I stray once again out of Hindi movie territory, tempted by the complete and utter dreaminess of Indonesia’s action star Barry Prima (thanks to Todd, whose guidance into the weird wide world of cinema has been invaluable if not always properly appreciated by me). There are two main factors which prevented me from really loving this loony film: the heavy-handed English dubbing, done by even worse actors than those onscreen—I much prefer subtitles; and the incredible amount of gore. I am not a big fan of blood even when it’s obviously fake, and this movie is soaked in it. Even the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail makes me shudder (a not-coincidental reference, by the way).
Enough about the bad points. The Warrior does have a fair number of good ones. In fact, in many ways it reminded me of (besides Python) a Manmohan Desai film: vicious jack-booted, badly-bewigged colonial (Dutch) oppressors, one with a daughter who falls for the rebel hero; active animal participation; and an unsubtle crazy mish-mash of religious references and imagery. There is even a CSP guy in the form of the hero’s best friend to interrupt the plot with slapstick on occasion, which does actually serve as relief from all the carnage. Plus, we are given voodoo-practicing zombies and kung fu on top of all that, and—Barry Prima. He really is dreamy, even with bloodied empty eye-sockets and Christ-like stigmata.
Prima plays Jaka Sembung, a man leading the rebellion against evil Dutch imperialists who are crushing the local people. He seems a rather ineffectual hero to me from the get-go, although he is called the Warrior and the villains hate and fear him appropriately enough. I notice, however, that he escapes from a chain gang early on by, well, running away as his comrades are slaughtered behind him. And his initial success at defeating a huge bald guy by the name of Kabor (S Parya) sent to kill him strikes me as lucky, with Kabor throwing himself onto a bamboo pole by mistake, thus driving it into his mouth and out through the back of his head. Until that, Jaka is pretty much getting his butt kicked and he fares even worse as we go on.
The mutton-chop-sporting commandant of the occupying army, Captain Von Schram (Dickie Zulkarnaen) has a pretty daughter by the name of Maria (Dana Christina). Maria—who has seen Jaka Sembung from her balcony and been smitten—urges her father to be a kinder, gentler, repressing force but he pats her on the head and tells her to go bake a cake (not really, but he might as well). Von Schram is assisted in his evildoings by a “blond” Lieutenant and a pith-helmeted governmental bureaucrat named Van Allen. In the wake of Kabor’s unfortunate demise, Van Allen brings a severely buck-toothed and creepy voodoo priest to the palace to meet Von Schram.
The plan is for the voodoo priest to bring life back to a dead magician named Ki-Etem (WD Mochtar), whose headless body has been buried. His head is currently hanging from a tree and the priest will reunite them. A skeptical Blond Lieutenant is given a demonstration of his skills (the priest’s modus operandi is evidently based on shaking his whole body convulsively and using his claw-hands to direct energy against his opponent) and Von Schram gives the go-ahead.
Some not-bad special effects and vaguely hilarious black magic shenanigans later, Ki-Etem is restored to wholeness and to life and vows to kill Jaka Sembung.
To flush Jaka from his hiding place, which is actually in plain sight given that he lives with his girlfriend Surti (Eva Arnaz) and her buck-toothed father right out in the open, the Blond Lieutenant leads a military raid on a local village. There is much bashing-about, screaming, belligerent yelling and general mayhem. Jaka’s best friend Karya (Dorman Borisman) manages to elude a couple of soldiers by pretending to be mad and kissing one of them, and runs to get Jaka’s help.
More demonizing (as if we didn’t hate him enough already) of the Blond Lieutenant commences, with him holding a little boy at gunpoint (I worried about the animals and children in this, I am not at all sure they all came out of it unscathed). Jaka arrives in spectacular fashion by doing a somersault over the crowd and then posing briefly as if for a photo op.
