Saturday, 20 December 2014

Merantau (4 Stars)

This is my first post for 10 days. It's rare that I don't watch a film for so long. I've been catching up on watching my favourite television series, in particular "Batman" and "Arrow". I don't have television reception at home, so I rely on catchup services like BBC's Iplayer and the equivalent services of the other main television channels. Or, of course, I watch TV series on Blu-ray or DVD.

"Merantau" has been on my list of films to watch for more than six months. I was highly impressed by "The Raid" and its sequel, both directed by Gareth Evans and starring Iko Uwais, so I wanted to see their first collaboration. In it Iko plays an 18-year-old boy called Yuda from the Indonesian countryside. There is an Indonesian tradition that on reaching manhood the young man leaves his family for an unspecified period of time to gain experience on fending for himself in the world, before returning to his family to settle down in his own village. This tradition is called Merantau. Unlike the Australian aborigine walkabout tradition, it's not necessary to live alone. Yuda goes to live in the Indonesian capital Jakarta with vague plans to become a teacher of Silat, the fighting style that he studied as a teenager.

When he arrives Yuda is homeless and has to live on a building site. He spends his days wandering the streets. He befriends a beggar boy called Adit, and when he sees Adit's older sister Astri being abused by her boss, the owner of a strip club, he steps in and defends her. Yuda feels responsible for the pair and watches over them. Astri's boss decides to sell her to be sent to the West with other girls to work as a prostitute. This leads to spectacular martial arts action, as Yuda takes down the people trafficking gang.

Unlike "The Raid", this is a more realistic film. The action is more realistic, less over-the-top. There is a subdued level of spirituality that's missing from his later films. Iko plays a naive young man, not the hardened cop that we know from the other films.

In England "Merantau" has only been released on DVD, but I prefer Blu-ray if available. Unfortunately the American Blu-ray release is locked to region A, which my Blu-ray player can't handle, so I bought the German Blu-ray release. The film has the original Indonesian dialog with subtitles, but I made the conscious decision to watch it dubbed into German. I defend this choice, even though many serious film fans are opposed to dubbing. German dubbing can't be compared with the dubbing of foreign films carried out in England and America. In Germany the majority of films shown in the cinemas come from other countries are in foreign (i.e. non-German) languages, so a large dubbing industry has developed. The dubbing is done very professionally and has a much higher quality than the Anglo-American dubbing. The dubbers are often successful stage actors with excellent voices and the ability to express emotions. It's usual for each famous actor to be assigned an official dubber, so it's guaranteed that throughout his career he will have the same voice in German films. In some cases the same person speaks the voices of different actors, as in the case of Arne Elsholtz, who has been the voice of both Bill Murray and Tom Hanks for the last 30 years.

The whole point of dubbing isn't to present a film for scientific study, but to make a foreign film entertaining. I'm sure that in German film schools only the original dialogue is studied. But when it comes to popular recent films like "Gravity" and "The Avengers", it's all about entertaining the cinema audiences, reducing any distractions caused by making them look down at the text during the film action.

To sum up, I greatly enjoyed watching "Merantau" in German. My enjoyment would have been lessened by using the original dialogue with subtitles.

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