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Buffalo Boys
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by Jay Seaver

"A big, loud Western with plenty of Java."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2018 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Buffalo Boys" is as loud and action-packed as you would hope for an Indonesian western to be considering just how enjoyably bone-crunching the country's bigger recent action movies have turned out. It goes big on the martial arts, gunfighting, and melodrama, and while it doesn't quite build itself into an all-time great of the genre, it's close to exactly what you would expect from that particular fusion.

It opens in the American west, circa 1860, where it turns out that at least a few of the "Chinese" fellows building the railroad actually hail from Java, and a spot of trouble involving a fight on a train has Arana (Tio Pakusadewo) thinking that maybe it's time he takes his nephews back to the land they haven't seen since they were children, their parents killed while fighting against the Dutch invaders. The man responsible, Van Trach (Reinout Bussemaker), is still there and running things, so brothers Jamar (Ario Bayu) and Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso) revenge on their mind, although they get a little distracted along the way, making their way to a village from which Van Trach is extorting tribute - which, naturally, include meeting a couple young ladies, pragmatic Sri (Mikha Tambayong) and rebellious Kiona (Pevita Eileen Pearce) - and learning there is more at stake than just their vengeance.

There are, admittedly, times when it could probably do to move it along; the story is simple enough that even with that prologue in California, some flashbacks, and the occasional side trip, director Mike Wiluan and co-writer Raymond Lee still have to pad it out a bit. Even taking that into account, once the brothers arrive in town, they seem to spend a lot of time waiting for an opportunity to get near Van Trach to present itself rather than really doing anything. There's a mean, cutthroat period before the final big action sequence that seems to be killing time rather than moving the story along.

It gets by, though, in large part because it's a lot of fun seeing the Western in some ways stretched to be be relocated to Java and fit better than one might expect in others. The environments of the cities feel like they could fit on spaghetti western sets, for instance, although it feels more individual in the countryside. The traditional politics of colonialism in the genre are flipped and simplified here, and it kind of makes the black-and-white morality go down a lot easier than is the case with some older American westerns. It still gives Suwo & Jamar room to be outsiders discovering their heritage, and the actors playing the brothers handle that material well - Yoshi Sudarso's slick, clever Suwo is a fun contrast to Ario Bayu's gruff older brother Jamar, whether they're bantering or having more serious conflicts. Tio Pakusadewo makes a good mentor while Reinout Bussemaker happily chews scenery as the villain, while Pevita Pearce seems game for just about anything as Kiona.

And all that leads up to a pretty darn great finale, where the brothers and their allies take on much greater numbers with big guns, small guns, knives, their bare hands, and anything else that may be of use. Contrary to what one may have expected considering how silat-focused many recent Indonesian action movies have been, there's not a lot of martial arts compared to simple brawling, but those brawls tend to be big and energetic, and that's before you get to the fanciful, anachronistic, and just plain big weapons that get hauled out. There's a lot of explosions and mayhem, and it's delightfully grandiose, excellently-choreographed and stitched-together action for its first-time director.

It makes "Buffalo Boys" a really cathartic bit of anti-colonialist fantasy by the time all is said and done, an impressive enough showcase that Singapore has submitted it as its Oscar nominee. It probably won't make the final cut there, but hopefully that gives more people a chance to see it as big and loud as it is intended to be.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32411&reviewer=371
originally posted: 09/25/18 18:56:46
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Directed by
  Mike Wiluan

Written by
  Raymond Lee
  Mike Wiluan

Cast
  Ario Bayu
  Pevita Pearce
  Yoshi Sudarso



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