Wise and honorable is the action filmmaker who credits her or his fight choreographer right up front in the opening credits.
That’s true in Hollywood, Seoul, Hong Kong or Jakarta, as today’s Around the World with Netflix offering proves.
Director and co-writer Timo Tjahjanto (“The Night Comes for Us”) knows who butters his Roti Gambang. Muhammad Irfan did stunts in the martial arts cops-vs-mobsters epics, “The Raid” movies, two of the most violent films ever made. If brawls with fists, feet, machetes and machine guns are ballet, Irfan is their Balanchine.
“The Big 4” is a jokey, insanely-bloody Indonesian action pic worth watching for the jokes — which translate well enough — and some epic throwdowns. The plot is over-the-top and borderline nonsensical, and the body count is staggering — with too many minions slaughtered by gunfire, the lazy way out even in the “John Wick” movies, for my taste.
But the mayhem this potential Indonesian action franchise serves up between the slow stretches is first rate and well worth a look.
The opening gambit is a raid on an orphanage run by a charitable foundation. A nun drops off a little boy, who is shocked to see orphans in cages, penned up for something nefarious. The mouthy teenager Pelor is about to fill him in when he’s grabbed, taken off and slapped on an operating table.
But just before Pelor’s total-organ-donation begins, a couple of badasses who have infiltrated the place open up on organ thieves and legions of billy-club-wielding henchmen. Pelor (Kristo Immanuel) was the “bait” who got in first, and when his older accomplices Topan (Abiman Aryasatya) and Alpha (Lutesha) arrive, #timesup.
Jenggo (Arie Kriting), the meditating sniper, serves as their reinforcement. And “Pops” (Budi Ros) is their leader and getaway van driver. He runs The Big 4, Jakarta’s most deadly vigilantes. He recruited this quartet as children and trained them to be the very best.
There’s got to be a child welfare law or two against that, and the old man’s new cop daughter Dina (Putri Murano) could probably cite it, chapter and verse. But on the day she becomes a cop, “Pops” Petrus is murdered. She starts hunting for clues about Dad’s secret life as his now-leaderless gang flees to the island of Bersi.
That’s where Dina finds them, and is herself pursued to the island by the hired guns of the sadistic Antonio (Mathrino Lio) and his bazooka-toting bombshell sidekick, Ale (Michelle Tahalea).
The funniest set piece of this gory romp comes right away, because Topan is now a slovenly desk clerk at the hotel Petrus always told his real kid — and his adopted hit squad — would be the perfect place to retire.
Topan has to book the annoying, hectoring Dina in a room — against his will — and play the meek stoner to the goons who show up trying to track her down. They notice him fumbling to turn the radio up, but they don’t get it.
He’s covering the sounds of the brawl and slaughter to come. He’s going to kill the goons. But he’d like to keep hotel guest Dina from being disturbed.
Dina slowly gets a clue about who the “real” villains are as Topan takes her to a jungle hut ashram where guru Jenggo is jovially cheating tourists, and to the village where Alpha is arms dealing as a one-woman “songstress,” portable karaoke slung over one shoulder, and the punk Pelor has acquired his first gun, a gold-plated pistol.
The fights, and I’m guessing there are half a dozen or so here, are brutal. But too many of them are kill-count shootouts, which have become so generic that if you can’t do better than “John Wick,” you’d best stick to other weapons — a blowgun, a bow and arrow, etc.
We come to such movies for the brilliant fight choreography, the ingenious ways the heroes find to get the best of the bad guys, one, two or twelve at a time. And we come for the cheesy trash talk (in subtitled Indonesian, or dubbed into English).
“Are you ready to DIE?”
“Let’s go HAND to hand, it you DARE!”
“The Big 4” never goes far wrong when action is the reason for the season. Tjahjanto and his team know how to frame, film and edit a good brawl, and a decent shoot-out, too. Having characters bicker and try to explain the illogical, getting all dewy-eyed over “family” and the film’s bungling, post-climactic finale — the filler that makes this 90 minute thriller clock in at 2:21 — are what hold “The Big 4” back.
Give fight choreographer Irfan the time to cook up more interesting ways to fight off the heavily armed and this would be a winner.
Rating: TV-MA, copious amounts of gory violence, profanity, more violence
Cast: Abimana Aryasatya, Putri Murano, Lutesha, Arie Kriting, Kristo Immanuel, Budi Ros, Mathrino Lio and Michelle Tahalea
Credits: Directed by Timo Tjahjanto, scripted by Timo Tjahjanto and Johanna Wattimena. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:21