Fantastic Fest Review: Randolph Zaini’s ‘Preman’
From the time the opening scene ends it’s clear that Randolph Zaini’s debut feature Preman is a heavily inspired martial arts action film taking queues from such predecessors as Timo Tjahjanto’s The Night Comes for Us and Gareth Evans’ The Raid, but dialing down the constant barrage of hyper-violent combat in favor of a more emotionally effective story. The narrative follows a deaf gang member named Sandi who despite not always agreeing with the violent crimes his gang commits, participates in them all the same in order to make a living and provide for his son, Pandu. The gang is forcing people out of a local apartment complex as part of their most recent criminal agenda, and when one tenant in particular refuses to vacate the premises they resort to a rather murderous solution. It’s during the process of carrying out this violent act that Pandu is a witness to the gang’s crime, which tremendously complicates the situation. The gang’s ruthless, irrational leader Guru attempts to subdue Pandu but is immediately stopped by Sandi, who without hesitation proceeds to dispatch all of his present fellow gang members before escaping with Pandu.
With a target now on their back, they spend the remainder of the film’s ninety-one minute runtime fleeing their pursuers and trying to make use of the admittedly limited options they have at their disposal. Virtually all of Sandi’s friends now want him dead and it’s just shy of impossible for him to communicate with the majority of the people they encounter, relying on Pandu to do the talking when interacting with anyone who doesn’t know sign language. It’s also flashing back to the origin of Sandi’s hearing loss throughout, presenting a touching tale of friendship and loss that really adds some extra emotional weight to the already well written script. These aspects all feed into the film’s strong narrative, with the creative execution further empowering it and giving the viewer a heap of ways to become attached to the protagonists in the process. With a highly skilled assassin known as “The Barber” who daylights as local hairdresser hot on their heels and leaving a trail of bloodshed in his wake, the duo is forced to use every last viable option they have to stay alive.
The violence in Preman doesn’t have the same relentlessly extreme presence it’s given in much of the work that inspired it despite featuring some of the same kind of darkly humorous moments, which will disappoint viewers who prefer the action to take a front seat in these types of films. It’s definitely not absent entirely though, as there’s plenty of death and a handful of well-shot, excellently choreographed fights throughout that are heightened by the superb editing. They’re capped off by a dreamy, hyper-stylized fight sequence taking place near the end of the film that’s cleverly made very thematically relevant and paired with a reveal that hits the viewer like a ton of bricks. What it does lack in literal punches it greatly makes up for with emotional ones, so fans of Indonesian martial arts films won’t want to miss this striking debut entry into the genre. Keep your fists up for release information, which will be added here as it becomes available.