20151114

A film review: 'Jaka Sembung' is a fucking Warrior!

International title: The Warrior · Origin: Indonesia
Languages: Indonesian, Dutch (Original) / English (Mondo Macabro)
Director: Sisworo Gautama Putra · Writer: Darto Juned
Genres: Action / martial arts / fantasy
Release: July 1981 (Indonesia), 2008 (Mondo Macabro)

Casts: Barry Prima, Eva Arnaz, W.D. Mochtar, Dicky Zulkarnaen,
Dana Christina, H.I.M. Damsyik, S. Parya

More info: IMDb
According to the curator of this particular screening, Diffan Norman (director of the Sundance-selected Kekasih short film), who is also part of Kelab Seni Filem Malaysia / Malaysian Film Appreciation Club (KSFM), the body that organizes their recently revived on-indefinite-hiatus weekly screenings now on its second week, this print by Mondo Macabro (the distributor of the film's DVD release in the United States) is the only copy with the highest quality that wouldn't look awkward when screened using a huge-ass 4K projector (at least, that's how I understood it).

Alright. Let's get to it. To explain to you things I just didn't have the chance to say during the film's Q&A/opinion session, which is my first ever experience in watching an English dub of a full-length Indonesian film provided by Mondo Macabro. I have huge doubts about dubs in general, since it's always awkward to watch anything on screen, be it TV series or films, to have spoken in languages not native to their original ones. And I already had the idea of how horrible would The Raid: Redemption's English dub would sound like in my head, so I avoided it altogether. For this film however, once I had the mind set that this is an old-school film (judging from a snippet of this that was shown in the first week of KSFM's screening, and also after Diffan Norman said it) and deduce that this could be one corny ride, I decided to say "Screw it, let's dance!" and ditch an exclusive screening back at wayang@Budiman on the same day and around the same time but at different venues. Sorry, Dr. Norman Yusoff (who is, ironically, also a member of KSFM).

Okay then. Let's kick it with the (sort of) badass Parmin a.k.a. Jaka Sembung (Barry Prima)!  

WARNING: MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

The film tells the story of  Parmin, a buff silat-practicing hunk and a proud warrior of a local Indonesian village who leads an army of rebels which includes his lover Surti (Eva Arnaz), to fight against the oppressive forces of the Dutch army that colonized Indonesia at the time, commandeered by the ruthless Van Schram (Dicky Zulkarnaen), the father of Parmin's could-have-been replacement lover Maria (Dana Christina). Under his belt, other than the Dutch army, Van Schram is aided by a group of hired assassins: a fire-breathing bald-headed strongman Kobar (S. Parya), the mysterious voodoo shaman Ki Bidin (H.I.M. Damsyik), and the seemingly-immortal black mage warrior Ki Hitam (W.D. Mochtar).

Because Diffan also said that this film was based on a 60's Indonesian comic book series' character of the same name, I guess I can dig the film's overall production quality and its extensively 'radically trying-too-hard' practical effects, with some of the aspects mentioned are akin to Spaghetti Westerns, particularly its music (which is according to an audience member, he told us about an argument whether the filmmakers directly stole some of the music from Sergio Corbucci's Django, a recreation of it, or an entirely new score [which I highly doubt, since the music is definitely sounded more Western-ish than Indonesian-ish]), it's cartoon violence and gore, the way they structured the film's plot, characterisations, and some key scenes. 

Like many exploitation films, the plot is pretty straightforward. However, I have to applaud its filmmakers for keeping a balanced pace for the film's scenes, despite its cartoon nature. Nothing too jumpy, nothing too brief, nothing too draggy in my opinion... well, maybe except for these parts: 
  • The supposed gory and shocking parts of the film, which render them to look too damn fake as the close-ups on those scenes are just so damn forced. There are a bunch of this shit I can throw atcha for examples, damn it! But if I have to pick one, it would probably be time when Parmin is about to be rescued by Maria, when suddenly her dad, who's been silently watching her goddamn sloth-ish attempt in saving her future bae (ew, I just used 'bae'!), out of rage, slapped her, and went ahead to go Chucky on the poor literally-nailed-against-the-wall fella's eyeballs. Maybe if they didn't do ECU on that shit, I could've felt sorry for Parmin, but me and the audiences sorta laughed instead.
  • The supposed sexuality and romance parts. C'mon man. Don't bother showing the failed Surti rape attempt if you're not gonna finish it (they were getting the audiences' hopes up by briefly exposing her bra... damn!). Don't bother hinting at a would-be relationship between Parmin and Maria with unnecessarily awkward stares if they were gonna shoot her dead courtesy of her own dying dad, man. Stop giving us hope, damn you! Then again... that attempted Surti rape by Kobar could just be a way revolting experience for me since that is one ugly mofo (a love scene with Jaka would work WAY better), so I guess that's a good thing Jaka stopped him then.
  • The sudden disappearance of Ki Bidin. I mean, he was the one who brought Ki Hitam back from the dead, damn it! He's powerful! But right after he threw those leaf 'shurikens' over the head of that poor follower of Parmin, no one was even bothered with his absence. Perhaps he have bigger roles in one of the Jaka Sembung sequels (yes, this is the first in a series of Jaka Sembung films)?
  • The cheesy and overly-propagandic dialogues and overtones. Welp. I can't really say anything here. Things like this are just... an 80's thing.
The other stuff? Damn. For its time, they went apeshit on everything that's happening on screen! Spot on action scenes; Parmin's very aerial and over-the-top fight scenes with the main villains of the film (my pick would definitely when Parmin hilariously impaled Kobar's head with a half-broken bamboo stick through his mouth, causing him to breathe his final flame through the bamboo before he dies) and the battle scenes involving a large group of extras are definitely a marvel! A very lively village, which gives us the reasoning behind Parmin's revolt; it's already peaceful and needs no fucking intervention from the Dutch! And I have to agree on Diffan for the colorful and detailed costumes throughout the film! Boy, I salute ye Indonesians for always going all out when it comes to depicting your heritage and nationalism, regardless of the nature of your film! Congratulations!

As for the acting, I reaaally can't tell whether it's good or bad acting, since this is an American English dub and not the voice of the film's original actors. So, I guess I can only comment on the dubbing. In all honesty? I think it kinda works! The lips are mostly in sync! And given the film's source material, it's as if I am watching a feature-length live action anime or something! Kinda gave me a throwback on my childhood, where I think I watched a Manglish dub of a Dragon Ball Z movie, and it sounded TOO awkward. Speaking of awkwardness, I think the dub begins to get really bad when they were trying to dub over even the slightest of grunts and indistinct dialogues, the mantras from the shaman and black mage, and... oh Lord..., the recitation of prayers. Maybe for that part, the dubbers should've just left it in Arabic to make the already awkward English dubbing less awkward, since the recitations is universally uttered in its native language by every Muslims around the world. Maybe only on that scene, they should leave it in its original audio and put subtitles instead.

All in all, this was a rather different experience for me. I can't believe I was able to tolerate an otherwise off-putting attempt to boost a film's appeal to wide audiences... by using a dubbing technique. But for films like Jaka Sembung, I guess I can go soft on it. Maybe should I decided to one day delve into the cheesiness of 80's Indonesian exploitation cinemas and tone down the uneasiness I always have every time I hear or read about these films, I can watch these films' English version instead. So, there. Till then.

P/S: Oh yes. You're the man, Jaka Sembung! Thank you Diffan Norman and all the folks at KSFM for this wonderful experience! Can't wait for the re-screening of Lelaki Harapan Dunia!

Why so cute this drawing, lorr?! Haha!

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