Review: Red and White (Merah Putih)

The heroes in Red and White fight the Dutch colonial powers for the red and white of the new Indonesian flag. Red stands for the blood of courage and white for their lofty ideal – two qualities eulogised in this movie. You might end up feeling that the praise for the heroes of the war of independence is just a little too heavy handed.

Battle in Red and White

That said, Red and White is an enjoyable film. Directed by Yadi Sugandi, it is produced and written by American father-and-son pair Rob and Conor Allyn, the production team behind such blockbusters as Saving Private Ryan, Blackhawk Down and Batman: Dark Night. So, the film should have some Hollywood magic sprinkled over it, but it still managed to keep its integrity as an Indonesian film.

Whether the Allyns managed to make a massively popular movie is a moot point, but it isn’t terribly ‘Hollywood’. This is largely in its favour. It ambles along rather than thrills us at every turn, the characters don’t act horribly predictably, and it doesn’t even have a recognisable hero. The characters are likeable, but perhaps a little too clean cut for Western tastes.

A bit of back story: After the Allies defeated the Japanese in the Second World War, Indonesia declared itself as an independent republic. The Dutch, who had previously ruled over the archipelago for 300 years, weren’t happy and fought to hold onto their resource-rich colony. The resulting bloody conflict, the Indonesian National Revolution, lasted for five years and ended with independence for the country.

The first half of Red and White is set in a cadet training school where the a group of young men are being turned into officers in the new Indonesian army. They are drawn from all over the great diversity that is Indonesia – city dwellers and farmer’s sons, Muslims from Java and Sumatra, Christians from Sulawesi and Hindus from Bali. These divisions create arguments and disputes that add a bit of drama to the slightly genteel mood.

A gentle build up of tension is finally released when the young men finally get to fight. Here we’re not presented with a Hollywood-style feast of Dolby enhanced explosions, bloody carnage and loud-mouthed heroics. The fighting is tense more than exciting. This was all enough to keep me, at least, engaged.

Red and White has a familiar, set-piece conclusion, but it works. We’re left in no doubt that these humble soldiers are heroes, and we care for them and their cause.

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Rating: 3.5/5 (2 votes cast)
Review: Red and White (Merah Putih), 3.5 out of 5 based on 2 ratings