Audiences should “look out for Indonesia, there’s lots of exciting things happening there and in five years the industry will be as big as Korea,” the moderator of the post-screening Q&A told the audience after the MENA premiere of the Indonesian sci-fi action film, 24 Hours with Gaspar, during the Red Sea Film Festival. Judging from the enthusiasm of the Indonesian audience members at the screening and the quick career trajectory of director Yosep Anggi Noen who has jumped from arthouse director making poetic, Locarno-bound projects to juggling multiple genre-heavy films for Netflix in only a few short years – he might very well be right. Unfortunately, if 24 Hours With Gaspar is the start of something larger, it’s not a great foot to lead with.
Billed as a martial arts epic, but really more of a noirish detective story that owes much to DOA (Rudolph Mate, 1950) and Crank (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, 2006), 24 Hours With Gaspar begins with its titular hero breaking one of his most essential pieces of equipment: his heart. Prescribed with only 24 hours left to live, Gaspar (Reza Rahadian) sets his sights on avenging himself against those who’ve wronged him. So starts a tense, high-octane race against the clock that will leave you on the edge of your seats. Well, actually, not really. Despite the amped up countdown clock that comes thudding onto screen every now and then, 24 Hours With Gaspar is lackadaisical in its pacing – there’s frustratingly little tension or sense of urgency anywhere. Set out to rob and kill jewelry store owner/clandestine child-smuggler Wan Ali (Landung Simatupang), Gaspar spends the majority of the film simply playing the waiting game: staking out the shop, tricking the employees into helping, chatting with some old friends, idly reminiscing about his childhood obsession with catching centipedes.
The major problem with the attempted slow burn pacing is that Anggi Noen is not very graceful with exposition, and so instead of the drawn-out procedural intrigue the film seems to be trying to craft, it feels like a clunky series of non-scenes. Characters engage in interminable conversations that we barely understand. These are delivered in conventional coverage with next to no dramatic tension behind it. It’s hard for your eyes not to glaze over when Gaspar simply sits and stares at Wan Ali from across the street for the umpteenth time. Rahadian and his co-stars also don’t really help matters, delivering performances so archetypical and laden with b-movie cliche that nearly every line comes out as a grumble.
The film might’ve been saved if it at least felt visually interesting, but unfortunately the drab colour palette and lack of imaginative sci-fi design are two more glaring marks against it. No interesting technology, no cool futuristic fashion trends; the only thing that’s remotely sci-fi about the world of the film is a single drone that appears in the prologue. It’s one of the most routine alternate universes you could ever (fail to) imagine. This lack of sharp visuals extends to the action as well – the fight scenes are little more than a bunch of blurry bodies cut together in the least coherent manner possible. If you scrunch hard enough you might be able to see a punch land, but no amount of scrutiny will make it land emotionally. Indonesian cinema might be the future, but let’s hope it’s a future that’s imagined with more creativity than 24 Hours with Gaspar.
24 Hours with Gaspar shows at the Best of Festivals Section of the 3rd Red Sea International Film Festival. It premiered in October at the Busan International Film Festival.