Friday, July 13, 2018

NYAFF ’18: Buffalo Boys

The Dutch were something else, weren’t they, what with their windmills, tulips, and Indonesian colonialism. This movie will make then pay dearly for their Western imperialism, but it will use the conventions of the American western to do it. Two brothers and their uncle have returned from California to avenge their decimated family and kick some Dutch butt in Mike Wiluan’s Buffalo Boys (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

Jamar and Suwo’s father tried to make peace with the dastardly Van Trach, but that worked out poorly for him and his Javanese village. Their Uncle Arana had a feeling that would happen, but he didn’t have time to say I told you so. He was too busy escaping with his infant nephews. As soon as they return, they get into trouble rescuing a village headman’s daughter from Van Trach’s Weinstein-esque henchmen. Naturally, that brings down the full Wrath of the Dutch (how about that for a title?) on their former hosts.

As a result, the three outlaws are particularly ticked off when they blow into Van Trach’s corrupt Dodge City. They even take rooms above the saloon, as they bide their time. As if matters were not personal enough, Suwo rushes headlong into some ill-advised fights to protect the headman’s other daughter, the tomboy fighter, Kiona.

Buffalo Boys is so blatantly trying to stoke resentment against the West, you would think it was produced by Jackie Chan. At times, it really wallows in the level of agitprop. Nevertheless, it needs to be stipulated Wiluan stages some terrific action scenes. The final shootout is a real smoker that can hold its head up with many classic gun fights. Naturally Jamar and Suwo are grossly outnumbered, but they are not necessarily outgunned. Plus, they are considerably more mobile, since the Dutch insist on wearing their wooden shoes.

Indonesian superstar Ario Bayu cuts the right sort of broad-shouldered figure for Jamar, but his glum brooding allows Yoshi Sudarso to frequently up-stage him as the more dashing Suwo. Yet, Tio Pakusadewo towers over both of them as grizzled old Uncle Arana. Frankly, Reinout Bussemaker is laughably sinister as Van Trach, but that is the sort of mustache-twisting villain a film of this degree of subtlety demands.

Wiluan produced Headshot and Beyond Skyline, so he obviously learned a thing or two about how action should look on-screen. Both those films are more fun than his directorial debut, but he still notches some highly distinctive kills. Unfortunately, the didactic soapbox statements are more likely to inspire dismissive laughter than woke revelations. Still, between the two, you can’t say the film doesn’t entertain. It is messy and prone to embarrassing finger-wagging, but still kind of fun. Buffalo Boys screens Sunday evening (7/15) at the SVA Theatre, as part of the 2018 NYAFF, so proost everybody.