Buffalo Boys tries too hard to be hip

Buffalo Boys stars Ario Bayu (left) and Yoshi Sudarso as cowboy-vigilantes.
Buffalo Boys stars Ario Bayu (left) and Yoshi Sudarso as cowboy-vigilantes.PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

While the fights are well staged, the Singapore-Indonesian period film lacks the style of a Western



102 minutes/Now showing/2.5 stars

The story: Arana (Tio Pakusadewo), Jamar (Ario Bayu) and Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso) are Javanese men in California near the end of the 19th century, living as cowboy-vigilantes. The father figure of the group, Arana, takes them back to the motherland to fulfil a mission. There, they find a people suffering under a brutal colonial regime. The most cruel of the Dutch officials, Van Trach (Reinout Bussemaker), works with thugs to enslave the town's residents.

This ambitious attempt at a Western tries hard to hit the expected sweet spots of action, humour and morality.

But - and here is where things go wrong - it also wants to be hip, so here come the Tarantino-style sadism and the flamboyantly over-dressed villains who look like participants in a Pirates Of The Caribbean cosplay event.

Now, there is nothing strange about this Singapore-Indonesian production being a Western. What makes a movie a Western is style, not location or language. Excellent Westerns have come from China, South Korea and Japan in recent years.

In fact, Indonesian film-maker Mouly Surya's Marlina The Murderer In Four Acts (2017) was not just a good Western, but the tale of one woman's quest to punish her rapists was also one of the film highlights of last year, across all genres and countries.

Surya's film was as quiet and stark as this one is stuffed with colour and motion, but her picture stays true to two key principles of the Western: plain but poetic speech patterns, and arresting landscapes.

This movie lacks both. Characters speak to explain the plot or reveal their feelings in the most pedestrian of ways.

Visually, what viewers will see is not rolling vistas, but fight choreography. While the fights are well staged and look brutal, there is a mind-numbing repetitiveness to them.

Selected as Singapore's entry to the Academy Awards, this movie makes history as the first actionadventure movie to be nominated, after an unbroken string of dramas and drama-comedies.

First-time feature director Mike Wiluan does a fine job arranging the action set pieces and his team cleverly turns a weakness into a strength by making the buffalo stand in for horses - not only solving the people transport problem but also giving the film some Indo-flair.

That neat local touch, however, cannot save this work from lumpy pacing and a story that leans on cliches.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2018, with the headline 'Buffalo Boys tries too hard to be hip'. Print Edition | Subscribe