Murder, mayhem, sorrow, grief, pain, redemption: these are universal aspects of storytelling that transcend time and place. For stories that combine these to the point where pulpy isn’t just a way to describe the story but the viscera that remains of characters, look no further than Indonesian cinema. Films like The Raid: Redemption (2011), Headshot (2016), The Night Comes for Us (2018), and Gundala (2019) and, now, writer/director Randolph Zaini’s feature-length directorial debut Preman: Silent Fury. After releasing on streaming service Hi-YAH! In August 2022, Zaini’s film gets the home video treatment via distributor Well Go USA. Sorry to say that there’re no bonus features included on the disc, save for film-specific trailers and upcoming Well Go USA releases, but the film itself is startling enough that audiences may remain satisfied. Heed this warning: bloody and violent though Preman may be, it’s not at all what you think.
Sandi (Khiva Iskak) does the best he can to raise his son Pandu (Muzakki Ramdhan), but, unfortunately, his best means running with a gang that’s currently in the process of running out an entire village so that his leader, Mr. Teacher (Kiki Narendra), can secure himself alongside an even bigger gang leader. But when Pandu witnesses a murder, Sandi has to step up to protect him, forcing Sandi to face his own demons in the process.
First, to address expectations: though Preman is a violent film, it’s not structured to go down the way you may want. Much of the violence that takes place is either blocked due to body-positioning or takes place just off screen so the audience doesn’t get to see it happening, just the fallout. So when Sandi pulls out his flail to tackle the assailants going after his son, we may see him swing and connect, but we won’t necessarily see the direct impact. For those whom the viscera is part of the appeal, Preman will feel like a let-down, especially combining this with camerawork that both indulges in long takes (positive), but doesn’t always move slowly to enable the audience to see the fisticuffs (additional negative). However, there are two scenes, one involving a hitman named Ramon (Revaldo, The Night Comes for Us) and another when Sandi hits a breaking point with his rage, that will satisfy those with patience.
Patience may seem like a lot to ask, especially when the melee sequences are what the trailer focuses on, but it’s the best reward and the only way to truly appreciate what Zaini is seeking to accomplish. Rather than the typical bad-dad-does-right-by-child story, the script makes it clear that Sandi sees himself as a good father and, for the most part, what we see of him with Pandu supports this. It’s that his actions to keep a roof over their head and food in their mouths reduces Sandi to little more than a thug. As the narrative plays out, we come to discover that Pandu is the better version of Sandi (ideal for any parent, really) as Pandu will not compromise himself for others, whereas Sandi has a history of doing exactly this and always facing similar circumstances each time because of it. He’s lost friends, he’s lost family, and now he’s on the verge of losing his son because Sandi refuses to do the hard thing and stand up for himself and what’s right. In this regard, the story of Preman isn’t about a father fighting his way through thugs to protect his son, not really. It’s a film about a father fighting to save himself via his son. Impressively, Zaini threads the very difficult needle through a variety of situations in order to end up at a place that feels satisfying, even if the experience doesn’t go as expected.
Another fascinating aspect of Preman is the way Zaini plays with visual flourishes through the film. Many times, the image shrinks down from the 16:9 into what could be 4:1 Polyvision or 3.5:1 Super Ultrawide, evoking not just a tight space or narrowed focus, but a shift in genre, as well. It feels like something out of a classic western, especially as the reduced visual space zeroes in on an object or person before pulling back to show us the full scene. This happens a few times in Preman, each time specific in need and never coming across as a brandishment without purpose. Much in the same way our first real interaction with Ramon involves him reading a fight scene that, when the camera pulls pulls out from him, we see that what he observes as a fight happened well before his arrival. This style that Zaini utilizes infuses Preman with a sense of vastness and intentionality. Especially as the narrative narrows in scope from the hunt to the defense, as a film like this eventually does, the utilization of imagination becomes a powerful weapon wielded with surprising efficacy.
Despite all of these interesting narrative, technical, and thematic aspects, it’s difficult to watch the film and feel like it has an issue with women. There are two central women and the film is not kind to either of them for little reason than to make its larger point about inaction making one just as responsible for pain and trauma as aiding the abuser. That point could easily have been made without such violence. Choosing the violence reduces the agency that the dialogue smartly establishes, making both characters little more than motivation for the men to “do the right thing.”
If one can get past their own expectations, the bulk of Zaini’s Preman: Silent Fury is worth the watch. Frankly, that it skirts blatant violence in favor of inferred for the bulk of the film does imply a desire to build anticipation toward the end. While the final confrontation is nowhere near as satisfying as HYDRA (2019) or Baby Assassins (2021), the pathos it brings down hits like a broken glass-tipped flail.
Make of that what you will.
No bonus features included with the home release. Only film-related trailers and previews of upcoming Well Go USA releases.
Available for streaming on Hi-YAH! August 5th, 2022.
Available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital September 27th, 2022.
For more information, head to the official Well Go USA Preman: Silent Fury webpage.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.