If you love movies and grew up watching Indonesia triumph time and time again on the badminton court, then you will find it hard not to be swept away in nostalgia when watching King, possibly the first Indonesian film centered around badminton.
The story, written by actor Ari Sihasale making his directorial debut, serves as a nice reminder to the nation's almost former glory in the racquet sport, especially since the film has arrived at a time when Indonesia's badminton scene has been plagued by poorer performances recently. Despite facing tough rivalry against a certain robot-themed Hollywood blockbuster, a low-brow Indonesian horror flick and a strong (not surprisingly) kids pic, King will likely draw in some decent crowds in its opening week.
What remains to be seen is whether children, the film's target market, will actually turn out in droves to watch this film. Considering the film's modest, if not slow, pace in the first half, bar a few heart-tugging moments in the first few minutes, children may be squirming in their seats trying to understand this film.
However, both young and old alike will be mesmerized by the idyllic, postcard-like scenes shot beautifully by the film's director of photography, Yudi Datau. The film captures the majestic grandeur of the mountains, hills and green fields of stunning Central Java so successfully it overshadows some of the early bumps in the plot.
The telltale signs were evident from the start, with overreliance on a narrator who did not enhance nor provide additional information to the story itself. A formulaic yet workable take on the "zero to hero" theme, the film depicts the struggle of a poor village boy Guntur (played by newcomer Rangga Raditya) trying to fulfill his father's (comedy troupe Srimulat member Mamiek Prakoso) rigorous physical training program for him to become a badminton champ. His longtime idol is the legendary Indonesian badminton player Liem Swie King, from which the film takes its title.
Along with the typical ingredients of a few sidekicks (played by newcomers Lucky Martin & Valeria Thomas), the story bounces off one coincidence after another. There is no explanation offered initially as to why Guntur wants to be a badminton champion, and it is not until the middle of the film we learn the reasons behind his father's harsh training program. Until that point, it is hard to empathize with the father and he is left seeming one-dimensional.
Yet, that does not stop Mamiek Prakoso form delivering a compelling performance, albeit a slightly subtle one. Mamiek delivers what most actors fail to do, which is subtlety without being passive and unconvincing but not overreacting at the same time.
Ten years ago, in a similar role as the single parent of an extraordinary child, Toni Collette performed magnificently and received quiet appreciation for her performance in The Sixth Sense.
Mamiek's best scenes are actually often those when he does not speak, such as his silent but powerful presence in the final scene of King that brings everything to a climax.
Ari Sihasale has done well in his directorial debut here, but perhaps his decision to not move away from children's films was not such a good idea. Known as the man behind Alenia Pictures, which has produced Denias Senandung di Atas Awan (Denias: Hum Above the Clouds) and Liburan Seru (Fun Holiday), the similarity between the plot of Denias and King is too strikingly similar to be ignored.
If Denias must find education in order to have a future, then Guntur in King aims to break free from his father and play professional badminton for a living. Both incorporate point-and-shoot nature scenes and are from the outset clearly feel-good films.
Undeniably, it is great to see Indonesia's badminton greats making a cameo appearance, including the legendary Lim Swie King. Another great aspect of this film is that the badminton matches look real, not staged, and flow naturally via effective editing and fantastic musical scoring.
For some, that ultimate *feel-good' vibe will undeniably come from emotional scenes where people gather in front of televisions and cheer Indonesia while they win the world championships.
King will definitely go down as one of Indonesia's better sporting films, without a doubt. King, with English subtitles, is playing in select theatres nationwide.