Cast: Marthino Lio, Ladya Cheryl, Cecep Arif Rahman, Sal Priadi, Reza Rahadian, Ratu Felisha, Lukman Sardi, Djenar Maesa Ayu, Christine Hakim, Ayu Laksmi
Duration: 114 mins.
By Paul Bramhall
Perhaps unsurprisingly, little of Indonesia’s arthouse film scene has made it to western shores, however with Revenge is mine, everyone else pays cash, director Edwin has (albeit unintentionally) ensured that his latest work has the opportunity to be seen by a wider audience beyond the local cinemas. For starters, that title. Dating back to Chang Cheh Vendetta! in 1970 (and probably beyond), if there’s one word in the English vocabulary that will help secure a distribution deal for a foreign production in English-speaking markets, it’s that. Secondly, launch Cecep Arif Rahman from Raid 2 in a cameo as an imprisoned blind kung-fu master with whom our main character gets the opportunity to share a cell, and you get a double dose of international appeal.
I was considering my approach for this review and thought I’d pretend to rattle off my knowledge of Edwin’s work, which naturally led me to look at his latest production, so as to keep my finely tuned image of having such knowledge. wide range of Asian cinema (although this image exists only in my head). But in the end, I decided against it. To be honest, I checked Revenge is mine, everyone else pays cash because it has a really interesting title and see Rahman’s name in the cast was just the icing on the cake.
What cannot be argued is this VIM, AOPC (as I will call it from now on) is Edwin’s most accessible work for newcomers, and his 6th time in the director’s chair of a feature film. After directing several short films, he made his feature film debut Blind pig who wants to fly in 2008, taking the helm Postcard from the zoo AND Someone’s wife in someone’s husband’s boat in 2013, Possessive in 2017 and Aruna and her palate in 2018. For VIM, AOPC remains with the approach of his latest feature film, which was adapted from a novel, this time using 3 by Eka Kurniawanrd 2014 novel of the same name as source material. Irony of fate VIM, AOPC had to be done before Aruna and her palatehaving acquired the rights to adapt the novel in May 2016, but predictions that it would be considered “unfilmable” turned out to be more of a reality than anticipated, resulting in it taking 5 years to get to the screen.
Luckily the end result was well worth the wait, and the 1989-1992 period in which the story takes place also reflects the era VIM, AOPC he seems to capture through his looks and tone. Shot on 16mm, the weathered look of the image gives it an authentic quality that feels just like we might be watching a production made at the same time as its setting, and Edwin himself has said it’s part homage, part deconstruction of the ‘Indonesia exit of the action cinema era. A time when the country was in the twilight of President Suharto’s New Order regime, in power since 1967 and now characterized by violent military oppression, it was also a time when Indonesian action cinema was defined by its level of machismo and pure escapism.
Directors such as Arizal have created funny and violent action films starring the likes of Chris Mitchum, Barry Prima, George Rudy and Peter O’Brien, complete with titles such as Final score AND The Stabilizer. VIM, AOPC it essentially takes that same level of machismo and turns it on its head, giving us a protagonist who is all too eager to pick fights with anyone he meets, but can’t escape the fact that his number one problem is erectile dysfunction. Played by Marthino Lio (The Big 4), who lives in a small Javanese village sees his inability to stand up become common knowledge, both among members of his own family and the rest of the villagers, leading to his insatiable desire to prove his manhood in other ways . From scooter duels to fistfights, Lio’s appetite to show off his masculinity leads him to be hired by a small-time gangster to bully a local bigwig.
What he didn’t count on was the big shot he had a female bodyguard he should get through first, played by Edwin’s regular Ladya Cheryl (Blue water). As the two clash in a quarry, their empathy for each other in doing what they do for a living gradually turns into something more and they fall in love. Despite Lio’s attempts to avoid her due to her impotence, to her surprise at her she accepts him for who she is, insisting that she still wants to marry him. However her sexual needs eventually lead to a moment of weakness with her ex, and when she becomes pregnant she sends Lio into a downward spiral of depression and violence. At the same time, after revealing what has led to her current flaccid state, Cheryl hopes to find forgiveness by seeking revenge on those responsible and winning him back against all odds.
While the subject matter might seem like it could be mined for comedic value, the narrative is actually played straight, instead taking an almost whimsical approach to the way events unfold and not bothering to occasionally meander on tangents. The result is a narrative that includes everything from gangsters, ghosts, leech oil (think herbal Viagra), and storytelling delivered through traditional painted signs on the backs of delivery trucks brought to life through animation. While probably lost on non-native Indonesian speakers, the performances are also intentionally delivered in that slightly stilted late 80s/early 90s manner that was the norm in Indonesian cinema, adding to the authentic feel of the period without ever look retro for the love of it.
While watching a lengthy interview with Edwin I was surprised that he didn’t mention the influence of Hong Kong action cinema as there are definitely times when I felt that certain scenes were meant to be homage to some of the classics of HK (he did however say Cheryl’s character was based on Cynthia Rothrock, who made a handful of Indonesian films in the early 1990s, including Angel of fury and the 2 Lady Dragon twists.). The fight between Lio and Cheryl that takes place in the quarry resembles the ending between Joyce Godenzi and Agnes Aurelio in She shoots straight, up to Cheryl’s perm. Similarly, later, when Lio is thrown in a cell with the aforementioned Cecep Arif Rahman, it appears that the latter’s character is a riff on Jason Pai Piao’s role in A deadly secret.
However it is important to recall it VIM, AOPC it’s not a fight movie, nor does it at any point pretend to be, rather it’s a love story that has a handful of fights taking place as part of it. Underlying it all is the theme of what it means to be a man, and the masculinity associated with it, which sometimes comes to the fore in effective and disturbing ways. This is especially true when she reveals Lio’s sexual trauma as a child as the origin of her current predicament, allowing the audience to understand why her lack of desire is integral to her lived experience. At its core, though, is the relationship between the pair of central characters and the trails and tribulations they face as they try to find redemption, themselves, and ultimately each other.
While Lio gives a strong performance (although I definitely didn’t buy it as someone in her 20s), it’s Cheryl who steals the show as his conflicted wife, here teaming up with Edwin for the sixth time in a creative partnership that dates back to the 2005 short film Kara, daughter of a tree. In a performance that encompasses nastiness, vulnerability and sexuality, it’s wholly convincing and a joy to watch. As my first venture into the world of director Edwin, VIM, AOPC proves to be a rewarding experience, showcasing a refreshingly loose directorial style and subtle sense of humor (a scene involving Cheryl gazing longingly at a tank full of geoduck clams is a stroke of genius). More than just a catchy sounding movie title, Revenge is mine, everyone else pays cash comes strongly recommended.
Paul Bramhall Rating: 8/10