Preman: Silent Fury (Randolph Zaini, 2021)

“Sooner or later, you gotta do the right thing” the girlfriend of a complicit policeman tries to explain while he rationalises that in reality there’s little difference between a policeman and a gangster and even he’s too afraid to stand up to a dictatorial local thug deeply tied to an ambitious politician. Like many recent films from Indonesia, Randolph Zaini’s Preman: Silent Fury is a tale of toxic masculinity, societal prejudice, and a bullying culture but also one of fear and complicity in which a marginalised man must face his childhood trauma in order to save his son from suffering the same fate. 

Sandi (Khiva Iskak), who lost his hearing in childhood, is a member of a vigilante preman gang, Perkasa. The preman view themselves as defenders of justice, but in reality are feared and despised by the world around them for their intimidating and violent behaviour. Sandi’s gang was once ruled by the wise Haji (Egi Fedly) who had lofty ideals of defending his local community from an oppressive authority but he’s recently been ousted by the authoritarian Guru (Kiki Narendra) who is no better than a thug willing to do the dirty work of a city politician in return for power and influence. His first job is clearing a local slum by force, insisting its residents leave but offering them no safe place to go. When Haji tries to resist, Sandi’s young son Pandan (Muzakki Ramdhan) witnesses his murder and thereby places a target on his back and that of his father as they try to figure out how to survive Guru’s increasing ruthlessness. 

Dressed in a military outfit, Guru is an allegory for lingering authoritarianism visually recalling historical dictators and is introduced while giving a bombastic speech which Sandi is obviously unable to hear yet goes along with anyway. Sandi’s deafness is in one sense aligned with his complicity in that he is literally unable to hear the reality of world around him but is also linked back to the childhood trauma which robbed him of his voice. An early failure to do the right thing, siding with the bullies out of fear rather than standing up for his friend who was being taunted with homophobic slurs, set him on a life long path of complicity too afraid of the gang and of preman culture to ever be able to leave it. 

Yet his disability also leaves him marginalised with few other directions in which to turn considering that disabled people struggle to find work in a society that has little accommodation for difference. Hairdresser/assassin Ramon (Revaldo) who refers to himself exclusively in the third person and peppers his speech with French, points out that everyone viewed Medusa as the villain but the real villains were Poseidon who raped her, Athena who cursed her, and Perseus who killed her rather than Medusa herself. Ramon is also on the end of a series of homophobic slurs from one of the Perkasa thugs who’d been trying to talk to one of his colleagues, who wants to be a musical theatre star, about erectile disfunction but struggled to get his point across while using a series of broad euphemisms out of embarrassment hinting at the hidden costs of societal repression. “Ramon is a mirror reflecting the ugliness of the world” the assassin explains, wielding his scissors of vengeance on behalf of a corrupt authority. 

As the policeman’s girlfriend points out, the reason the policeman has ended up in trouble is that he didn’t help Sandi when he asked him, just like Sandi didn’t help his friend, because he was too afraid to stand up to a thuggish bully. At some point you have to do the right thing, she reminds him, and only by refusing to be intimidated by Guru can they hope to escape his violence along with the threat he presents which allows him to dominate their society. Impressively shot given its low budget origins, Zaini’s playful drama features a series of well choreographed action sequences culminating in a striking avant-garde conclusion in which Sandi faces off against fox-suited villains, spraying psychedelic neon paint and exorcising the pain of his childhood trauma while freeing his son not just literally but mentally from an oppressive and bullying society. 


Preman: Silent Fury screens at Asia Society 23rd July as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival. It will also be released in the US later in the year courtesy of Well Go USA.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Images: Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

The Queen of Black Magic (Ratu Ilmu Hitam, Kimo Stamboel, 2019)

“I’m not here just to punish you, I’m here to create hell” the vengeful tormentor at the centre of Kimo Stamboel’s contemporary remake of the 1981 classic The Queen of Black Magic (Ratu Ilmu Hitam) cooly intones. Reminding her victims that not to know is also a sin, the shadowy villainess has come she says to create hell on Earth because she is uncertain that mortal transgressions will be suitably punished after death and means to ensure those who have sinned suffer accordingly. Quite literally trapped in the space of their trauma, the heroes attempt to find a way out of their guilt and shame but are perhaps confronted as much by themselves as by a witch hellbent on justice as they try to find escape from the traumatic past. 

