Silat with superhero elements

212 Warrior: The Adventures Of Wiro Sableng stars (from left) Fariz Alfarazi, Sherina Munaf and Vino G. Bastian.
212 Warrior: The Adventures Of Wiro Sableng stars (from left) Fariz Alfarazi, Sherina Munaf and Vino G. Bastian.PHOTO: 20TH CENTURY FOX

REVIEW / ACTION-COMEDY

212 WARRIOR: THE ADVENTURES OF WIRO SABLENG (PG)

124 minutes/Now showing/2.5 stars

The story: In 16th-century Indonesia, bandits raid a village, killing a child's parents. The orphan is rescued by a mysterious woman with great fighting skills. Seventeen years later, he grows up to be the warrior Wiro Sableng ("Crazy Wiro", Vino G. Bastian). He leaves to do battle with the man who killed his parents, Mahesa Birawa (Yayan Ruhian). Along the way, he meets other warriors, such as the plump Bujang Gila Tapak Sakti ("Mad Mighty Fist", Fariz Alfarazi) and female fighter Anggini (Sherina Munaf).

This Indonesian-American joint production adds Hollywood razzle-dazzle to the martial art of silat, but the effort is let down by bloated fight scenes and storytelling that borrows all the wrong ideas from superhero movies.

The bones of the tale come from a series of classic feudal fantasy novels penned by the late Bastian Tito. His son, the seasoned actor Vino G. Bastian, appropriately plays the title character.

Vino is fine as the vagabond anti-hero who avoids trouble, only to have trouble find him. There is a lot in his manner that will remind viewers of 1970s Drunken Master-era Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan. Wiro will be at an inn trying to eat, for example, and after a fight breaks out between two warring factions, he sneaks bites in between dodging blows.

One might ask why someone who has seen his parents murdered in front of him should grow up to be such a happy-go-lucky chap, his cheeriness intact even as he is on a mission of vengeance.

The name of his teacher might give a clue - she is Sinto Gendeng, or "Batty Sinto", played by Ruth Marini with cackling, witch-like intensity.

Her nuttiness must have drilled a bit of The Joker into him, when it would make more sense that he should be brooding, like Batman.

It is not the only thing lost in translation for those coming into this cold. There is a feeling of entering a franchise where everyone seems to know the hows and whys of characters except you. Whether that disorientation comes from not knowing the tropes of Indonesian action-fantasy cinema, or if the Wiro books and shows are so ingrained in viewers that no exposition is necessary, the result is a sense of vertigo.

Ignoring the vagaries of the story, the martial arts scenes, the film's money shots, are fairly well produced. They are grounded in reality. Nobody turns into an eagle or into a human drill that tunnels into a mountain, for example.

That is not to say there is no fantasy. Kicks and punches are Bollywood loud and wire-work makes ground-to-tree travel a breeze. But in tedious superhero-movie style, fists fly for far too long, with the battles set at one pace: frantic.

For all its shortcomings, this is a picture with strong production values. No one looks to be phoning it in, especially the actresses who play women warriors with a presence to match Vino's male lead.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 18, 2018, with the headline 'Silat with superhero elements'. Print Edition | Subscribe