TIFF 2021 | Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Edwin, Indonesia/Singapore/Germany)

By Robert Koehler

One of the dirty little secrets of art cinema is that most directors who make such films can’t do action. (I adore Zama [2017] as much as anybody, but, oh my, those action scenes…)

So it is with Edwin and his well-intentioned but bumbling Indonesian martial-arts tribute movie based on Eka Kurniawan’s beloved novel. Even without knowing the novel, viewers will come in with pronounced expectations which can be summed up in two words, beginning with “kick” and ending with “ass.” For roughly five minutes of this 114-minute feature, that does indeed happen, courtesy of the high-kicking and chop-socking Ladya Cheryl as Iteung, a female bodyguard who renders our fighter-for-hire hero, Ajo (played aimlessly by Marthino Lio), lame and defeated. 

Unfortunately, the movie is about him, not her—more specifically, about his struggles with impotence, even as he falls head over heels in love with her. The story drifts this way and that, with no forward momentum, no inner drive, no…action. Fully one-half or more of the running time is hijacked by melodrama and complications surrounding Ajo and Iteung’s impending marriage. These are serious problems for a movie titled Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash.

Edwin, puckish filmmaker that he is, seems bereft of inventiveness for this project and can’t conjure a set of interesting ideas to pull the viewer through the storytelling muck. His pacing is extraordinarily erratic, with brief bursts of lusty energy followed by static passages gummed up by awkward acting and thin characterizations. The fights are staged admirably in full shot and without many edits and other trickery—just like the good old days of Indonesian-cinema style martial arts. If only there were more of these (and Cheryl’s remarkable gifts) and less of everything else. 

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