February is here at last and with it the first featured Review of this month’s “Martial Arts Mayhem: Fighting Femmes Festival – 2016”. First up? Well how about some “old school” Shaw Brothers style period piece Martial Arts storytelling by way of Indonesia with a look at 2014″s “Pendekar Tongkat Emas” aka “The Golden Cane Warrior”?
Our synopsis is as follows: “The Golden Cane: a relic of incomparable force, coveted by all. And with it, the training of a technique so unrivaled, it vanquishes all who dare oppose its power. As Master Cempaka and her four disciples – orphans of her enemies, now heirs to the Cane – prepare for the new warrior guardian to ascend, an act of villainous betrayal from within threatens to destroy the clan and destabilize the realm. Their only hope to restore order lies in finding the elusive White Dragon, the only remaining pupil still equipped to unlock the mysteries of the Golden Cane.”
Let’s see… we’ve got a nifty mystical weapon… a devastatingly deadly unstoppable “secret technique”… the classic old “aging Master passing the torch to his most worthy successor” plot idea… along with some good old fashioned jealous skulduggery by the stereotypical evil disciples trying to steal away the glory from the worthy one and give us the excuse for some serious “chop-socky” action. Yep, certainly sounds like all the classic old bits are in place.
Ooooohhh!!! Did Neko forget to mention that our movie’s modest, shy, brave, and truly worthy potential successor is a girl? But of course… that’s just how we gonna roll this month, Hehehehe!! 😉
So watcha’ all waitin’ for? Grab your popcorn, prepare for some Kung-Fu the way they used to make em’ back in the good ol’ days… and, of course, by all means “Read On” for all the details. 😉
Indonesia’s really been making some serious efforts to produce quality films in the last decade or so, and while in many ways they might struggle in some areas, the one place they seem really to shine is in the Martial Arts genre. Films Like “Merantau” and “The Raid”, along with it’s sequel, have helped redefine the Martial Art action genre by introducing the West to Indonesia’s own styles of indigenous deadly combat arts. Couple that with tight, well written scripts and plenty of local talent and it wasn’t hard to see why your truly has been waiting impatiently for this particular film to arrive on DVD. Luckily for me, it even made the jump to a decent Region 1 release making finally seeing it an easy, pleasant experience compared to my usual dogged scouring of the Internet for a look-see.
So… what’s our story all about then? Well, “The Golden Cane Warrior” is a fairly nice modern melding of film elements from the more recent Chinese Wuxia film craze coupled with more than a few passing nods to those old Shaw Brothers Classic films of the 70’s and 80’s this wee Catgirl watched by the crapload back in her misspent youth all pushed together with a good dose of Indonesian Martial Art folklore. While it’s not a perfect film, all said and done, it’s a remarkably good one that knows it’s target audience and just what we want in a film.
We pretty much get one of those classic old Martial Art film setups: The aging Master reaching the end of her time, who must decide which of her students is the truly worthy one to teach her last great secret before passing along the mantle of leadership. In this film, Master Cempaka (played by Christine Hakim) has quite the choice to make. Why, you ask? Well, she only has four disciples to choose amongst you see… all of them the children of former rivals that Cempaka was forced to kill during her youth while she was forging the reputation that made her into the feared “Master of the Golden Cane”, the most deadly Master of the Martial World. Ummmm? She killed their parents? Really? Ummmm…. errrr… so what are the chances any of these kids kinda holds a bit of a grudge about that now that they’ve all grown up? Pretty darn good as it turns out…
You see… whomever Cempaka chooses, doesn’t just get her job as Guru Master to the Golden Cane School, they also inherit her unbreakable masterwork golden staff and her reputation as the world’s deadliest fighter. Sound like there might just be some serious money to be made? You betcha….
