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THE WARRIOR (1981)
Published by David Carter on 2009/1/20 (1421 reads)
Directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra
Review by David Carter
Released by Mondo Macabro
Running Time: 94 minutes
Rating: Not Rated
Color format: Color
Audio/Subtitles: 2.0 Dolby Digital English
Region Code: All, NTSC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
16:9 Enhanced: Yes
Special Features: Interviews with writer & producer, background info on film
Trailer Online: Yes
Short Version: The birth of Indonesia’s greatest action hero
THE WARRIOR begins with our hero in an unusual situation for the action genre. Jaka Sembung is in chains, along with others recently arrested by the Dutch authorities for rebelling against their authority. A peaceful man by nature, Jaka allows himself to be placed in the work camp but leads a revolt after seeing the horrible treatment his people are forced to bear. The Commandant is furious that Jaka escaped so easily and fears that even his best men won’t be able to stop the mystical fighter. The answer to his problem finds him, however. Kobar is brutish brawler with the ability to spit fire that offers to find and kill Jaka for the Dutch. He manages to find Jaka – who had been in hiding since his escape – and holds his own against him for a while but the Warrior eventually proves too much for him. The Dutch then move on to Plan B.
“Plan B” involves using a voodoo priest to resurrect the dead fighter Ki Item. After Ki’s severed head is returned to his body he makes short work of Jaka, who finds himself nailed to the wall in the Commandant’s prison. The Commandant’s beautiful daughter Maria is sympathetic to his cause, but her attempt to free Jaka ends with him being blinded. Things get worse for him from there as the Dutch kill his girlfriend and have the voodoo priest turn him into a pig. Just when things seem their darkest for the people, Jaka miraculously returns to be their savior. With some new abilities and his faith in Allah, Jaka leads the people in a final showdown against their oppressors.
THE WARRIOR embodies all of what the Mondo Macabro DVD label strives to introduce into cinephiles’ lives. Not only does the film have fantastical elements – of which there are many – it gives insight into a culture with which most film lovers are unfamiliar. THE WARRIOR is an Indonesian film and therefore represents aspects of its culture in much the same a kung fu film would present Chinese culture. Viewers expecting a simple beat-‘em-up action film will be surprised to see that THE WARRIOR has a political and religious message at its core. Jaka’s strength comes not from training or even a mystical source but from his devotion to the Muslim faith. Religion, particularly non-Christian religion, is rarely a part of action cinema, with the exception of course being kung fu cinema’s use of Buddhism and Taoism. Understanding this element of the film is key to understanding why THE WARRIOR is about more than punches and kicks.
Second to the religious aspect is Jaka’s role as the liberator of his people. The Dutch East India Company dominated Indonesia until as recently as World War II, so the scars of imperialism would have been fresh in every viewer’s mind while watching. Jaka Sembung’s story, though fictional, would have struck a much deeper chord with Indonesian audiences because of his embodiment of their religious and socio-political ideals. So while his martial artistry is entertaining and many elements of the film are fantastical, bear in mind while watching what it would have felt like for Indonesian audiences to see their hero lead a battle against their most hated enemy. THE WARRIOR takes on an allegorical, myth-like aura making it more than a mere example of the bizarreness of international cinema but a look into many of the key aspects of the culture that produced it.
THE WARRIOR marks the return to a more regular production schedule for Mondo Macabro; there were far too few releases from them for FilmFanaddict’s liking in 2008. Indonesian cinema, especially the films of star Barry Prima, make up a good portion of Macabro’s head honcho’s Pete Tombs’ book of the same name, so the company has given the film the robust presentation it deserves for its first time on DVD. The new transfer from the negative makes THE WARRIOR look like brand new film with a quality favorably comparable to any of their others. This is surprisingly deep film, but one that opens itself up to being enjoyed on multiple levels. You can watch it for a glimpse of Indonesian culture or simply because Jaka fights a corpse with magical powers. Either way you’re in for a good time.
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