“A big-hearted man seeks for nothing but gets everything; while a dwarf-hearted man seeks for everything but gets nothing,” said Angin.
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Once upon a time, in a fictional world where the path of warrior reigns, lived a legendary warrior, Cempaka the Golden Cane Warrior, the titular pendekar (Christine Hakim)—a mighty heroine known for her remarkable tongkat emas (golden cane). When the dawn of her age approaches, she decides to pass her golden cane along with a secret down to one of her apprentices. Yet, Cempaka is murdered before she completely bequeath her golden cane to the legal heir. Now, her apprentices must find the White Dragon Warrior—Pendekar Naga Putih—to take back the golden cane and avenge their master.
Pendekar Tongkat Emas is a big-budgeted homage to the classic Indonesian comic-book martial art movies, such as Si Buta dari Goa Hantu or Pendekar Bukit Tengkorak from the 80s. Produced and funded by Mira Lesmana and Riri Riza—pioneers of Indonesian movement in cinemas and hyper-realism approach in Indonesian cinema, Pendekar Tongkat Emas successfully seasons itself with all the great, serious visual splendors and superb performances by many Indonesian A-listers. This is a breakthrough in Indonesian martial art sub-genre, which goes hand-in-hand with The Raid —in another side of the genre.
As a martial art flick, Pendekar Tongkat Emas is not a flash-paced action madness crammed with all close-quarter fighting scenes. It bears the quality of a classic martial art piece influenced by Chinese martial art movies, but mostly, this movie is being artsy—bearing many quality of arthouse film. Instead of making the martial art as the main course of the movie, director Ifa Isfansyah (Sang Penari) highlights the visual beauty. Of course the fighting scenes are well-choreographed, but, seemingly, that’s not the point; how to artistically shot those fighting scenes are the point. Along with the beautiful shots of the most mesmerizing savanna in Sumba—one of Indonesian most exotic islands—presented in time-lapse or magic hour shots (shot by Gunnar Nimpuno, my personal favorite Indonesian DoP), Pendekar Tongkat Emas is also seasoned with detailed production designs, exotic location picks, and grand scoring by Erwin Gutawa, making it the most visually artistic martial art movie in Indonesia.
Unfortunately, the artistic splendors are not going hand-in-hand with the plot, which saves a lot of typical twist and turn in classic martial art story, yet feels so thin compared to the grand aesthetic designs. Although the script was supervised by Seno Gumira Ajidarma, litterateur and author of martial art short stories, the plot suffers from lacks of details and depth; even, it feels so draggy during the mid act. However, it still has an effective philosophical build-up to present the climactic final showdown, which being so dynamic and grand. Is it underwhelming to present as a big-budgeted build-up only for a climactic finale? Maybe yes.
The puny plot is one thing; fortunately, the great ensemble of casts come to rescue. Christine Hakim’s brief but strong performance is the main key, in addition, the superb performances from her on-screen apprentices are as intriguing; Reza Rahadian leads the apprentices convincingly along with Eva Celia and Tara Basro withal. Yet, the main attraction is, obviously, magnetic performance from Nicholas Saputra—so important. So, prepared to get kicked.
VERDICT: With all splendors in the visuals and ensemble of cast, Pendekar Tongkat Emas is the most exuberant homage to the classic martial art flicks, but never compare it to The Raid.
Pendekar Tongkat Emas (2014)
a.k.a The Golden Cane Warrior
Action, Drama Directed by: Ifa Isfansyah Written by: Ifa Isfansyah, Jujur Prananto, Mira Lesmana, Riri Riza, Seno Gumira Ajidarma Starred by: Christine Hakim, Eva Celia, Reza Rahadian, Nicholas Saputra, Tara Basro, Slamet Rahardjo Running Time: 177 mins