merantau

The Raid

I can’t recommend The Raid: Redemption.  It’s an Indonesian action movie that has won some acclaim internationally.  I watched it because I’d seen Merantau, by the same director (Gareth Evans) and starring the same actor (Iko Uwais).  Merantau wasn’t bad if you are a martial arts fan: the production quality was high and the pencak silat was great.  Silat is the Nusantara’s indigenous martial art and it draws on Islam for its spiritual discipline in the same way that the more famous martial arts of Northeast Asia do with Buddhism.  Merantau has several memorable fight scenes including an extended duel in an elevator that shows off silat’s close, compact fighting style well. The crowded alleys of Jakarta and the hillside kampongs made good backdrops too.  The plot was predictable and the acting strictly average but you could forgive it that if you came for the silat.

So when I heard The Raid: Redemption (Serbuan Maut) was even better I gave it a chance, hoping they’d stepped up the plot and the acting. They … went in a different direction. The plot was a 30-second contrivance to set up an hour and a half of grisly non-stop murder and mayhem inside a broken-down Jakarta tenement.   It was truly gruesome, with a lot of the open hand stuff replaced with gun, knife and machete slaughter.  Even my 14-year-old boy was disgusted, though I confess we both sat it through to the end.

What struck me though were the subtitles.  The sergeant says “Diam!” and the subtitles read “Shut the %&$* up!”  Diam just means quiet, nothing more. The hero calls the villain “Anjing!” and the subtitles read “%&$* you, you #*%!”  Anjing just means dog, the same word for dog you’d see in a see-the-dog-run children’s book.  And it was just relentless: the subtitles were inserting all this vile English profanity that just wasn’t there in the Indonesian.  Here was the goriest, most brainless bloodbath of a movie, and no one uttered a four-letter word.

Maybe I missed a few, since the movie was in rapid-fire Indonesian.  But the more I thought about it, I realized, in the nearly ten years I’ve been here, I’ve never heard a single word of profanity uttered in Bahasa Malaysia.  I’ve seen people get angry, get frustrated, suffer an injury, but I’ve never heard them curse.  I know the words exist, I know what they are, but I’ve never heard them used.  I know, I know: I’m a boring middle-aged homebody with religious proclivities.  I’m sure if I hung out with glue-sniffing teenagers under the bridge it would be different.  But I think it is fair to say that vulgarity and profanity are simply not as pervasive and accepted as they are back in the States. 

But so yeah, I can’t recommend The Raid.  If martial arts aren’t your thing but you want to try some Indonesian cinema, 9 Naga (Nine Dragons) was good.  Watch that instead.  Of course, I'm not really very knowledgable about local films.  Next up for me is Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa.  Any good? If you have recommendations for Malaysian or Indonesian cinema, I’d like to hear them.