Fantasia 2014 ‘Guardian’ is a lot of loud noises and flashy edits that amount to less than nothing

1412621_214047592115723_1871212370_oGuardian (original title: Pengawal)

Written and directed by Helfi C.H. Kardit

Indonesia, 2014

The Indonesian action movie scene received a monumental shot in the arm at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and subsequently in early 2012 when The Raid: Redemption was unleashed unto the world. Flash forward two and a half years later and its sequel The Raid 2: Berandal wowed audiences again. If there was any doubt about the country’s output in terms of quality action movies, those two films laid said doubt to rest. Of course, just as with any country’s filmmaking industry, not every effort proves to be a winner. The next entry in what one can assume will be a list of gritty martial arts, bullet-ridden motion pictures looking to beat the iron while it’s hot is Guardian.

Helfi Kardit’s endeavor tells the story of Sarah and teenage Marysa’s (Dominique Diyose and Belinda Camesi respectively) tenuous mother-daughter relationship. The film opens with the gruesome death of Sarah’s husband at the hands of an assassin, after which she resolutely works as hard as she can to defend herself and her daughter. Training Belinda in some of the martial arts is but one of the stern ways in which Sarah has taken extreme precautions in preventing the worse from happening again. The teen has grown distant from her mother in recent years but their problems are taken to a whole new level when their house is brutally attacked by highly armed and trained gunmen one night, an assault performed at the behest of an important politician (Tio Pakusodewo). Why does he want to liquidate Sarah and Marysa. Who can they turn to for help? Just who are the mercenaries led by the mysterious Paquita (Sarah Carter) who seem to be protecting the duo on the run?

The short answer to each of these queries as well as any others that will undoubtedly arise as one watches Guardian unravel is ‘who cares’. Part of the advantage of being an ardent supporter of action movies, similarly to die hard horror movie buffs, is the exponential choice from which one can choose a film to watch. The good stuff is divine whereas the bad stuff, when particularly poor, is bafflingly loathsome. Guardian is a cacophony of loud noises, a ruckus storm of aural and visual attacks that might leave some shaking their heads to recover from the stupor. When a movie is as senseless as this one, who can blame them.

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An even better question than any of those posed above is where does one start to analyze the movie at hand? Virtually nothing is of any interest in Guardian. That statement carries with it a degree of mean-spiritedness that critics should eschew from their writing. Such sweeping criticisms are crutches relied on by writers who struggle to translate their thoughts and emotions into properly cogent arguments. To put it bluntly, it’s pitifully lazy. On the other hand, one reviewing a film should never shy away from what they truly feel about it. As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy and to be honest, Guardian is one of the worst films of the year, if not the worst.

The story (if it can be described as such) about the Sarah-Marysa dynamic is a half-hearted, clichéd -ridden outline of a story if that. The inclusion of Paquita as a possible relative of Marysa only makes things more convoluted than they already are but all of this would not come across as poorly as it does were the actors up to challenge of putting in half-decent performances. Amazingly enough almost everyone in the picture is terrible. Young Belinda Camesi does little else other than repeatedly yell at her mother, blaming the former for not fully explaining the situation. Not only is the performance wince inducing but the writing is also clumsy given that with her character’s combat training she could try to make herself more useful under the circumstances. The worst culprit of the bunch however is Sarah Carter as Paquita as she mumbles and grunts her ways through her lines in ways that make nearly everything she says utterly unintelligible. Tio Pakusodewo, as the chief baddie Oscar, is the only actor who appears to understand that some showmanship is required to give the film a bit of a lift but his lines are so laughably ill conceived that even he is sucked into the suffocating miasma that is the rest of the entire film.

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As has been argued time and time again by many a fan, if the action scenes deliver than at least a portion of the stumbling blocks can be forgiven. In this respect Guardian fails spectacularly. For some misguided reason despite clearly suggesting that Sarah is martial arts force to be reckoned with, the vast majority of the set pieces involve gunfire. The amount of bullets shot in the film is dumfounding even though the weapons used by those involved are heavy automatics. These exchanges seemingly go on forever and ever, the thunderous roar of the guns roaring on and on. The effect is, frankly, numbing, not to mention headache inducing after a while. Why it takes so long for anyone to die in during these skirmishes is anybody’s guess. Even the geography of these skirmishes is confounding, with the placement of characters and their relation to one other as they fire and duck for cover on rotation resembling a blown up jigsaw puzzle, the pieces scattered aimlessly across the table. On the topic of jigsaw puzzles, the hand-to-hand combat sequences can be similarly lambasted for how incomprehensible they are. One supposes the actors and stunt doubles went through a training regime to prepare for the scenes and possibly exercised their knowledge in front of the cameras but based on what the viewer gets to see after the editing process, maybe not.

Filmgoers would do themselves a favour by skipping out on Guardian. Yes, every filmmaker and film industry has to start somewhere and when it comes to burgeoning markets, in this case Indonesia, there will be warts that go along with the successes. That doesn’t mean people have to see the warts however. Guardian is a terrible piece of filmmaking, poorly conceived and even more poorly executed on virtually every level. People should be as the title suggest and guard themselves from it.

-Edgar Chaput

Please visit the official website of the Fantasia International Film Festival.

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