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-[Film Reviews]-, East Asian Cinema, Japanese Cinema

‘Killers’ (2014): When Cinematic Violence Asks Hard Questions


Directed by: The Mo Brothers || Produced by: Yoshinori Chiba, Shinjiro Nishimura, Takuji Ushiyama, Kimo Stamboel, Timo Tjahjanto

Screenplay by: Takuji Ushiyama, Timo Tjahjanto || Starring: Kazuki Kitamura, Oka Antara, Rin Takanashi, Luna Maya, Ray Sahetapy, Ersya Aurelia, Epy Kasnandar, Mei Kurokawa

Music by: Fajar Yuskemal, Aria Prayogi || Cinematography by: Gunnar Nimpuno || Edited by: Arifin Marhan Japri || Country: Indonesia, Japan || Language: Indonesian, Japanese, English

Running Time: 137 minutes

If you have the stomach to handle gruesome, bloody films yet maintain the maturity to avoid torture-porn fests like the Saw series (2004-2010) or Eli Roth’s Hostel movies (2007, 2011), the unimaginatively titled Killers may provide a bizarre sort of catharsis for those who, like me, were completely baffled by the brief but punctuated metamorphosis of the horror genre into sado-masochistic gore-fests. Like the very subgenres its commentating on and partially lampooning (e.i. gore-porn, serial-killer dramas), Killers is a weird, bloody experience, but unlike films such as Saw or most narratives centered around mass-murderers, there’s a point to all its gruesome, extreme violence and it never attempts to glorify its morally decrepit subjects.

Killers is a Japanese-Indonesian co-production and the latest from Gareth Evans and Maya Barrack-Evans’ Merantau Pictures. As such, many actors from The Raid films (2011, 2014) return to reprise most of the cast for this film, including the two principal characters Bayu Adita (Oka Antara, aka “Eka” from Berandal) and Nomura Shuhei (Kazuki Kitamura), a struggling Indonesian freelance journalist and a sociopathic Japanese serial-killer, respectively.

Top: Star Oka Antara (right) struggles with his violent urges as his professional and family life fall apart around him. Bottom: Costar Kazuki Kitamura (right) finishes off another helpless victim.

Killers is a brilliant rumination on humanity’s inclination to and fascination with violence. All humans are interested in violence to some to degree whether we admit it or not, and Killers, like David Cronenburg’s A History of Violence (2005) and Mary Harron’s American Psycho (2000) before it, holds an uncomfortable magnifying glass up to that fascination. The result is an unsettling but also intelligent and artistic examination of why people are attracted to (or repulsed by) the act of inflicting pain upon others.

Arguably the most ambitious and risky aspect of the film is its dual-protagonist and dual-setting premise. Killers is perhaps the most obvious international movie co-production ever made, as the story is split across two separate countries for most of its running time. We jump back and forth between Antara and Shuhei’s perspective as the latter attempts to revive his failing journalistic career and uphold a crumbling marriage, while secretly also following the latter’s online homicidal video-blogs. Shuhei is a wealthy Japanese entrepreneur with a shady past who enjoys luring young women to his lair and butchering them for his amateur films —- you know, the classic homicidal maniac modus operandi.

The gist of the narrative is how Antara, through both accident and purpose, slowly begins to emulate the Japanese murderer by killing enemies of his own and posting videos of his actions online. He becomes a copycat killer, and the transformation is gradual, disturbing, and most importantly of all, realistic.

The only downside to this film is the obvious difficulties with balancing a multi-protagonist story across concurrent settings. For the most part, the film orchestrates and paces these semi-connected storylines extraordinarily well. They’re intertwined just enough to make both characters interesting and feed off each other, and the added variety in locations works well for the movie’s color palette. Thematically, the premise works wonders at fleshing out the film’s overarching commentary on humanity’s violent streak, but its culmination in the final scene is shaky at best. By the end, the film becomes a little too much like Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy (2003) in a bad way, such that too many people die in rapid succession in such grotesque and absurd ways that the film almost becomes a parody of itself in its final moments.

A few other minor complaints aside though (I guess CGI blood and bullet holes are here to stay?), Killers is yet another solid entry from the Evans’ Merantau pictures. Indonesia is rapidly becoming the new South Korea in terms of quality thrillers, particularly with respect to their gritty, grimy filmmaking styles and taste for artistic cinematic violence. Killers‘ thesis is hardly new or unique, but again, being “new” in anything (cinema or otherwise) is never inherently good or bad; the execution of this well-used commentary is what makes Killers a knockout film. It’s the grittiest, grisliest contemplation on our inclination to bloodshed since Cronenburg and Harron, and if that’s not high praise, I don’t know what is.


SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: The Indon-esian directing duo of the Mo Brothers shoot the hell out of this movie with the help of an ambitious but effective hybridized Japanese/Indonesian script by Takuji Ushiyama and Timo Tjahjanto. It’s gory, grimy, and near bloody brilliant. The cast is a welcome return of nearly every major and minor actor from Gareth Evans’ Raid films, and Kitamura and Antara are standouts as the dual leads.

However… the finale is a clumsy and unsatisfying compared to the rest of the taught narrative. The digital blood effects need some work and one particular close-up killshot looks awful.


? Move over Korea, Indonesia may be here to stay, folks.

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