"We're still at war, Plissken. We need him alive."

"I don't give a fuck about your war... or your president."

Wira

WIRA (translation: HERO) is a really good 2019 martial arts movie that’s available on Netflix, and maybe my first Malaysian film? It cold opens with a brutal women’s M.M.A. match that will be an important inciting incident, but you don’t really know the context yet, so instead it works to establish the movie’s level of action reality: somewhat grounded in real moves and sweat and blood, but moving through them very fast, and with absolutely thunderous punching and slamming sounds. Like somebody is gonna get their head knocked off. Reminded me a little bit of the UNDISPUTED sequels, with less spinning in the air.

After the credits we meet a male hero, Hassan (Hairul Azreen, a Taekwondo black belt who’s been acting for a little over a decade), a former elite super duper commando motherfucker drifting back into town after many years, a bag over his shoulder, getting hassled by a cop (Henley Hii) like he’s John Rambo. That’s only one of the beloved action traditions he follows – we also learn that he’s a legendary underground fighter. The aforementioned cop is actually an old friend giving him shit, and Hassan ends up going along with him when he arrests some young guys for fighting. On the way to jail they realize who Hassan is and try to get a selfie with him from the backseat of the police car.

And one of them asks, “You want to avenge your sister, don’t you?”

It takes a bit to piece it together. The woman who lost the opening fight to dirty tricks was Hassan’s sister Zain (Fify Azmi). Don’t worry, she’s still alive. But she’s in deep shit with crime lord Raja (Dain Said) because she bet money she didn’t have on herself.

Hassan wants Zain and their dad Munas (Hilal Azman) to move out of the projects to live with him, but Zain won’t even speak to him, still pissed that he left her behind eight years ago. He goes to Raja, who he knows from his fighting days, to ask for a break. He turns almost boyish as he says, “Um, Mr. Raja, I come with a humble request.”

Yep, that’s who you think it is.

Even after rejection and getting jumped by a dozen thugs, Hassan thinks Zain and Raja can work something out. But things escalate. Before long he and Zain are both back in the ring, fighting together. As much as WIRA is pleasingly based in familiar action conventions, that one simple thing is pretty original; I can’t off the top of my head think of another action movie with a formidable brother and sister fighting team. It’s always the brother rescuing the kidnapped sister or killing the guys who killed the sister.

It’s a different bickering partners dynamic than you usually get. He’s the smartass, but also the nice one. She’s the hothead. When they reunite for the first time she pins his head to the wall with her knee. And of course it’s different from other male-female teams because there’s no need to address any possible romantic or sexual tension.

They also get to fight against an evil brother-sister team, not always male-male female-female, either. And they’re really good fights, both in the ring and out.

In the current ante-upping of martial arts movies, THE RAID is still one of the things different filmmakers and regions aspire to. For example, I’ve seen BUY BUST called a “filipino RAID” and JAILBREAK a “Cambodian RAID,” in which case it’s fair to say WIRA is a Malaysian RAID. It’s not a similar, bottled-in premise, but there’s an unmistakable influence in the fast, relentless battles, quickly, brutally hitting and kicking and machete-chopping through waves of attackers, sometimes in hallways.

Or maybe we can’t even call it an influence, because Mad Dog himself, Yayan Ruhian, is credited as pangarah aksi lasak – “extreme action director,” according to Google translate. He also appears in the movie, not just in a cameo, but the perfect-for-him role of Raja’s right hand man Ifrit. When I saw THE RAID, a hyped up stranger sitting next to me turned to me and said “I can’t wait to see him [Rama] fight the little guy [Mad Dog]!” One of Raja’s young henchmen fulfills the role of my friend there: “What if one day Hassan meets Ifrit in the ring? Who do you think would win?” he asks a co-worker who knows them both. “It’s the battle between a legendary fighter and Mr. Raja’s mysterious chief of security. Who would win?” And like the guy in the theater he excitedly punches the air as he imagines it.

