Mike Wiluan in his directorial debut, BUFFALO BOYS, has made a great Western his first go round. The script for the film, written by Wiluan, with co-writer Raymond Lee (Smaller and Smaller Circles, Jesus Is Dead), is pretty much boilerplate Western territory. A man returns to his hometown after being gone for 20 years to get revenge on a horrible villain who killed his brother and performed a litany of other transgressions. Wild hooligans are raping and pillaging. Innocent villagers are being killed and tortured.
The difference is—the location. The film is set and shot in Indonesia (or Java, which is what it was called in the time BUFFALO BOYS is set). Arana (Tio Pakusadewo; The Raid 2, Letters From Prague) lives in California with his two nephews, Jamar (Ario Bayu; Java Heat, Soekarno) and Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso; Two Bellmen, Pretty Dudes). After a fight ends disastrously on a train, Arana decides that it is time to go back home and have his vengeance.
As he begins to tell a story, we flashback to the past. Java is being ravaged by Dutch colonization (historical fact, btw). Arana’s brother/Suwo & Jamar’s father Hamza (Mike Lucock; The Raid 2, Java Heat) is killed by the awful head of the Dutch company, Van Trach (younger version played by Alexander Winters; Gold, The Last Full Measure), while Arana is escaping with Hamza’s sons. Arana’s mission is to find Van Trach and kill him.
When they arrive in Java, Arana realizes things have only gotten worse. Van Trach (older version played by Reinout Bussemaker; Antonia’s Line, The Paradise Suite) has become an all-out despot, forcing villagers to burn their crops so they can grow more poppies for opium, killing people left and right, and branding every villager with a VT, etc.
Some villagers whom they rescue from certain death take in the trio. Sri (Mika Tambayong; Critical Eleven) and her grandfather Suroyo (El Manik; Turangga, Cinta segi tiga) are attacked by Sakar (Donny Damara; Lovely Man, 2014). Jamar, Arana, and Suwo accompany them back to their village. There we meet Sri’s sister Kiona (Pevita Pearce; Lost in Love) and the rest of their family. Sakar returns and then for the entire rest of the film, all sorts of hell breaks loose.
This film is a perfectly good shoot-em-up. Reinout Bussemaker is so delightfully horribly evil as Van Trach, just as Tio Pakusadewo is excellent as the sage old man role. The action scenes are incredible and the film certainly isn’t boring by any stretch of the imagination. The only semi-negative thing I can say is that the script is pretty formulaic and you have to have an extremely high threshold for suspension of disbelief. If you like Westerns a lot, you may appreciate the excessive use of tropes. Dude gets shot off a balcony, check; Damsel in distress, check; public execution, check. I didn’t mind these moments but I can see how they might garner an eye-roll or two. However this isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the film, I did very much. I also think it’s very cool that we can now say there’s an Indonesian Western. The end of the film leads me to believe that there will probably be a sequel so I must admit I am looking forward to that possibility.
BUFFALO BOYS debuted at Fantasia Film Festival on July 13th. It played July 15th at the New York Asian Film Festival. As of now there is no US theatrical or digital release date, but be on the lookout!