Hanif (Ario Bayu) and his wife Nadya (Hannah Al Rashid) have foregone their planned holiday to Bali to visit the man who ran the orphanage where Hanif spent much of his childhood who is now apparently close to death. This comes as a surprise to their three children who hadn’t realised their father was adopted or really ever thought about kids who don’t have parents, and though they are perhaps annoyed to have missed out on their holiday they are also a little excited to be going somewhere so unusual. Unfortunately however, the family’s cheerful mood is broken when they hit what they assume is a deer on their way to the orphanage casting an air of foreboding over their journey. 

Though it appears Hanif has been “open” with his wife about his past, the same is not necessarily true for his “brothers” Anton (Tanta Ginting) and Jefri (Miller Khan) who have also brought their partners to meet Mr. Bandi (Yayu A.W. Unru), Jefri’s wife Lina (Salvita Decorte) complaining that she knew nothing about any of this until they were already in the car on their way over. Far from a happy reunion, however, the brief sojourn at the orphanage begins to highlight the strain on each of the familial relationships, Lina apparently experiencing a kind of body dysmorphia and preoccupied with her weight while Anton’s wife Eva (Imelda Therinne) is constantly applying moisturiser to guard against a mysterious rash she was convinced was down to flesh eating bacteria but others feel is simply “dry skin”. These will however be the least of their worries as the men vaguely hint on voicing their anxiety that Mr. Bandi’s biological children may sell the estate to developers unsure of “what they’ll uncover”.

This perhaps implies that the now grown up men know more than they’re willing to admit about the dark secrets the orphanage hides, something which Hanif has in any case not shared with his wife who has only a rosy picture of his childhood with Mr. Bandi who eyes her with nervous suspicion even on his death bed. Nevertheless, the men have each been drawn back to the source of their trauma and now find themselves unable to escape without a reckoning, recalling a similar occasion that they tried to run only to find themselves mysteriously brought back as if by some supernatural force. There are indeed dark, other worldly forces in play but also a healthy dose of patriarchal violence, entrenched misogyny, abuse of power, and as the villainess had hinted a wilful tendency not to see especially when it comes protecting the most vulnerable members of society, children without parents who are easily manipulated in the knowledge that, as Hanif originally puts it, they would otherwise die abandoned. 

Justifying a particularly ironic part of her revenge plan, the witch reveals that the orphans may in fact be better off dead than raised by a man like Bandi, something which Hanif himself echoes if not quite with the same intent. Creating her hell, she forces her prey to harm themselves and each other with a variety of weapons ranging from kitchen knives, scythes, and comparatively more modern projectile weapons to insects literally choking the guilty from the inside. The orphanage itself is a place out of time, frozen as it was during Hanif’s childhood, one of the two orphans to have remained behind as mystified by Hanif’s inquisitive son Haqi’s (Muzakki Ramdhan) references to such things as “the internet”, “wi-fi” and “streaming” as he is by the “scary” VHS tape she shows him featuring actual footage of his father and a mysterious figure of legend. Yet even in realising they have allowed themselves to serve poor masters, deceived by a man they trusted, there is a sense the men at least, absent from the final frames, may never be able to free themselves from their guilt, forever haunted by the spectre of those they have unwittingly harmed. An eerie, gory, dread-propelled voyage through human cruelty to supernatural retribution, Queen of Black Magic positions the evil that men do ahead of that performed by vengeful witches looking for spiritual justice as its misused heroes attempt to find accommodation at least with the traumatic past.  


The Queen of Black Magic is available to stream via Shudder in the US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand from 28th January.

Trailer (English subtitles)