Jaka does manage to kill the Blond Lieutenant, but his victory is shortlived as Captain Von Schram arrives with Ki-Etem in tow. All the fancy martial-arts posturing in the world can’t save Jaka from Ki-Etem and he is quickly face-down in the dirt. Von Schram declares with relish that “you all call him King, and now you will see how a King who leads a rebellion is treated!”
I choke on my drink at the sight of Jaka laboring under chains and
a cross a tree trunk as Mary Magdalene Surti stumbles alongside weeping.
But we’ve only just gotten started.
All that’s really missing now is the Crown of Thorns, although I suppose the chain around his neck is good enough.
Surti returns home in tears, where she is met by her father (wizened old men with awful teeth are a hallmark of this movie). He is surprisingly unsympathetic, saying only “This is not good. They want to kill us all! Why do they want to kill us?” He seems unconcerned about Jaka, and also I have to wonder where he’s been that he doesn’t understand why the bad guys want to kill them.
Von Schram’s daughter Maria has also watched Jaka being dragged through the courtyard and thrown into the dungeon. That night she sneaks into the dungeon dressed as a ninja and quickly despatches the buffoonish guards (who are also a hallmark of such films). She approaches Jaka in his cell and asks him “Are you all right?”
Are you serious, Missy? Does he look “all right” to you?!
Although, to be fair, he is much better off right now than he’s about to be when her father finds her in his cell, offering to help him.
Even the obvious fakery involved here doesn’t mitigate the EWWWW factor. I try to comfort myself with the knowledge that it’s probably better to have your eyes poked out swiftly by a sword than pecked out bit by bit by birds, but honestly it doesn’t help much.
Surti now arrives and does her best in female ninja-ness before being overpowered and thrown into a cell near Jaka’s. He hears her cries and is roused from his misery. Meanwhile, Maria’s mother tries to comfort her by talking about how vile Von Schram is and how their love for him has turned to fear and anger. Then she says, in a nutshell, that they are helpless: “I sleep to forget, you must do the same.” For some reason, this cracks me up.
As they drift off to dreamland, Jaka calls out to Allah (yes, Allah! After all that!).
Allah grants him the strength to pull down the wall his hands are nailed to, Samson-like (see what I did there?). He smashes through the bars of his cell and the wall of Surti’s, and together they free the other prisoners. But his heroism is short-lived, because Ki-Etem is waiting for him in the courtyard and his Allah-endowed strength deserts Jaka.
Ki-Etem does his own epileptic spell-casting now, and turns Jaka into a not-so-dreamy black pig while regretfully noting that Muslims won’t put him on their dinner table, unfortunately.
The poor pig is beset first by dogs (a little too realistically) and then, chased out of the compound into the village, by villagers (a little too realistically). Poor Surti is shot in the back by the Captain’s soldiers as she runs after him; bleeding profusely, she follows the pig into the forest where an assortment of pret-ty fierce animals awaits her.
Will Jaka Sembung live out his life as a pig, bitten and beaten at every turn? More importantly, is he a BLIND pig? Will Surti survive her terrible wounds? Are there any more wizened old men with bad (or no) teeth awaiting? Can Maria, her mother, and all the villagers be saved from the despicable Captain Von Schram? Can zombie wizard Ki-Etem be defeated by anyone?
As I said at the beginning, I just could not really love this movie. It is so very grim, and somehow lacking in the gleefully low-budget trashiness of my beloved Hindi B-cinema. It takes itself quite seriously much of the time and compared to the cardboard trapdoors and blinking Christmas tree lights I am used to, the budget and special effects seem pretty generous (although the wigs are no improvement). I think this combination of things is why I can’t ignore the relentless violence and just enjoy the schmaltz.
But having said that, a movie that combines elements of Monty Python with Manmohan Desai can’t be all bad, can it? No, it can’t. And it isn’t. If you’d like to read more about Barry Prima and Indonesian cinema, check out Die Danger Die Die Kill, where—as he pointed out to me—Todd discusses the incredible violence in these films at length. I just didn’t notice because I was staring at Barry Prima.