It’s been an endeavor to witness today’s industry reshape itself to accommodate certain releases, none more prospective in this day and age for southeast Asia’s regional output with Netflix looking to meet the demand.
The prospect and global appeal for director Adrian Teh’s own work is a welcome one, following last year’s introduction to Malaysian action star, actor Hairul Azreen with military thriller, Paskal: The Movie, and a spritely move toward genre fanfare with martial arts action thriller, Wira, that all but seals the fated interest of fans.
Written by Paskal: The Movie and Polis Evo 1 & 2 scribe Anwari Ashraf from a story by Teh, a straightforward tale ensues of an ex-commando newly returned from service. Azreen plays Hassan, once a legendary and fearless fighter in the seedy criminal underbelly of his old neighborhood working for untouchable crimeboss, Raja (Dain Said).
Hassan’s only goal is to reunite with his father, Munas (Hilal Azman) and sister, Zain (Fify Azmi), and move them out of their slum to a better, slightly more expensive home, but not before Raja has anything to say on the matter. He has a debt to settle with Zain following her brutal defeat in his illegal fight ring at the hands of the vindictive Vee (Ismi Melinda).
With the threat of retribution by Raja hanging over his head despite their longstanding rapport, Hassan’s best efforts to mitigate the family’s debt will take both brother and sister on a journey to hopeful healing and reconnection, keeping in mind their father, who remains more than steadfast in his vigilance with the goings on at Raja’s condom factory where he works.
Zain and Hassan are forced to humble themselves before Raja’s furor, which provides a chance moment for the two to redeem themselves in the ring and wipe Zain’s debt for good. As time usually tells, however, and as “too good” as some things provably are to be true, it isn’t long before Raja shows his teeth. With tragedy in their midst, Hassan and Zain are compelled to take the law in their own hands no matter the cost.
Hassan’s entrance into the film is a passing moment, but speaks to the notion that Teh has more than done his fair share of homework in the action genre. The scene takes a more affable turn with the addition of Henley Hii in the role of Boon, a beat cop who has a fair moral compass, and for that matter, bares slightly differing ideas on handling Raja, opposite that of his old friend home from the battlefield.
Much of that dichotomy gets explored throughout with Hassan as the one who seemingly wants nothing more than the quick-and-easy way out of a problem, rather than take the full-frontal approach of confronting and combating it. Hassan clearly wants to protect his family, but Munas and the incorrigible Zain are committed to facing Raja head on, and much like the rest of the film, the fight action isn’t hammed up or forced for the sake of action fanfare.
Crafting the explosive fight sequences is Yayan Ruhian who, just as his international stardom takes off in both Hollywood and abroad, also plays Raja’s right-hand man, Ifrit. Ruhian’s addition to the cast is a purely promising feat that pays off handsomely by the third act with Azreen exhibiting a wholly watchable peformance in stunts as much as drama. Having shown his chops on earlier projects like low-budget indie fantasy, Pak Pong, and for Teh in Paskal, it’s more than easy to see the appeal Azreen draws as a prospective addition to today’s action fandon.
The action is especially some of the best and most watchable of late, particularly from Malaysia where action films have definitely made headway locally despite industry politics, budget concerns and the lack of real traction into the world market – the latter of which has certainly changed in the last few years. The brutality itself takes on a transformative shape as well, for Hassan’s own restraint as it’s tested when he’s pitted with old friends-turned-foes and other scores of gangsters. It’s not until the danger heats and the stakes are raised that he starts delivering the goods with his fists.
As expectant for anyone with standards and an eye for fight-heavy filmmaking, the cinematography follows the choreography, with seldom any distracting embellishments in the editing and lensing overall. Solid cast performances add refinememt to Wira with Said bringing gravitas in his delivery to the role of Raja, and actress Azmi exhibiting a ferocious air of high caliber in both the dramatic and screenfighting aspects of her role. She measures up to her male co-stars firmly without missing a beat, and a solo vehicle one day would be highly favored.
The action and gore don’t measure up to levels the same as that of directors like Tjahjanto or Evans, but Wira is no PG-13 feat either. From vertigo-inducing tower brawls to cramped buses, and a drug lab fight finale with all the trimmings, the level violence in Wira is well suited for the audience it sells to, and is no missed opportunity, as some have bewilderingly called it in various opinion exchanges online. The choice to bring a fair touch of comedy with the appearances of Jack Lim and Malaysian favorite Zizan Razak was also a smart one.
By the film’s closing scenes, Wira takes an obligatory turn toward more patriotic undertones apart from previous nods throughout the film. There’s an easter egg worth paying attention to – as far as “shared universes” go – if you’ve been aware of Teh and his work, and it’s a more than feasible signature to bookend the promise Teh brings to his profession. Indeed, for action fans, Wira is a stimulating, nascient martial arts action thriller that lives up to its name.