Fantastic Fest 2023: Sri Asih: The Warrior Breathes New Life into the Superhero Genre

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I love superhero movies. Whether they’re DC, Marvel, or anything else, I’m a total sucker for these films, and I’m always on the lookout for more. So naturally, when I heard that an Indonesian superhero movie called Sri Asih: The Warrior would be playing at Fantastic Fest, I knew I had to check it out. I couldn’t wait to see what new twists this film would put on the typical superhero formula, and after finally getting the chance to watch it, I’m happy to report that it’s a hell of a good time.

Sri Asih: The Warrior was directed and co-written by Upi Avianto, and it stars Pevita Pearce, Christine Hakim, Jefri Nichol, Surya Saputra, Dimas Anggara, Reza Rahadian, and Randy Pangalila. It’s about an undefeated MMA fighter named Alana who one day discovers that she’s the reincarnation of the ancient goddess Asih, and she has to use her powers to stop the followers of Asih’s archnemesis, the Fire Goddess, from bringing her back to life.

Admittedly, on paper Sri Asih: The Warrior might sound like just another generic superhero movie, but as with many good films, the details in this one make all the difference. Sure, this movie doesn’t quite transcend the genre the way, say, Logan and The Dark Knight do, but it’s executed well enough that it doesn’t feel like the same thing we’ve seen a million times before.

For example, we spend a lot of time getting to know Alana, and the film makes sure that we love her right from the get-go. The first time we meet her, she’s just a little girl, but she already has the heart of a hero. One of her friends is being bullied by some older kids, and she steps up and defends him. Her brave actions make her instantly likable, and that goodwill only grows as we learn more and more about her.

On the flipside, Sri Asih: The Warrior doesn’t spend nearly as much time fleshing out its villains, but it still manages to make us hate them just as much as we love Alana. They talk a lot about how little they care for the poor, and one of them is also a vile misogynist, so if you have even an ounce of compassion, you’ll loathe these people from the minute they arrive on screen.

Along similar lines, this movie also deals with some specific real-life issues that make it more than just an archetypal good versus evil story. I’ve already mentioned misogyny and the dignity of the poor, but in addition to those more common themes, Sri Asih: The Warrior also touches a bit on police corruption. Granted, it’s not a huge part of the story, but it’s explicitly brought up a handful of times, and along with those other two themes, it makes this film a bit more socially relevant than you might expect a superhero flick to be.

Alana looking unhappy

On top of those weightier elements, Sri Asih: The Warrior also injects its story with a bit of horror to separate itself from the superhero pack even more. Most notably, to bring the Fire Goddess back, her followers have to first resurrect her five commanders, and they’re all demonic monstrosities that seem like they were ripped straight out of our nightmares. To be fair, we never get to see these creatures in all their grim glory, but just the idea of them gives the movie a bit of a horror-centric feel that I, for one, really appreciated.

Last but not least, we have to talk about the action in this film. Superhero movies often get criticized for just being huge CGI fests, but this one manages to avoid that pitfall. Sure, it has some CGI, but it’s used relatively sparingly. Instead, most of the action here happens in-camera, and it’s awesome.

See, Alana’s abilities aren’t nearly as fantastical as we might expect. Sure, she has a magic scarf and she can fly a bit, but other than that, her powers are actually pretty grounded. They’re mainly just enhanced versions of normal human abilities like speed and strength, so by and large, her fights don’t look all that different from what we normally get in non-superhero martial arts films.

It’s not at all what we’re used to from the big Hollywood superhero productions, and I found it pretty refreshing. Granted, I love more fantasy-heavy characters like Thor and Aquaman, but as the old saying goes, variety is the spice of life. It’s nice to get a mix of crazy superpowers and more down-to-earth martial arts, and Sri Asih: The Warrior helps to balance the genre out pretty nicely.

If you couldn’t tell, I had a really great time with this movie, but I can’t quite say it’s perfect. There are a number of things I could nitpick about it, but hands down, my biggest issue with the film has to do with the villains. While I enjoyed these characters overall, I still wish they were a bit more developed. They’re pretty much generic, mustache-twirling bad guys, and in an era where villains like Loki, Thanos, and Starro have become just as complex as the heroes they oppose, these antagonists can’t help but feel a bit cliched and worn out.

But in the grand scheme of things, that’s a pretty minor complaint, so on the whole, I think Sri Asih: The Warrior is a fantastic new horror-adjacent entry in the superhero canon. It’s a refreshing change of pace from the big Marvel and DC movies we’ve been getting for the past decade and a half, and if you’re a fan of the genre, you should definitely check this film out when it becomes available.

Sri Asih: The Warrior had its North American premiere at Fantastic Fest on September 23, and it’s set to get a DVD release on December 5.

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Written by JP Nunez

JP Nunez is a lifelong horror fan. From a very early age, he learned to love monsters, ghosts, and all things spooky, and it's still his favorite genre today.

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