Sri Asih: The Warrior (Fantastic Fest 2023)
Dir. Upi Avianto (2022)
A young woman, adopted by a rich family after her parents were killed in a car crash escaping a volcano, wants to become a boxing champion. She ends up in a fight to prevent the coming of a fire god.
American superhero moves seemed to have reached a crescendo with the closure of the Infinity Saga, Marvel's all-out finale of the third phase of the MCU. While the movies since have been hit-or-miss, it turns out that America doesn't hold the monopoly on ass-kicking superheroes. Indonesia's newly established superhero film industry is kicking into high gear, as evidenced by Sri Asih: The Warrior. Bumilangit, the Indonesia comic book with over 1200 licensed characters at their disposal, is looking to take after their American predecessors and establish their own series of action-packed hero films.
The second in the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (after Joko Anwar's Gundala), Sri Asih deals with the story of a young woman who was orphaned as a child as her parents drove away from an exploding volcano that unleashed an evil fire god. Adopted by a rich family, Alana (Pevita Pearce) becomes a world-class fighter, though she's held down by her experience with the patriarchal sports industry. Part Wonder Woman, part Thor, Alana finds herself at odds with the local gangsters when she refuses to take a dive in an MMA match against the son of the local gang boss. After her anger, which she has struggled with since childhood, causes her to lose her boxing club, she discovers that the strange dreams and fits of rages that she experiences are the manifestation of the goddess Sri Asih. Her newly infused powers will help her take revenge on the mob and save the world from the reincarnated fire goddess, as long as her anger doesn't destroy it first.
The themes of power and corruption run deep within this one, an the focus on anger's destructive nature should be nothing new for comic book fans. Nor should the empowered feminine goddess role, a thematic element that has been reiterated through numerous hero stories throughout the various major comic book publishers. What is new, however, is the Indonesian socially conscious hero film, a modern-day fight against the patriarchy and social inequality in a country whose marriage law names the man the head of the family and allows polygamy for men. While the fight for civil rights has never been easy, and certain praises should be held for companies like Marvel that were fighting for racial equality in the 60's, it's a wholly different thing (and much more brave) to do so where the deck is quite literally stacked against your entire message.
The creation of Sri Asih as a supernatural, god-empowered warrior for women's rights is impressive, especially considering that the character was initially created all the way back in 1954. While the originals were not quite as socially responsive, the fact that the character has developed in such a way speaks quite highly of the progressive nature of the art coming from the country. Sri Asih: The Warrior is a magnificent first effort in establishing a superhero film industry all their own, and while there are certainly some issues with the film (which we will get to in a minute), the fact that they are even attempting such a feat is impressive by itself. The story itself is a bit rote, and you won't feel like you've seen anything new, but you're also used to American storylines that have been getting more and more complicated since the early 60's. As an Indonesia film, Sri Asih is quite an accomplishment.
The plot of the film is a bit uneven and entirely too long (running a little over two hours), but it's difficult to blame the filmmakers too much for this because of the introductory nature of the film. I had no idea that Indonesia even had comic books, so of course I was even less aware of the character of Sri Asih and the goddess she represents. Culturally, the film fits well into other stories from American publishers, as they have long plunged the depths of potential characters from many worldwide religions in order to expand their supernatural hero lineups. The action sequences are stellar, on par with pretty much anything Hollywood has been choreographing. Pearce is excellent in the lead, a badass bitch who displays an excellent range as the superpowered ingenue who struggles with her anger and her past.
While Sri Asih: The Warrior doesn't hold up to the best of American superhero movies, it's easily as good as any of the DC movies made up to this point (outside of Nolan's Batman trilogy). It could've used a tighter script, and a little refinement would've helped keep things rolling a little more smoothly. The ending is well worth the wait, however, and it's a movie filled with good performances, tons of action, and a legitimately cool origin story that will be enjoyable for anybody who enjoys comic book movies. As a starter for a new franchise, it's a decent attempt, and I've definitely got my eyes open for other films in the series. This one will be coming to Scream Factory soon, and it's definitely worth a shot for action film fans.
Who this movie is for: Superhero movie stans, Asian action lovers, Vulcanologists
Bottom line: As an introduction to Indonesian superheroes, Sri Asih does it's job well. The fight choreography, the cultural and religious storyline, the acting: all of it does a phenomenal job of kickstarting a brand new film industry. The film has its weak points, including its excessively long runtime, but its socially conscious message against misogyny and the oppression of the poor is a welcome addition to the superhero movie lexicon. It's not as well-made as a Marvel movie, but it's still a worthwhile addition for those who enjoy superhero films. I'd definitely recommend grabbing a copy from Shout Factor once it's available if you do.