Hassan’s first fight is a long take in a warehouse, down stairs and across a cat walk, with most of his energy spent dodging and blocking swings and letting his attackers wear themselves out. He seems unimpressed, a little amused, and I like that the most painful hit is self-inflicted, when he intentionally drops down onto a pile of bags of fertilizer or something. He lays there for a second and grunts when he gets up.

There’s a really good variety of action because there’s a big fight in the ring and then on their walk home they already get jumped and end up in a huge fight in a moving bus. That scene is reminiscent of THE VILLAINESS – we can see at times that it’s not an actual moving bus, but some sort of green screen situation allowing for amazing camera moves going in and out and around the vehicle. But also it’s really well choreographed and performed brutality inside this confined space.

I love when a movie acknowledges that guns exist but has the characters deliberately not use them. In this fight Hassan takes a hand gun from somebody, pulls the clip out, fires the bullet in the chamber into the air, then throws the gun as a projectile.

I’m also a sucker for an action hero who sincerely believes in redemption. Not just for himself, but also for the young henchman who he embarrasses by asking about his family. He makes it clear he knows the guy’s mom and guilts him about his sister who died of an overdose. Later, while acknowledging that they’re about to fight, he apologizes for having brought up the sister. Then, after winning the fight, he apologizes again, to make it clear he was being sincere. And he gets through.

There’s also some themes of class solidarity and some good family melodrama (I like the introduction of his dad’s machete that holds sentimental value), enough humanity to act as fuel for the intense, ambitious action sequences that take up most of the movie.

Of course that Legendary Fighter vs. Mr. Raja’s Mysterious Chief of Security fight does take place, and man does it deliver. If there’s any complaint about it it’s that it’s too much like the all-time-classic Mad Dog fight in THE RAID – it has a similar sense of the villain being excited by the challenge. He puts weapons down at the beginning. After much fighting, he gives Hassan two knives which he says are sharper than the machete he’s using. Then he puts down one of his own knives. Handicapping.

It also recaptures THE RAID’s feeling of complete exhaustion between the fighters. The bulk of it is between the two men, after Zain has been left unconscious or dead. They completely wear each other out, and it builds to one those joyously over-the-top moments where the two power up a real fight-ender of a punch at the same time and nail each other simultaneously. RESERVOIR DOGS knockout, almost. But Ifrit remains barely aware and struggles to get to his feet. ** FAVORITE PART SPOILER ** As he tentatively wobbles across the room, Ifrit hears the gasp of Zain sputtering back to consciousness. And he freezes, like, You’ve got to be fucking kidding me. More?

Beautiful. I love fights with strong storytelling.

Like WOLF WARRIOR II, WIRA has a mid-credits epilogue that seems to set up another chapter, comic book movie style. Zain joins the military to learn discipline like her brother did – it’s a Muslim country, so she has to cover her cool short hair with the Boz-cut stripes in the side – and learns to fly jets. She’s in a cafeteria exchanging cold looks with some other soldiers, with dramatic reveals of the names on their uniforms. At first I thought it was a cliffhanger I didn’t understand, but IMDb research indicates these characters might be the heroes of PASKAL: THE MOVIE, a 2018 smash hit by the same director, Adrian Teh. PASKAL is based on a true story about an elite unit of the Royal Malaysian Navy, and also has Azreen in it, but not playing Hassan. I hope this is just a cute little crossover, because if we see Zain again who wants it to be in a war movie? Not I. In the ring and on the streets (or buses), not in the skies.

If you have access to this one it’s a must-see in my opinion.

 

This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 5th, 2020 at 10:47 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

14 Responses to “Wira”

  1. I’m going to watch this and then come back to read the review based solely on your first sentence.

  2. Hammer Girl and Baseball Bat Man in Raid 2 were a formidable brother-sister fighting team.

  3. Good one! Not the main characters, but it’s even rare for supporting characters, isn’t it?

  4. HOBBES AND SHAW had Vanessa Kirby as Shaw’s fairly formidable sister as well, and she’s basically the third star of the movie.

