Movie review Buffalo Boys (2018): Mike Wiluan’s directorial debut, Buffalo Boys, breathes the same air as Kim Jee-won’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird in the sense that both brings out Wild West virtues in Far-East settings. If the latter transposes cowboy bonanza into ol’ time Manchurian landscape, the former introduces Western tropes to fictionalized Dutch-occupied Indonesia setting. It’s a full-fledged, faux-historical Western fantasy where English-speaking Dutch colonialism recreates diabolical Southern-slavery as if it’s American Civil War period.
The plot revolves around a straightforward homecoming-slash-revenge mission carried by the titular boys—Jamar (Ario Bayu) and Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso). When their parent and their homeland perished during Dutch’s assaults, the boys were brought into exile to the real Wild West by their uncle, Arana (Tio Pakusadewo). Once the boys are physically and mentally ready, Arana brings them back to the land of the dead, to settle the score once and for all. At least, that’s the plan.
With stunning production value—including unique mix-and-match of architecture, costumes and comic characters making peculiar blend of Indonesian Western. For what it looks, Buffalo Boys is undoubtedly an ambitious Indonesian blockbuster (among the first in its ranks). The premise, the character designs (that also counts a troupe of over-the-top outlaws) and the local twist of American cowboy—hence the title—suggest that the film is directly translated from video games or comic books. Please note that, while being similarly branded as ‘Western’, Buffalo Boys is in different hemisphere as Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts). When the latter is a more grounded arthouse rendition of Western spirit, the former literally imports the Western blockbuster style and mixes it with local wisdom. As reflected in the protagonists’ background, it isn’t a simply-inspired-by-Western-movie product, it is the Western product through and through.
Yet, when it comes to final execution, it is sad that—after some appetizing trailers and promotional materials—Buffalo Boys isn’t as appealing as how it is promoted. As an action blockbuster, this Western crawls too deep into muds of character introductions and event set-ups, despite its straightforward premise, before leading audiences into the final showdown—which might remind us to The Magnificent Seven (whichever versions you prefer). The long-awaited final showdown is unarguably the best part of Buffalo Boys; however, it’s been a pretty exhausting road to finally land into this, despite the duration which only clocks in on 102 minutes.
When it comes to screen transliteration, Mike Wiluan is adept in crafting incredible action sequences with professional looks. However, when it comes to storytelling, Buffalo Boys often stutters and, even, gets choked, especially with (almost) redundant character introductions and plantings. At some points, Buffalo Boys introduces Kiona (Pevita Pearce), a chief’s daughter, as if she’s a femme fatale; but, in the end, she’s completely underused aside from being another damsel in distress along with her sister, Sri (Mikha Tambayong). The villain side is a more interesting point to discuss. Van Trach (Reinot Bussemaker), the main villain, is often overshadowed by the henchmen—including characters performed by Alex Abbad, Zack Lee and Hannah Al-Rashid. Yet, in the end, they’re all only situated as some accessories to the film’s nude brutality.
Aside from some character issues, the movie also often suffers from clumsy scene transition. Disjointed scenes makes the dramatic portion feels a little incoherent and jumpy; surprisingly, this issue only happens in dramatic sequences; when it comes to action sequences, the editing feels like on a different level (admittedly, it’s top-notch). Furthermore, plot inconsistency makes the whole scheme less believable; imagine, plotting a revenge for nearly two decades, but when the boys reach the crime scene, suddenly, they come unprepared. Possibly, there are some off-screen reasons of how they behave like that; but, from what we’ve seen on screen, the titular boys, instead of being two avengers, end up looking as if they’re some suicide squad, no pun intended.
Buffalo Boys’ sheer ambition could’ve worked better with a much more compelling script and a more thorough direction on dramatic scenes. Observe the stiff dialogues and you will realize that the dialogues on the subtitle make more sense than what is actually said by the character. Also, it’s way better to have the speaker (of the dialogues) on-screen when some lines occur; rather than having the addressee reacts to the lines.
Certainly, it’s a great experience to watch Buffalo Boys breaking boundaries and conventionality. It’s a great leap with flaws, serious flaws; but, I personally hope, the effort should not stop here.
Buffalo Boys (2018)
Action, Western, Fantasy Directed by: Mike Wiluan Written by: Mike Wiluan, Raymond Lee Starred by: Ario Bayu, Yoshi Sudarso, Tio Pakusadewo, Pevita Pearce, Mikha Tambayong, Reinot Bussemaker Runtime: 102 mins