This Indonesian gangland thriller “Preman” has the most badass villain’s henchman ever. His name is Ramon. He speaks French, and refers to himself in the third person.
“Ramon does not like cussing.”
Ramon keeps scissors and other hair care accessories — some of them lethal — in his leather salon holster. Ramon is a killer, and a hairdresser, and you’d better not cuss him or sling gay slurs his way. Because Ramon will CUT a bitch, and remind you that “Ramon’s sexual orientation is none of your business!”
Remember, Ramon is not the hero or anti-hero of this violent quest tale. He’s just a henchman. But when you’re building your movie around a deaf gangster trying to save his headstrong child from murderers, a fellow whose weapon of choice is a “monkey fist,” you’d better have somebody seriously colorful lined up against him.
“Preman” is titled “Preman: Silent Fury” for international release to separate it from other Indonesian gangster films. “Preman” are low-rent thugs, enforcers for assorted political or monied interests, the muscle that clears villages wanted for redevelopment or ensures political power in ways the corrupt, ineffectual, outmanned police cannot.
Sandi (Farell Akbar) has grown up in the gang, wearing the officially-provided shirts and pretending to listen to the harangues of the gang boss, Guru (Kiki Narendra), who works for a fat-cat politician. Sandi “pretends” to listen because he lost his hearing in some childhood accident or trauma.
Might his nightmares, which involve tangles with people in fuzzy cartoon animal suits, explain that?
When the gang is ordered to clear the settlement that’s grown up around an orphanage/school for the poor, run by the sage Haji (Egy Fedly), Sandi must take a side. Haji raised him after he went deaf, and Haji insists that Sandi take his son (Muzakki Ramdhan) and seek a better life for the kid.
The movie is about what happens when you don’t take a sage’s advice. Because Haji is threatened, but defiant. And Sandi’s boy Pandu is a tough little kid — bullied but hellbent on fighting back.
“When are you going to teach me to use the ‘monkey fist?'” the kid wants to know.
Dad’s secret weapon in a gang world where guns are rare and machetes, daggers and clubs, some wrapped in barbed wire, are the preferred and much more intimidating weapons of choice, is a ball on a rope.
When the Sandi and Pandu try to save Haji and run afoul of the gang, Guru sends for “The Barber.” Let’s let Ramon, the badass, vested and goateed barber from Jakarta, describe (in Indonesian) what his quarry is carrying.
A Monkey Fist is “a high velocity flail, with a blunt weight on its end, generating impact through centripetal force!”
You go, Ramon!
All Sandi has to do is spin it and whip it and skulls crack, teeth shatter and foes fall to the floor. Of course, it’s not the perfect weapon. If a mob is brave enough to come at him in numbers, or if the fight is in a confined space, he might not have room to whip it, whip it real good.
One of the many cool elements to “Preman” is how many people in Sandi’s life know sign language. Even when he and the multi-lingual dandy Ramon (Revaldo, in a movie-stealing performance) throw down, his foe knows how to sign his threats and trash talk.
The movie’s simple quest structure — a father struggling to get his rebellious, short-tempered child to safety — is somewhat muddied by the “fuzzies” flashbacks, and clumsy third act efforts to over-explain Sandi’s deafness and the ugly personal failing that caused it.
But for a movie with wanton violence and cruelty, with a compromised cop (Gilbert Pattiruhu) forced to watch a gang rape (not shown) as punishment and characters who weep at the loss of loved ones, it’s also darkly funny.
Punctuate an off-camera gang-rape scene with an emasculatingly “comical” confession of sexual dysfunction. Have a guy slur He Who will NOT be Slurred, Ramon, and see what he gets for it.
For all its universal action movie tropes, “Preman” is very much a product of its culture, some of it less palatable to Western eyes. But it’s a dashing writing/directing debut by that cinematic rarity, a sound guy (boom operator to editor) who moved up to directing.
And writer-director Randolph Zaini, playing around with narrative structure and even joking around with the (aspect ratio) frame in a few scenes, announces himself as an Indo-Action (just made that up) filmmaker to watch, another reminder that Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Thailand aren’t the only places in Asia that could teach Hollywood a thing or two about how to spice up a thriller.
Rating: TV-MA, graphic violence
Cast: Farell Akbar, Emil Kusumo, Kiki Narendra, Muzakki Ramdhan, Gilbert Pattiruhu, Putri Ayudya, Salvita Decorte and Revaldo
Credits: Scripted and directed by Randolph Zaini. A Well Go USA release.
Running time: 1:32