Director: Adrian Teh
Cast: Hairul Azreen, Fify Azmi, Hilal Azman, Ismi Melinda, Henley Hii, Dain Iskandar Said, Josiah Hogan, Yayan Ruhian
Runtime: 1 hr 49 mins
Rating: PG13 (Violence and Some Drug References)
Released By: Clover Films
Opening Day: 21 November 2019
Synopsis: Hassan (Hairul Azreen) left his family since he was younger. He became military man to overcome his demon and to get away from the injustice towards his family and community committed by Raja (Dain Iskandar). After his stint in the army Hassan returns to help his family with a debt owed by his sister Zain (Fify Azmi) by fighting in a MMA match. Hassan and Zain had to go against Vee (Ismi Melinda) and Rayyan (Josiah Hogan) who are Raja’s children. Can they go against all odds to win the fight and would Hassan be able to save his family and community?
If you’ve seen last year’s ‘Paskal: The Movie’, you’ll know why we were trembling with anticipation for ‘Wira’. Not only was the former a surprisingly solid action film from our neighbour up North, this follow-up boasts the choreography of Indonesian martial artist Yayan Ruhian, whom self-proclaimed genre aficionados should recognise from such classics as ‘The Raid’ and ‘John Wick 3’. In spite of these expectations, ‘Wira’ still manages to surprise in unexpected ways, which is credit to its director Adrian Teh and its leading duo Hairul Azreen and Fify Azmi.
The story is simple – after a long stint away in the army, Hassan (Azreen) returns to his hometown to find that its people, including his father Munas (Dato Hilal Azman) and sister Zain (Azmi) are living under the thumb of local kingpin Raja (Dain Said). After having bought over the land from the people to build a factory, Raja lords over their livelihoods by employing them at his factory, as well as offering them shelter at a block of flats he calls Rajamerah. While many of his fellow villagers have resigned to being under Raja’s rule, Munas and Zain continue to resist it in their own small ways, leading to infractions with Raja’s goons that Hassan is keen to put to rest.
Alas Hassan’s good intentions precipitate a rapidly spiralling series of consequences – beginning with the brother-and-sister duo’s humiliating defeat of Raja’s son Rayyan (Josiah Hogan) and love-child Vee (Ismi Melinda) in the MMA ring, the latter pair’s consequent plan to get even that goes awry, Raja’s subsequent avengement that claims yet another unnecessary life, and the inevitable showdown between Raja and our leading couple. Each of these events is specifically designed for a bruising action sequence in itself, and we’re glad to say that both Ruhian’s choreography and the preparation which Azreen and Azmi had gone through for their roles pays off tremendously.
Indeed, there is no lack of ambition here, what with Teh opening the movie with an intense MMA fight between Zain and Vee which sees the girls pummel each other with the ferocity of real-life competitors. It will be close to an hour before we get to the next big sequence though, but you can be reassured that your patience will be beautifully rewarded. There is a close-quarter fight on board a moving bus which will set your heart racing, another more long-drawn but well-paced fight from the top of Flat Rajamerah to its bottom, and last but not least a heart-stoppingly exhilarating mano-a-mano between Hassan and Raja’s chief-of-security Brother Ifrit (Ruhian). Each of these sequences is worth the price of admission alone, and it is testament to Teh’s commitment how every one strives to up the ante from the last.
Much rests on the shoulders of Azreen and Azmi, but like we said, both actors deliver splendidly. You can tell how much hard work both have clearly given to prepare for the movie, and that is even more impressive for Azmi, who had stepped into the character when the previous lead actress dropped out and considering how she never had such training before. Besides prepping both well, Ruhian’s accomplishment is also in the hard-hitting action which, while not as bloody as some of the Indonesian action films he’s been involved in, is no less ferocious. On his part, Teh ensures that his audience can see every single move, eschewing the sort of frenetic close-ups which mar more than amplify the viewing experience.
While the emphasis is definitely on the action, Teh also takes care to ensure that the rest of the movie isn’t just an excuse to string a bunch of jaw-dropping sequences together. Together with his co-writer Anwari Ashraf, Teh crafts a poignant family drama that sees Hassan try to reconcile with his father and sister after having walked away from them many years ago. Much of that unfolds in the first hour, but that time spent allows us to relate to the characters more intimately, and makes the finale even more rousing – in particular, there is a touching brother-and-sister moment between Hassan and Zain walking along the roadside after they had won the fight as a tag-team against Rayyan and Vee.
As unlikely as it may have seemed before, Teh has established himself as a specialist in the action genre with ‘Paskal: The Movie’ and ‘Wira’. In fact, we dare say ‘Wira’ surpasses its predecessor in terms of storytelling, character work and most importantly, action choreography. The last is of course credit to Ruhian, whose work here in designing the action as well as training Azreen and Azmi truly pays off in terms of gritty realism. Both actors are also charismatic performers in their own right, and besides exceling at the hand-to-hand combat, bring out the interpersonal conflict between them and with their father skilfully. Indeed, ‘Wira’ sets a new bar for Malaysian action films, one that ‘Paskal: The Movie’ had set just a year ago and which we are looking for Teh’s next action project to surpass.
(As gritty, if not more so, than 'The Raid' and 'Paskal: The Movie', 'Wira' impresses as one of the best action movies of the year)
Review by Gabriel Chong