Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Golden Cane Warrior, The (2015)

Director: Ifa Isfansya 
Notable Cast: Christine Hakim, Eva Celia Latjuba, Nicholas Saputra, Reza Rahadian, Tara Basro

With the international success of Gareth Evans’ The Raid and its subsequent sequel, it would only seem fitting that there would be a bit of a boom in the Indonesian film market – if not just in the Indonesian martial arts film market. A film like The Golden Cane Warrior would normally go overlooked in the grand spectrum of international film releasing (particularly here in the US), but with this new global eye on the area it’s not all that surprising that The Golden Cane Warrior would get a slightly larger than normal release. Fortunately, the wuxia inspired film is fairly deserving of this kind of attention as a very ambitious martial arts drama. Blending the likes of classic Shaw Brothers wuxia with a melodramatic and artistic touch akin to Zhang Yimou films, The Golden Cane Warrior is a fun and modern slice of traditional martial arts film history rolled into one... and I enjoyed the hell out of it.

Cempaka (Christine Hakim) has spent her adult life as the sole carrier of the Golden Cane. As a way of redeeming herself against all of the lives she has taken to keep the iconic weapon and its style of martial arts safe, she trains the children of her slain foes as her students. As her health declines though, she must entrust the Cane to one of her pupils to carry on the legacy and learn the style’s ultimate move. When she chooses her shy student Dara (Eva Celia) to be the next Golden Cane Warrior, she will find herself betrayed and now it’s up to Dara to reclaim her place as the one and take vengeance on those who betrayed her master.

She's gonna stick that cane up your ass...sideways.
For those who are more or less versed in martial arts cinema, you are going to recognize a lot of the plot progressions and narrative structural elements from classic wuxia films. Specifically, The Golden Cane Warrior pulls a lot of the various spins and shifts from the Shaw Brothers classic The Sword of Swords. A young person that is given the task of being the next heir to an iconic weapon, a student’s betrayal of the master, a protagonist that goes into hiding, and then the subsequent show down in the third act. Truth be told, the core of The Golden Cane Warrior is not only familiar, but it’s also decently predictable in its narrative flow. Really, there is only a few new added twists that pop up here and there, including a few flashbacks that develop the cyclical nature of the master and her chosen pupil, but for the most part the film plays things relatively safe when it comes to sticking to the formula.

For a decently low budget flick though, The Golden Cane Warrior is ambitious in its artistic nature. Director Ifa Isfansya attempts to go for broke on the dramatic elements invoking a lot of comparisons to Zhang Yimou in the process. The film doesn’t even come close to having the budget to really create the period piece artistry of the iconic Hong Kong director though and the epic tone of the film doesn’t get carried by its small sets and modest scope of extras for its small villages which does hurt in the long run. However, the cast and crew do their best to sell the entire thing as big as possible with a range of great performances (Christine Hakim nails the role of the master) and some strong cinematography. The Golden Cane Warrior definitely earns an ‘A’ for effort, even if it doesn’t have the budget to garner the full execution grade.

When it comes to the action, the director’s modern style tends to pull away from the throwback wuxia style a bit too much. Not that there is a ton of wire work - of course there is some because... you know, wuxia, but when it happens it fits in with the more traditional weapon work that happens to be the core fighting in the film. If anything, it is Isfansya’s editing that tends to pull away from really show casing how good the film is at working the action into the narrative. The fight work itself is strong and the finale, which features a well choreographed two-on-two staff fight, is enough to keep most die-hard martial arts fans hooked.

When it comes to modern martial arts films, The Golden Cane Warrior should be held in strong regard. It’s simple in its story, really building on traditional foundations of the genre, and the execution is decently impressive considering it’s lower budget and ambitious outlook. It’s hardly perfect with its formulaic approach and melodramatic spin, but it still works and hits all the right buttons for fans of wuxia films.

Here’s to hoping we see more throwback wuxia films in the future from all over the world.

Written By Matt Reifschneider 

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