Tarung Sarung: Indonesia’s Very Own “The Karate Kid”

by Matthew Escosia
SEA Wave - Tarung Sarung
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By: Patricia Yap


Whether you’ve watched it long ago or only know about it from others, the original 1984 “The Karate Kid” is surely one of Hollywood’s most preeminent and honored martial arts films to date. After its skyrocket success in America, the film quickly found its way across continents and reached worldwide fame; not to mention an expansion into a film franchise with global adaptations.

Since the old film is such a fan favorite, Netflix just had to add it to their platform. Unfortunately, the shows from the franchise that is available on the streaming platform are only the original film, the 2010 remake starring Jackie Chan, and the Cobra Kai series.

So for the dedicated fans out there that have already exhausted their The Karate Kid options, what else can you possibly watch next? The answer lies in “Tarung Sarung”, an Indonesian homage to the original The Karate Kid!

Here is SEA Wave’s High Five review of the latest Indonesian martial arts movie “Tarung Sarung”.

Nostalgic Plot, Regional Spice

According to the Tarung Sarung synopsis on Netflix, the main protagonist Deni Ruso (Panji Zoni), Indonesia’s version of Daniel, is a wealthy and spoiled teen that makes the world revolve around him with money. The story starts after Deni’s mother caught wind of a serious brawl between him and another teen.

To take responsibility for his actions, Deni is sent back to his hometown in Makassar, Indonesia, to learn about responsibility (masked with the purpose of overseeing a controversial development project his family’s company is doing) all the while hoping to prove his mother wrong about his “spoiled-nature”.

Fueled by love

Similar to the 1984 original as well as its 2010 remake that stars Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, Deni meets a local girl named Tenri (Maizura, Indonesia’s Ali) and falls in love with her. Unfortunately, Tenri has a suitor named Sanrego (Cemal Faruk, Indonesia’s Johnny), a testosterone-fueled war freak who has been pestering Tenri and her family for her hand in marriage for the longest time.

SEA Wave - Tarung Sarung

Long story short, Deni refuses to let Sanrego marry Tenri by force and gains a sense of purpose that he never had before, so they’ll settle it all with a Tarung Sarung match. However, Sanrego is Makassar’s local and undefeated Tarung Sarung champion. Of course, if Deni could even dream of beating Sanrego, he’s going to need a little help.

So, if the original The Karate Kid had Mr. Miyagi to train Daniel, Tarung Sarung has Pak Khalid Rewa (Yayan Ruhian), Makassar’s retired Tarung Sarung champion, to transform Deni’s pampered rich city boy arse to shape. In Pak Khalid Rewa’s words to Sanrego, “You can beat my student in an official tournament. If you can, of course”.

The Art of Tarung Sarung

Translated into English, Tarung Sarung literally means “Sarong Fighting”. The rules of the sport bind two opponents inside a “Sarong”—a traditional fabric wrapped and worn in many Southern parts of Asia and even Africa—where the players are not even a meter apart from each other, duel it out in unarmed hand-to-hand combat until someone finally beats the dust.

More than an Indonesian Homage

Beyond the major plot points, Tarung Sarung also features references and similar scenes to the original The Karate Kid film and its remake.

SEA Wave - Tarung Sarung

Remember the “wax on-wax off” scene in the original? Of course, you do! You’re a fan after all. Well, in Tarung Sarung, instead of wax on-wax off, Pak Khalid Rewa makes Deni catch mosquitoes, carry water, and rearrange sandals. As the show progresses, fans of the original will definitely feel all the nostalgia pour in as more noteworthy scenes like this one appear on the screen.

(Quick note: Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for one direct The Karate Kid reference in the movie!)

More than an adaptation

With the Indonesian cinema industry slowly but surely climbing the ranks, Tarung Sarung will definitely brand its mark to foreign audiences just like one of the country’s most popular films that caught global attention, “The Raid: Redemption”—another martial arts gold.

Moreover, Tarung Sarung isn’t just another adaptation and addition to The Karate Kid franchise. This film is also a vivid and engaging take on the beautiful and diverse land of Indonesia itself, while simultaneously shedding light on some of its many issues like class separation, the environment, and capitalism; even giving additional perspectives on the Islam religion.

We rate “Tarung Sarung” a 4 out of 5 waves!

Finally, you have something to satisfy your The Karate Kid craving, only this time, you’ll get an extra unique kick!

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