Movies have variously depicted the murderous, imperialist ways of the Brits, the Spanish, the Germans, the Japanese, the U.S. (though not often enough, probably), and other rapacious nation states, but it falls to Indonesia in the moderately entertaining, immoderately splattery spaghetti Western Buffalo Boys to remind us that the Dutch — though progressive in the fields of cheese and dikes — were no international humanitarians. Why do you think that there are almost as many rijsttafel restaurants in Amsterdam as there are curry houses in London?
The movie opens in 1840, when the Dutch trick the Sultan into holding peace talks and then cut him down — but not before he sends his brother Arana off in a rowboat with the Sultan’s two little sons, Jamar and Suwo. (“Bring my boys up as your own. They are our only hope!”) Two decades later, Arana (Tio Pakusadewo) and the boys, now roguishly handsome fighters (guns, knives, hands, feet), return from America to find that the Dutch have continued to, in the words of the beleaguered woman warrior, Kiona (Pevita Eileen Pearce), “kill and rape and pillage without fear of punishment.” The chief killer-rapist-pillager is the very man who put the final bullet in the boys’ father. His name, Van Trach (Reinout Bussemaker), should be pronounced Van Tracccchhhhh with as much fricative phlegm as you can manage.
For much of Buffalo Boys, Jamar (Ario Bayu) and the younger Suwo (Yoshi Sudarso) watch Van Trach and his principal henchman, Drost (the Keanu-looking Daniel Adnan), execute various old men, women, and children. They glower at the Dutch from under their Stetsons but are counseled by Arana to do nothing yet. This is one of those vengeance movies in which the elder reminds the heroes that vengeance for vengeance’s sake is wrong while the audience waits impatiently for the bad guys to get it so it really, really, really hurts. And they do, yippee-ki-yay.
How is the violence? Fair to excellent. The director, Mike Wiluan, ruins the first big fight with too much slow motion (or, rather, slo-mo sword swinging followed by fast-mo limb lopping), but there’s a splendid blowout in a saloon featuring a lethal cackling prostitute with rotted teeth, and the final showdown is choppy but rousing. The trick is to make the bad guys not just very, very bad (the loathsome Van Tracccchhhh is a sexual sadist), but smugly certain of victory, so that they have to acknowledge with a gasp the heroes’ superiority while hemorrhaging out. Especially successful at projecting smug certainty are Wiluan himself as a saloonkeeper and Alex Abbad as the slobbering git called Fakar, who makes the “I’ve got my eyes on you” sign while forgetting that he has only one eye, Jamar having put out the other.