JAKARTA: When Netflix announced the exclusive production of seven Indonesian films and series in September 2022, few expected overnight success but by the end of the year, the Big Four by Timo Tjahjanto, the first film in the series, had become one of the video-on-demand giant’s most-watched films not in the English language.
Tjahjanto’s first action-comedy amassed more than 16 million viewing hours and tells the story of Dina, a strait-laced detective. Looking for cues on the unsolved murder of her late father, she ends up on a remote tropical island, fighting for her life with the same group of down-on-their-luck secret assassins her father had once trained.
Blood-soaked and boasting the over-the-top action scenes for which Tjahjanto is renowned, The Big Four entered Netflix’s Top 10 in 53 countries, including Argentina, Mexico, Finland and Spain. In the United States, a notoriously hard-to-break market, it ranked fifth after making its debut on December 15.
“It is thrilling to witness how the story can resonate and travel the world,” Tjahjanto told Variety as the film became increasingly popular in December. His previous hardcore action flick, The Night Comes for Us (2018), was the first Netflix Original film ever made in Indonesia.
Since 2016, the company has invested in other Indonesian films such as the coming-of-age drama Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens (2021) by Lucky Kuswandi, which was almost entirely shot in New York, and the crime mystery Photocopier (2021) by Wregas Bhanuteja. Netflix’s global reach has helped raise the profile of Indonesian films and increase their success around the world.
Dag Yngvesson, a lecturer in Film and TV studies at Nottingham University Malaysia, near Kuala Lumpur, and an expert on Indonesian cinema, recalls that since the late 1970s, popular Indonesian films featuring signature combinations of action, horror, mysticism, comedy and melodrama were often marketed abroad as “cult” fare.
It was the Raid trilogy by then Jakarta-based Welsh director Gareth Evans that helped bring the Indonesian martial art pencak silat to the attention of cinema throughout the 2010s, building “an international reputation for Indonesian films that closely followed action/martial arts conventions, often taking them to new extremes,” Yngvesson told media.
He believes video-on-demand funding and wider distribution have given local filmmakers like Tjahjanto an avenue to build on the reputation and style that Evans helped popularize. Differently from the New Order era’s film laga (action films), which mixed action with other genres, Evan’s films are more homogenous “action films” and impressed fans around the world with their well-choreographed, visceral and authentic fight scenes.
“The Big Four can be seen as a return to a more typically blended, “Indonesian” approach that foreign audiences are beginning to recognize and respond to,” said Yngvesson.
Indonesian cinema recently earned coveted international respect after Seperti Dendam Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas (Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash) (2021), the latest film by Citra Award-winning Jakarta-based director Edwin snared the coveted Golden Leopard at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival in August 2021. Adapted from the namesake novel by Eka Kurniawan, Edwin’s film blends kung-fu epics with a road movie and pays homage to the coloring and style of cult movies from the past. (Int’l News Desk)