Of our students, the most likely to be chosen is Kala Biru (played by Reza Rahadian). He’s the school’s best fighter, after all. Problem is, he’s also a prideful vain bully who wants Master Cempaka to choose him so he can finally throw off her silly rules about not using the Golden Cane techniques to promote himself as ultimate Master and allow him to push aside the ruling Council of Masters to seize leadership of all the clans himself. Well… what about her other senior pupil, Daya Gerhana (played by Tara Basro)? Not much of a better choice… especially since she’s Biru’s lover and confidant and shares his ambitions to rule the Martial World at any cost. That leaves us with either the silent child, her youngest disciple Angin (played by Aria Kusumah) or shy and respectful Merah Dara (played by Eva Celia). Dara lacks the experience of the others, but of course Guru Cempaka wisely sees that of them all, she’s the only one who truly has taken Cempaka’s lessons about the worthlessness of violence to heart. So… much to Biru and Gerhana’s smoldering jealousy, she gets selected to be Cempaka’s successor. Oh… yeah… like that’s gonna be the end of things.
In a page right out of one of those old Shaw epics, our villainous duo of traitors poison Cempaka, enough to weaken her and let their combined skills overwhelm her. Not before Cempaka passes the legendary Golden Cane to Dara and the knowledge that the final deadly technique requires not one loyal student to master it, but two. Weakened, dying, and running out of time, she can’t teach that to Dara and loyal Angin, but tells them to find another old Master, the White Dragon Warrior, to learn it.
Naturally Biru and Gerhana both claim that Biru was really the chosen Successor and frame our pretty heroine for her Master’s death… and pretty soon she’s a wanted fugitive with the meanest fighters of all the clans out to kill her and recover the Golden Cane.
From that point forward our story sticks pretty close to the sort of revenge driven plot you’d be comfy with from oodles of other classic Martial Art films. Yep. It’s not a hard story to follow. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad film mind you…. after all those old stories got to become classics for a reason. Simple story plots worked back then, and it pretty much works again just fine here.
This one isn’t exactly the bone crunching action film I was expecting, as it relies more on drama and character exposition, but fear not, they still manage to do some pretty nice stick fighting her and there throughout this one as well as oodles of that nasty close combat Silat fighting style you’d remember from “The Raid”. Nowhere near as brutal as was shown in “The Raid”, but certainly enough to make an impact. Expect plenty of the melodramatic drama of a good Martial Art story and you’ll be happy and comfortable.
Eventually our heroine finds her way to the White Dragon, although not without suffering agonizing loss… learns a secret about his past, finds out all the particulars of that last “secret technique” she needs, and teams up with him to defeat her evil fellow disciples in a final showdown to both restore her honor and return the Martial World to harmonious balance once more. Yep. All very familiar stuff.
But, still, very well crafted stuff. While “The Golden Cane Warrior” isn’t the most original story to come along, it certainly plays very well as an excellent example of the genre and showcases the Indonesian fighting arts in a way they haven’t been for a Western audience, always a good thing. Neko ended up liking it a lot, especially our heroine, pretty Eva Celia, who makes Dara a very believable, vulnerable yet strong, and truly likable character. All the actors here are good, especially our main villain Biru, who comes across as a truly brutal and credible menace for out heroine to defeat.
All in all I’d give this one a well deserved 3 “Meows” out of 5. It’s not the most groundbreaking original story to come along, but it tells that story in a good tight, workmanlike way hitting all the right notes at the appropriate times. It’s a well crafted, good looking film that will certainly satisfy fans of the genre. Heck… that’s all a certain wee Catgirl wants for a nice “Movie Nite” on the couch…
The DVD? Well… I would have preffered to find the Indonesian release for this one, but try as I might, I wasn’t able to track one down for it, until the Region 1 from WellGo came out here in the good ol’ US of A. That particular one appears to be uncut and widescreen, with the original Indonesian audio track on board as well as nice accurate English subtitles for good lil’ kittens like me to enjoy. All for right around 12-15 $ US too… not a bad lil’ price, so nobody’s got an excuse for missing this one, that’s for sure. Not a bad choice for the first outing in our marathon.
There’s a suitably nifty Trailer of course, filled with all the Martial Arts goodness you ought to need, o’ Gentle Visitor, so enjoy!!