This is the other Indonesian movie that I’ve been waiting for, although with less tenacity than for Supernova. No, my interest in this movie stemmed from the casts and the fact that this was produced by Mira Lesmana, a name that is already known for it’s quality products. And I’m curious because it is an action movie of some sort, although I do set a lesser bar on the action compared to The Raid 2. At the end of the day though, curiosity killed the cat because it doesn’t live up to the hype.
Cempaka (Christine Hakim) is a known golden cane warrior. But as she grow older, she feels like it’s time to bequeath the golden cane and the final fighting technique to one of her students: Biru (Reza Rahadian), Gerhana (Tara Basro), Dara (Eva Celia), and Angin (Aria Kusumah).
But when Cempaka choose Dara over the strongest Biru, she started a feud over not only the cane but also over the world of martial arts. Innocent citizen got entangled in the mess, and so is a mysterious stranger called Elang (Nicholas Saputra).
If Supernova’s problem is that their good script wasn’t supported by the casts, Pendekar Tongkat Emas’s problem is that the casts ensemble wasn’t supported by a good script. The story was decent, it put some twist into it, and it is quite a feast for an original story to pull off such story. But it doesn’t change the fact that Pendekar Tongkat Emas support an already well known saga in the realm of martial arts movie, the typical story of revenge and world domination with a secret that would eventually help the hero. And I would still be okay with it if only it had tried harder on the characters. Problem is, the characters were much too shallow with not enough development or even distinctive individuality. Being unable to relate to the main character and not seeing her grow is already a problem, but there really is something wrong when I feel nothing more but a remote encouragement towards the villain. I mean I usually either relate to them better, sympathize with their cause, or at the very least admire their cold tenacity. I felt none of those. Scratch that, I felt almost nothing towards this movie aside from that it is quite a well-produced movie with scenery porn.
Seriously though, Pendekar Tongkat Emas is like a promotional movie for East Sumba because holy fuck, that place is so beautiful it rendered me speechless. I literally hyperventilate over how those beautiful establishing shots exploit the magnificence that is East Sumba. Also, I can see that they make good use over their three months long shooting in Sumba just by seeing their collections of time-lapses. The time-lapses were seriously being thrown around everywhere and you will not see me complain since those time-lapses got me half-moaning and half-squealing. While it was still not as breathtaking as Epic Java, Pendekar Tongkat Emas still got me desperately wanting to pack and fly off to Sumba just so I can camp and start my own time-lapse collections. Plus point for the scoring too, the fitting build up towards every fight and just the soundtrack for any scenery porn that only adds to the beauty. So if Pendekar Tongkat Emas aim to promote East Sumba, then it succeed. But as a movie, it still fails to ignite any feeling inside of me aside from that urge to travel.
And it was such a shame because despite everything, despite the underdeveloped characters and typical story, the casts was to die for. Nicholas Saputra got his usual mysterious and aloof character, so it is not surprising that he managed to portray Elang with ease. Eva Celia was more than okay as a weak female lead that ended up needing a lot of helps along the way before she can actually become her own person. Aria Kusumah stole my attention with his adorable but still deadly presence. He is a bit awkward when he finally deliver his lines, but aside from that his acting was more than passable. Reza Rahadian is a personal favorite because he’s getting better at playing antagonists. His rendition of Biru was menacing and impatient, power hungry and ambitious but still with emotions underneath it all. There was a moment of insecurity that got me smiling in appreciation. And I would love to be able to know more about him, to know about what drive him this far if only the story let me. But Tara Basro is surprisingly the one that I can barely take my eyes off of. She’s simply looks vicious and sly while still managing to be charming about it and I actually like her as the villain in this movie, actually like Gerhana and her cold tenacity. I personally feel like she is the true mastermind behind all the trouble and Biru is merely playing along with her.
It may sounds like I’m rooting more for the antagonists, and I am. Because Biru and Gerhana were far more interesting than Elang, Dara, and Angin. Elang was only interesting because of his mysterious back story and once it has been revealed, he lost his charm. Angin is adorable, but his character was not something that is meant to be more than a companion to Dara and plot device to help Dara’s so-called character development. While Dara is just…well…..to put it nicely, I hate damsel in distress and she was damsel in distress most of the time. I simply dislike her type of character because even until the end I still doesn’t feel like she has grow up into a better person. And she was just so aloof, so distant that I feel not even the slightest empathy towards her. If I have to pick between Dara and Gerhana, I’d go with Gerhana any time of the day. Not to mention that Eva barely oozes any chemistry with both Aria and Nicho. Nope, I feel none of the brother-sister love of Dara and Angin and Elang-Dara seems much too forced for me. I ended up feeling like Elang is some sort of pedophile most of the time because Dara looked so young she could be younger than me. On contrary, Biru and Gerhana was the power couple that you can’t help but to adore and wanting to know better. Even worse, it feels like talents such as Prisia Nasution, Slamet Rahardjo, Darius Sinathrya, and Landung Simatupang are wasted on this movie. Luckily Christine Hakim managed to shone as Cempaka and Whani Darmawan left a deep impression as the Guru of Sayap Merah.
All in all, Pendekar Tongkat Emas is a letdown for me because script and story is still the most important thing to me when it comes to movie. And if you don’t have strong story, then you should at least be able to distract me and got me focused on something else like the actions the way The Raid 2 stole my heart. Unfortunately, while Pendekar Tongkat Emas had some quite marvelous fighting scenes and the cane-fights were extremely cool, it was still not enough to make me forget the weak story and characters. At least, it was a good production. I adore the scoring and scenery porn. And it give me hope that Indonesia would actually be able to produced a well-made movie that fit international standard. Pendekar Tongkat Emas conclude 2014 in a hopeful note because along with Supernova, The Raid 2 and Killers, they all have fancy cinematography and fancy scoring. Indonesia’s movie industry is getting better, and I’m hoping that 2015 will also give me a pleasant surprise like this. So please please please let The Night Comes for Us become a reality.
Director: Ifa Isfansyah. Writers: Mira Lesmana, Riri Riza, Ifa Isfansyah, Eddie Cahyanto, Jujur Prananto. Released on: 18 December 2014. Casts: Nicholas Saputra, Reza Rahadian, Eva Celia, Tara Basro, Christine Hakim, Aria Kusumah.