Written by: Adam Vaughn | October 7th, 2023
Sri Asih: The Warrior (Upi Avianto, 2022) 2½ out of 4 stars.
In an era where Hollywood superhero films run rampant, director Upi Avianto (who goes by “Upi”) brings a renowned Indonesian comic book to life. The fresh perspective and storytelling contrast a very saturated genre. Sri Asih: The Warrior tells the story of Alana, a young MMA fighter who loses her parents at a young age to a mystical, villainous force. As Alana grows older, she finds that her true origin is one of legend: she is a descendant of a long line of powerful, supernatural warriors, sent to Earth to combat the return of the Fire Demoness and her minions. But can Alana, the next “Sri Asih,” discover her true potential, and best the forces of evil?
Much in the same vein as Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings or Black Panther, Upi’s film is steeped in cultural context, stemming from Indonesian mythology. Sri Asih is a film that prioritizes less the importance of big, CGI-filled sequences, instead utilizing practical martial arts and impressive art direction to lead its story and aesthetic. Pevita Pearce (Rumah Merah Putih) plays an intense Alana, who soon transforms into the wisecracking but formidable “Sri Asih,” and is supported by an effective ensemble and pitted against threatening villains. The attention to production design as a whole—costuming, set design, etc.—is what sells this film, done without the impressive budget usually required to create an effective superhero story.
Despite this, Sri Asih can’t help but feel conventional. How many films has the viewer seen where a hero doesn’t know their own family’s past, only for the big reveal to be that they were destined for greatness? How many evil-rising narratives have been written following the same formulaic plotline? While aesthetically this film is unique, story-wise Upi never seems to go beyond the same premise that makes up for half of the superhero plotlines available today. What’s worse is the film establishes several mystical villains, only to encounter one or two throughout the film, predicting a sequel by leaving the film at a cliffhanger.
While Sri Asih: The Warrior may not have the most memorable narrative possible, Upi clearly has a dedication and passion for bringing this Indonesian superhero to life. I would absolutely love (if I could) to provide this director with the multi-million-dollar budget to free her from monetary restrictions, and see her full vision given the funding it deserves. Who knows, with a full superhero budget, it is quite possible that Sri Asih could also fix its cookie-cutter issues and be a truly outstanding work of pop-culture adventure.
[Sri Asih: The Warrior just had its North American premiere at the 2023 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas.]