In one of the latest tendencies in Asian cinema, production companies from S. Korea and Japan have begun penetrating the Indonesian market, financing local filmmakers to shoot big budget productions (for the country’s standards that is). CJ Entertainment financed Joko Anwar’s “Satan Slaves” for example, while in this case, Nikkatsu funded Mike Wiluan, producer of films like “Headshot” and “Macabre”, to  shoot a Western with an Indonesian flavor. The result was this particular movie.

“Buffalo Boys” is screening at the 17th New York Asian Film Festival

In 1860, Arana, Jamar and Suwo return to Indonesia after fleeing to America decades ago, following the massacre of sultan Hamza (brother to the first, and father to the others) by Captain Van Trach, during an Indonesian uprising against the Dutch. The sole purpose of the three is to exact revenge from Van Trach. During their search, they stumble upon a group attacking Kiona and her grandfather, and proceed on saving the two. They invite them to their village, where they learn that Van Trach is actually the one who runs the area, torturing the inhabitants any way he can. The three protagonists proceed on their goal but also feel the need to protect the village, particularly since both Jamar and Suwo find some romantic interests there. As a number of dramatic events take place, the clash between the brothers and Van Trach’s goons (and particularly Leung, his right-hand) is inevitable.

The film starts with a fight inside a wagon, setting the tone for an action comedy, in the style of “Shanghai Noon”, with a focus on entertainment and very little on the actual story, as is usually the case with films in the category. However, as time passes, the film becomes more of a drama that highlights the cruel practices of the Dutch colonialists in Indonesia rather than an action-based film. I found that this tactic eventually faults the movie, which lingers between these two genres (drama and action) without fulfilling any of them to the fullest.

 

On the other hand, the various action scenes are more than impressive, with the combination of western (guns and various mechanical weapons) and martial arts film (hand-on-hand brawler style combat, machetes) working quite well. The action choreography is one the film’s best aspects through the aforementioned combination that also includes elements of absurdity and humor, thus stressing the entertainment the movie offers. Particularly the fights in the bar and the finale are among the most outstanding action sequences I have seen during the latest years, while they certainly compensate (partially at least) for the aforementioned issues in the narrative.

The acting follows the general rules of the action films, with Yoshi Sudarso as Suwo, Ario Bayu as Jamar and Zack Lee as Leung fulfilling the sequences convincingly (always with the help of some great stunts, though). Regarding the dramatic sequences, their performance is not so good, which can be attributed to the narrative, though. Tio Pakusadewo as Arana, on the other hand, shows his prowess in the dramatic aspect, carrying the movie in that account.

John Radel’s cinematography is one of the production’s greatest assets, with him shooting both the action and the dramatic sequences artfully, while taking full advantage of the Indonesian landscape, which seems to be a perfect fit for westerns. The same applies to Preeyan ‘Lin’ Suwannathda’s costumes and Pawas Sawatchaiyamet’s production design, who have managed to portray the era with accuracy. Sean Albertson’s editing retains a rather fast pace during the action scenes and a much slower on during the non-action, both quite fitting to the movie’s general aesthetics.

“Buffalo Boys” has many merits, particularly regarding the action part of the film and the production values, but I felt that it would benefit much if the director knew exactly what he wanted to do and follow it to the end. Definitely deserves a watch though.

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My name is Panos Kotzathanasis and I am Greek. Being a fan of Asian cinema and especially of Chinese kung fu and Japanese samurai movies since I was a little kid, I cultivated that love during my adolescence, to extend to the whole of SE Asia. Starting from my own blog in Greek, I then moved on to write for some of the major publications in Greece, and in a number of websites dealing with (Asian) cinema, such as Taste of Cinema, Hancinema, EasternKicks, Chinese Policy Institute, and of course, Asian Movie Pulse. in which I still continue to contribute. In the beginning of 2017, I launched my own website, Asian Film Vault, which I merged in 2018 with Asian Movie Pulse, creating the most complete website about the Asian movie industry, as it deals with almost every country from East and South Asia, and definitely all genres. You can follow me on Facebook and Twitter.