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MOVIES: Buffalo Boys - Review [Fantasia 2018]

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The 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival is officially underway, and one of the highlights of opening weekend was the world premiere of Mike Wiluan's first directorial effort, Buffalo Boys. A longtime producer with a string of well-regarded hits, Wiluan steps into the director's chair for this engaging spin on the classic Western, delivering an exciting mix of action and drama that deftly blends gunfighting with close-quarters martial arts combat.

Set in the late 1800s, Buffalo Boys centers on Jamar (Ario Bayu) and his younger brother Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso), exiled from their homeland after the brutal murder of their father by a ruthless Dutch colonizer. Raised in the American old west by their uncle, Arana (Tio Pakusadewo), the boys return to Indonesia to learn their father's killer, Captain Van Trach (Reinout Bussemaker), still rules the area. Villagers are starving as local farmers are forced to burn their crops and grow opium for the Dutch to sell, and the colonists brutally execute anyone that chooses to defy them.

When Jamar and Suwo rescue a young woman and her grandfather from a group of bandits, they're welcomed into a nearby village and treated as heroes. But the bandits turn out to be members of Van Trach's entourage, and the consequences for attacking the local authority are dire as punishment is doled out against the villagers. Banding together with a courageous archer named Kiona (Pevita Pearce), the brothers formulate a plan to stand against Van Trach and his men once and for all, and extract a measure of revenge for the murder that drove them into exile.

Similarities to classic Westerns like A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven are easily recognized here, but Buffalo Boys isn't exactly trying to hide its influences. Instead, Wiluan fully embraces the genre's numerous tropes and uses them to his advantage, subverting expectations when appropriate while still delivering the type of shoot-em-up action that audiences will expect. The action is superbly crafted, with major highlights including a one-on-one fight aboard a speeding train car, a wild brawl in a saloon and the film's inevitable showdown between the brothers and Van Trach's men. Tremendously entertaining from start to finish, Buffalo Boys serves as an excellent debut for Wiluan and a great way to kick off Fantasia 2018.

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