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

Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas, Edwin, 2021)

The innocent love of a pair of traumatised youngsters is crushed by the society in which they live in Edwin’s ‘80s-set pulp adventure, Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas). An absurdist parable about the corrosive effects of toxic masculinity and its links to oppressive authoritarianism, Edwin’s outlandish drama sees a young man contend with literal and societal impotence through the medium of violence while falling in love with a woman equally in desire of revenge against her misuses at the hands of a misogynistic society. 

Rendered sexually impotent after childhood trauma, 20-something Ajo (Marthino Lio) gets his release through violence well known for always being up for a fight whether there’s money involved or not. Yet as we see he seems to enjoy being on the receiving end, almost giggling when he’s set upon by a small mob in a bar. During the course of one particular job with a social justice angle roughing up an overreaching local businessman who apparently pressed a man into debt in order to extract the payment from his wife, Ajo ends up running into Iteung (Ladya Cheryl), his target’s bodyguard and a lover of violence like himself. The pair fall in love, but Ajo is afraid to pursue a relationship because of his impotence eventually provoked into a rain-soaked confession only to realise that just like everyone else in town Iteung already knows and doesn’t care. She marries him anyway but is continually stalked by a resentful ex, Budi (Reza Rahadian), while Ajo is preoccupied with a job he unwisely took on to knock off a gangster rival of former general Uncle Gembul (Piet Pagau).

The pair are in a sense pursued by their pasts each of which stems back to an instance of sexual abuse, the young Ajo forced to participate in a rape after being kidnapped by a pair of corrupt soldiers and thereafter rendered impotent. In an ironic touch, the assault takes place on the day of an eclipse which president Suharto had issued advice not to look at owing to the possibility of damaging one’s sight though in essence Ajo gets in trouble for looking directly at something he should not have seen and is rendered impotent by corrupt state power. Years later, Iteung decides she wants revenge, that if she could track down and enact justice on these two former soldiers she might be able to lift Ajo’s curse and ironically enough restore his manhood so that they might have a full marriage. 

She meanwhile is also carrying her own trauma having been subject to male sexualised violence from a young age. Given Ajo’s condition, the pair consummate their relationship through pugilism, a fight scene standing in for sex but the disruptive presence of the brooding Budi continues to linger on the horizon Iteung coming to regret a bargain she made with him in the hope of tracking down the soldiers. Having quelled his lust for violence, discovering that Iteung has betrayed him sends Ajo into a murderous rage finally completing the job he had been afraid of doing in fear that it would pollute his otherwise blissful relationship with his new wife. In an ironic touch, Budi’s big business plan is selling a snake oil male virility tonic, his insecure yet superficially powerful vision of masculinity held up as an ideal while Ajo once again attempts to validate his manhood through violence. After a period of wandering and an encounter with a mysterious figure he begins to rediscover a sense of security in masculinity that is not linked with sexuality realising that all he wants is to be with Iteung and he no longer cares whether or not his impotence is ever cured. 

A retro homage to the action exploitation movies of the 1980s, Edwin’s absurdist world building is a direct attack on a macho culture that manifests itself in oppressive authoritarianism along with the concurrent misogyny that leaves women vulnerable to male violence. At heart a romance in which love ultimately triumphs over the corrosive effects of toxic masculinity and entrenched patriarchy, Edwin’s absurdist tale later takes a turn for the metaphysical in the form of the arrival of a ghostly avenger come to enact justice on those who presumed themselves above the law but nevertheless ends on a note of cosmic irony in which the wages of vengeance must indeed be paid in full.


Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash screens in New York March 19 with lead actress Ladya Cheryl appearing in person as part of Museum of the Moving Image’s First Look 2022. Due to popular demand, a second screening without guest appearance has now been added on March 26.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Gundala (Joko Anwar, 2019)

“If we see injustice before our eyes and do nothing then we’re no longer humans” the idealistic father of a future superhero instructs his young son, trying to impart a sense of humanitarianism as a basic moral good. It’s a lesson the boy will find himself unlearning and resuming later, his innocence well and truly destroyed by an often cruel and cynical society only to be reawakened to the idea that it doesn’t need to stay that way. Among the most recognisable names of Indonesian cinema, Joko Anwar turns his hand to the creation of a local comic book cinematic universe, adapting the 1969 comic Gundala by Harya “Hasmi” Suraminata for the present day filtering contemporary Jakarta through classic Gotham. 

Operating as an origin story for the titular hero, Gundala opens with the young hero Sancaka (Muzakki Ramdhan) unable to prevent his father’s (Rio Dewanto) death due to his fear of electrical storms when he is first set up by a duplicitous factory boss and then assassinated while leading a protest for fair pay and conditions. Soon after, Sancaka loses his mother (Marissa Anita) too after she is forced to go to the city for work and never returns. Ending up a ragged street kid, he’s saved from an attack by a rival gang by an older boy (Faris Fadjar Munggaran) who teaches him how to protect himself physically and mentally by convincing him that the only way to survive on the street is keep his head down and walk on by even if it looks like others are in trouble. 20 years later the adult Sancaka (Abimana Aryasatya) is an aloof young man working as a security guard at a print house where his sympathetic mentor Agung (Pritt Timothy) begins to remind him of his father in his conviction that “living is no use if you stop caring and only think about yourself”, while he also finds himself defending the woman next-door, Wulan (Tara Basro), and her young brother Teddy (Bimasena Prisai Susilo), from hired thugs sent to intimidate them because of their involvement in a protest against the forced redevelopment of a local marketplace.  

Events seem echo around him. The major villain Pengkor (Bront Palarae) is also an orphan but on the opposing side as the son of a cruel plantation owner murdered by his not altogether ideologically pure workers whose desire for fair pay and conditions he had resolutely ignored. According to cynical politician Ridwan (Lukman Sardi), Pengkor became a union organiser of his own, leading an uprising at the abusive orphanage he was placed into by a cruel uncle hoping he’d die and free up the inheritance, thereafter becoming a kind of godfather to the fatherless with a thousands strong army of eternally grateful orphans he saved acting as sleeper agents for a coming revolution. 

Pengkor’s nefarious plan involves fostering a conspiracy surrounding contaminated rice said to make the unborn children of the women who eat it turn out “immoral”, a generation of psychopaths unable to tell right from wrong. Fairly unscientific, it has to be said, but playing directly into the central questions of the nature of “morality” in a “immoral” society. Can it really be “moral” for bosses to exploit their workers and get away with it, for politicians to cosy up to gangsters and remain complicit with corruption, and for a man like Pengkor to be the only hope for orphaned street kids otherwise abandoned and ignored by a wilfully indifferent society? Pengkor decries that hope is the opiate of the masses, but that’s exactly what Gundala eventually becomes for them in his “electric” ability to resist, eventually rediscovering his humanity as he designates himself as the embodiment of “the people” pushing back against the forces of oppression and seeming at least to win if only momentarily.  

Young Sancaka’s fear of lightning is, in essence, a fear of his power and his social responsibility something he is quite literally shocked into accepting. In a world of quite striking social inequality, he finds himself the lone defender of the oppressed whose very existence spurs others, including previously cynical politician Ridwan, into rediscovering their own humanity in the resurgent hope of a better future. As someone puts it, peace never lasts long but you keep fighting for it because every moment is precious. Not so much a battle of good versus evil as a battle for the meaning of good, Anwar’s Gundala recalibrates the anxieties of the late ‘60s for the modern era and creates an everyman hero not only to resist them but to foster a spirit of resistance and humanity in the face of heartless cynicism. 


Gundala streams in Poland until 6th December as part of the 14th Five Flavours Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)