  5. Kirby is so good. She should get her own spin-off.

  6. That’s a good one too. She was pretty much my favorite part.

  7. As a true-blue Malaysian, am currently hanging my head in shame for not having caught this yet, that too after years of griping that our neighbors Thailand and Indonesia were making superior, standard-defining entries in the world of martial arts action, and dammit where’s OUR Ong-Bak or Raid? Am checking this out this weekend.

    If you’re inclined, you can check out this director, Adrian Teh’s previous effort, also out in Netflix. It’s called PASKAL, an action movie centering on an elite unit of the Malaysian Navy.

  8. Kirby was pretty much the ONLY good thing about H&S. You cut the two title meatheads out of the film entirely and call it FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS SHAW’S SISTER & SELF-DRIVING MOTORCYCLE and maybe you got something.

    I’m not reading this review until I get a chance to see the movie, but I believe I’ve seen at least one Malaysian action film: KINTA 1881 FIGHTING TIGER, which I possibly remember as having too much 300-style cartoon blood or possibly have not actually seen at all and I’m confusing it with some other movie I bought at the porn store because it has a misleading “In the traditional style of ONG BAK” logo on it. Either way, congratulations, Malaysia. Sounds like you got a winner on your hands this time.

  9. Majestyk, damn it hurts to say this, much as I’d like to convince you otherwise, you DID see Kinta 1881 which is also called Four Dragons in some regions. Awash in copious amounts of Bad CGI blood and shitty fight choreography, it’s bad on every conceivable level. Proudly billed as “Malaysia’s First Martial Arts Movie”, it made most of us fervently wish it was also it’s last, if this was the level of craftsmanship we were going to be subjected to for all subsequent efforts. And I consider shelving this cinematic dreck between CHEATING WIVES VOL 12 and BUTT MUNCH 6 in a porn store only slightly less sacrilegious than slapping any reference to ONG BAK on it’s cover.

  10. I admit it wasn’t very good but I didn’t judge it all that harshly. I’m will always be down to watch any country’s first action movie, and I’ll always look more kindly on that country afterward for making the attempt, even if the results are not so hot. A culture that wants to do action is a culture I want to support. In any case, it was better than Indonesia’s FIGHT: CITY OF DARKNESS, which I watched around the same time and didn’t even have the excuse of being the country’s first action movie. So you and your countrymen can take some comfort in that.

    And the porn stores didn’t stock the kung fu with the porn. The porn was in the backroom. The kung fu was up in the front with the public domain cartoons and dildos. They weren’t savages.

  11. Dang, this was excellent. This starts slow, but once the brother and sister go to visit the crime boss together it takes off and keeps building til the very end. And I completely agree about the final fight between Hassan and Ifrit, incredibly satisfying. Yayan Ruhian is a damn treasure. Thanks for the recommendation Vern, probably never would have seen it otherwise. Good stuff!

  12. Obviously, I’m going to love any movie with the line “You have no right to hold my father’s machete!”, but even by that standard, this is good. Loved Hassan apologizing for his out-of-line insult (it always bugs me in movies where the hero makes fun of something definitively uncool like the villain being abused or molested) and the ripple effect that had on the mook community, plus Hassan’s fight scene chivalry of not wanting to hit a girl (too hard). I just wish that in the final battle, Hassan had given Zain the Father Machete so she could have honorable armed combat with Vee while he had honorable unarmed combat with Ifrit. Oh well, I guess Hassan has seen The Raid just like the rest of us and knows that it’s a fair fight.

    Plus, you’ve gotta love any movie that leaves you something to think about–namely, would Top Gun be cooler if it had a prequel about Maverick being involved in an underground fighting circuit and avenging his father’s death? Yes. Of course it would.

  13. Just wanted to say thanks for the recommendation on this one. I just got done watching it and it didn’t disappoint.

    Aside from the fights, and while trying to avoid spoilers, I would say I loved the – I guess we can call it the phone calls scene? And the way it followed on from Hassan apologising to and then sparing his first real opponent, in the warehouse fight. Had a real ‘Babe saving the pit bull’ feel for me; the hero reaping the rewards of doing the right thing.

  14. That’s a good comparison! Yeah, I agree, that kind of stuff gives this one its own very likable personality.

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