmael battle a would-be assassin

Working against this a little is an action movie logic that allows Ishmael and Ailin to survive encounters that in the real world would have seen them soundly and quickly dispatched. Thus Ishmael is able to escape the effects of a grenade blast by holding up a wooden table as protection from shrapnel that would have like punched holes in its surface and torn his unprotected legs to shreds. Similarly, when Tejo and Tano open fire with machine-guns inside the bus in which Ailin is travelling, she remains unscathed by ducking behind a seat, which is not the most bullet-proof part of any vehicle and does nothing to protect her unfortunate fellow passengers. Mind you, as tough-guy assassins go, Tejo and Tano are far from the sharpest pins in the box. When they board the bus in search of Ailin, instead of walking down the aisle and grabbing her as logic would dictate, they stand at the front calling her name, and when they can't see her from there, they shoot the shit out of everything, presumably in the hope of hitting here wherever she may be (eight feet away, guys!). Later, when they find themselves suddenly face to face with the unarmed Ishmael and he dives behind a desk for cover, they just stand where they are emptying bullets into the woodwork without inflicting a scratch on their intended target instead of taking three steps forward to get a clear shot.

Headshot certainly aims high in its efforts to make a martial arts-based action movie with more dramatic depth than the genre norm, and how well it succeeds will be a personal call. Realism is repeatedly undermined by the shaky logic of action cinema, and intriguing though Ishmael's emerging backstory proves to be, it has more than a whiff of comic-book villainy about it. But if you don't go in expecting The Raid III (and you shouldn't), then Headshot still has a good deal to recommend it, from the string of impressively staged and fought combat sequences that make up the bulk of the final act, to the smartly sobering moment when Ishmael realises just who the two men he has just defeated in combat actually are. It's certainly a change of direction from Killers directors Kimo Stamboel and Timo Tjahjanto, aka The Mo Brothers, who alternate between formally composed static and dolly shots, and energetic handheld camerawork and small and largely tolerable bursts of waggle-cam. It's their first action movie and for me it was an uneven and occasionally frustrating ride, but also an intermittently rewarding and sometimes gripping one that I soon found myself itching to watch a second time.

sound and vision

Research suggests that Headshot was shot digitally on a RED Epic camera, and the 2.40:1 1080p transfer here is generally pristine, coping well with the sometimes extreme use of colour tinting (yes folks, it's back) and capturing the image detail as crisply as you'd expect from a RED-shot feature. The contrast hasn't been messed about with too much in post-production and is thus generally fine, with decent black levels and visible shadow detail. Daylight sequences tend to look best and have more naturalistic colour.

Ishmael fights for his life against Rika

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack is a beefy mix, with excellent clarity and some real punch to the score and the sound effects when the action hots up, both of which are spread effectively around the room. The main language is Indonesian, for which there are clear English subtitles, which do not cover the English language dialogue. There was no option to switch these on or off on the review disc menu, but they can be turned off with the disc player remote if you have a ‘subtitle' button.

extra features

Now here's a thing. On the menu of the supplied review disc there are none, but when I put this disc into my computer's Blu-ray player and dug beneath the surface to get a few screen grabs, I found a slickly assembled Trailer (2:25). I'm guessing this will be accessible from the main menu on the release disc. A fuzzy, standard-definition trailer for Battle Royale and a short ‘coming soon' teaser for Audition (which is already out on Blu-ray and is only coming soon on DVD), have been (mis)placed to play before you get to the main menu, but can be skipped past. Why these two and what's with the low res trailer for Battle Royale?


An intriguing and darkly entertaining blend of drama, gunplay, brutality and martial arts action that doesn't play to expectations created by the showcase work of its leading man, but that's no bad thing, despite the odd piece of action movie fantasy physics. The film looks and sounds great on Arrow's Blu-ray, but a few (more) extra features would have been nice.

Headshot Blu-ray cover

Indonesia 2016
118 mins
directed by
Kimo Stamboel
Timo Tjahjanto
produced by
Shinjiro Nishimura
Wicky V. Olindo
Mike Wiluan
written by
Timo Tjahjanto
Yunus Pasolang
Arifin Cu'unk
Aria Prayogi
Fajar Yuskemal
production design
Iqbal Marjono
Iko Uwais
Chelsea Islan
Sunny Pang
Very Tri Yulisman
Julie Estelle
Ario Bayu
Epy Kusnandar

disc details
region B
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
Indonesian / English
Trailer (perhaps)
Arrow Films
release date
5 June 2017
review posted
5 June 2017

See all of Slarek's reviews