The exotic art of Silat is front and center in seemingly every other martial arts film lately. With that kind of exposure, it was only a matter of time before it would receive “The Karate Kid” treatment, and in what just happens to be the first martial arts film from the Sultanate nation of Brunei, director Siti Kamaluddin’s “Yasmine” does exactly that.
Making her film debut is Liyana Yus as the film’s headstrong title character Yasmine. For the new leading lady, Yus carries the film with surprising ease and handles the rigors of her action scenes well. Yasmine’s father Fahri is portrayed by Reza Rahadian from “The Golden Cane Warrior”, while Roy Songkono and Nadiah Wahid play her fellow Silat students, Ali and Nadia, together enduring the eccentric leadership of their designated coach Tong Lung, played by Dwi Sasono. Agus Kuncoro steps into the role of Jamal, a more pragmatic Silat guru, albeit one confined to a wheelchair, while Yasmine finds a romantic rival in the form of Dewi, played by Mentari de Marelle, who shares her affections for her talented Silat friend Adi, played by Aryl Falak.
Free-spirited teenager Yasmine heads into the new school year with a smile on her face, only for it to turn to a frown when she learns that her father has put her in a new high school far removed from her friends, which include Adi for whom Yasmine harbors a crush.
Her father also shows an inexplicable disapproval of Yasmine’s love for martial arts and does everything he can to keep her on a short leash. Nevertheless, Yasmine pulls her new school’s Silat program out of dormancy, with the goal of entering an upcoming tournament in order to win Adi’s affections.
With two other students by her side and a less than qualified coach, Yasmine and her aides knock on the doors of every Silat master in town pleading for them to whip them into shape for the upcoming competition. They eventually come under the mentorship of the wheelchair bound Silat Guru, Jamal.
Nearly everything that works about “Yasmine” is either directly because of, or can be traced back to, the performance of Liyana Yus as the title character. The 21-year old newcomer throws herself right into her role and gives a solidly convincing performance as a precocious, independent-minded teenager rebelling against her father’s house rules determined to forge her own path through her passion for Silat.
While the film is definitely on her side, it’s also mindful of making the viewer at least know where Fahri is coming from, even if it takes a while to get there. In fact, it also shows that he at least has a point when Yasmine makes the decision to seek out a reclusive Silat master to learn a particularly deadly technique in order to maximize her chances of winning the tournament.
Sure it’s a bold, haughty move on her part, but it’s made relatable given her determination to master Silat and win the competition as opposed to any true malice; the film still being vigilant of making her accept responsibility for the outcome of her impudent decision.
There’s also the fact that the Silat coach at Yasmine’s school is a wacky character who somehow landed a cushy job at the school despite the fact that he’s clearly never studied martial arts a day in his life – who wouldn’t venture elsewhere for instruction in that situation lest one commit to a fu of the karma chameleon variety!
Something that gratuitous fight fanatics going into “Yasmine” should keep in mind is that it is a training-centric martial arts film, first and foremost, and one taking place from the perspective of a teenager in a Silat tournament. In other words, don’t expect the bloodbath that is the final fight of “The Raid 2” anywhere here. Nevertheless, the film’s three leads do a good job of portraying up and coming students of Silat.
Under the direction of fight choreographer Chan Man-ching, most of the action scenes take place in the various competition settings that make up the tournament and within these parameters the fighting manages to get fairly ferocious at times partly due to the realistic sound effects of blows connecting. It’s also where Yasmine first tries out the new technique of devastation that she doesn’t yet fully understand. Admittedly there could have been more of an emphasis on her training towards that point, which consists of her tracking down a guru living out in the sticks and doing some forms with him in a training montage that barely lasts two minutes. (He completely vanishes from the film afterwards!)
Still, it’s Yus’ performance that ties everything together, and she convincingly sells Yasmine as a Silat practitioner with serious potential in one of the few fights to take place outside of the tournament where she pummels half a dozen bad boys on a local pier single-handedly. Having Yasmine behaving like such a loose cannon also pays off when the final competition of the tournament comes around, and her character arc of learning to toe the line of restraint while aggressively pursuing victory comes full circle.
With so many ‘first timers’ on its shoulders, including being Brunei’s first martial arts film, “Yasmine” succeeds with the same tenacity and single-minded determination embodied by its lead character.
It’s also worth noting that this ‘coming of ager’ also deals with cultural and societal values (such as respect for elders and even religion). There’s a pervading sense of optimism underpinning the performances of the cast which contributes to an overall feelgood factor. The people involved in this movie had a good time making it and it shows. The combined polished cinematography and rich, vibrant scenery, makes “Yasmine” appealing to watch.
Liyana Yus makes a splendid leading lady and is pretty convincing as a rising Silat practitioner. Good thing they didn’t give her a pair of claw hammers though!
- Liyana Yus spent a year training in silat in preparation for her role as Yasmine.
- Fight choreographer Chan Man-ching, who also executive produced the film, has worked with the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, and has done stunt work and fight choreography with Jackie on films such as “Rumble in the Bronx”, “Dragons Forever”, “Police Story 3: Supercop”, “Who Am I?”, “Mr. Nice Guy”, “Gorgeous”, and “Drunken Master 2”.
- Reza Rahadian, who portrays Yasmine’s father Fahri, is actually only 6-years older than Liyana Yus!