Monday, November 8, 2010

THE WARRIOR (1981)

THE WARRIOR (1981)
Sisworo Gautama Putra
Mondo Macabro

Having successfully conquered the horror genre with THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, producer Gope Samtani decided that Rapi Films' next cinematic venture would tackle the action genre head on. Using a popular Indonesia comic book as its source material and headlined by rising action star Barry Prima, Gope swung for the fences and came up with a homerun that would lead to several sequels and cement the continued success of his studio well into the 1980s. Heavily influenced by Hong Kong action cinema, THE WARRIOR is an action packed foray into the supernatural, drenched in blood and whacked out of its own mind.


Forced into slavery by Dutch imperialists, a small band of Indonesian freedom fighters escape the squalor of their labor camp, aided by the fatal fists of rebel rouser Jaka Sembung - The Warrior (Barry Prima, THE DEVIL’S SWORD), leaving the Dutch government crushed and humiliated. Irritated that their own men let Jaka Sembung slip through their fingers, the camp's officials place a bounty on The Warrior's head. After an impressive display of strength, wrestling a bull to the ground and snapping its neck, one man (S. Parya, VIRGINS FROM HELL) answers the call and sets out to defeat The Warrior and collect his reward. Roughing up Jaka Sembung’s female companion (Eva Arnaz, SPECIAL SILENCERS), the thug lures The Warrior into the open but finds himself poorly matched, as the tough, fire breathing behemoth is easily defeated by a bamboo rod through the back of the skull. News of the defeat sends the Dutch government into a desperate whirlwind for help, leading them into a dubious pact with the dark arts. Assisted by a buck-toothed voodoo shaman, the government aids in the resurrection of the wizard Ki Item (W.D. Mochtar, MYSTICS IN BALI) whose spirit still surges with the black magic of Rawe Rontek. Confronting Jaka Sembung, the wicked wizard easily subdues the hero allowing for his recapture, much to the satisfaction of the Dutch officials.

Crucified to a stone wall, the imprisoned Warrior is approached by the Dutch commander’s smitten daughter (Dana Christina, REVENGE OF THE NINJA) who seeks to help in his escape but is instead confronted by her father who, furious over his daughter’s betrayal, gouges out Jaka Sembung’s eyes. Blinded, The Warrior manages to break free of his dungeon prison, only to again stumble upon the villainous Ki Item. Unable to defend himself in such a weakened state, Ki Item transforms Jaka Sembung into a black pig, leaving him to wander the perilous jungles of Indonesia. Narrowly escaping attacks by tigers, crocodiles and hungry villagers, Jaka Sembung is eventually saved by a forest dwelling shaman. Restoring him to his true form, the mystic helps nurse The Warrior's wounds and repair his sight, by means of a supernatural eye transplant. His strength restored, Jaka Sembung readies himself for a final confrontation with Ki Item, but defeating a mystic who can reattach his severed limbs at will, will require more from The Warrior than brute strength.

Originally titled JAKA SEMBUNG, Gope Samtani re-titled the film to THE WARRIOR in order for it to be more accessible to foreign film markets. Based on a popular Indonesian comic book hero, Jaka Sembung is a mystical Robin Hood figure who uses both his supernatural and kung fu skills for the betterment of his oppressed brethren. The role would solidify Barry Prima as Indonesia’s biggest film star and would produce two sequels, THE WARRIOR AND THE BLIND SWORDSMAN and THE WARRIOR AND THE NINJA. Feeling that his was a face that could be easily sold in numerous foreign markets, Barry, Born Bertus Knoch, was handpicked by Gope Samtani for his Western looks and knowledge of martial arts. The success of THE WARRIOR ensured that Prima would find steady work throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, as did many of the film's co-stars including Barry’s ex-wife Eva Arnaz. Having met on the set of the cannibal flick PRIMITIF, the couple often found themselves on the same sets, sharing screen time in such pictures as the war epic HELL RAIDERS and the ALIEN rip-off SPECIAL SILENCERS. Fans of the Troma Team may also recognize the pair from the re-dubbed action comedy FEROCIOUS FEMALE FREEDOM FIGHTERS.

If you own any of Mondo Macabro’s other Indonesian titles (THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, VIRGINS FROM HELL, THE DEVIL’S SWORD, MYSTICS IN BALI, LADY TERMINATOR and DANGEROUS SEDUCTRESS) you should already have some idea of the insanity that the Indonesian film industry, Rapi Films in particular, has to offer. While the film doesn’t have the same underlying sexual nature of its contemporaries, THE WARRIOR is awash with high flying action and unique local flavoring that are bound to please fans of world weird cinema. Yes, the budget is below low and Barry Prima’s range is, shall we say limited, but such limitations only seem to add to the film's flavor, as above all it is abundantly clear that the filmmaker’s primary goal was to entertain. Beyond fun, the picture fully capitalizes on its natural locations and local folklore to create a wild and truly distinctive cinematic experience. Wizards shooting bottle rockets out of their hands, Kung Fu displays every ten minutes, a mystical battle in which popular Indonesian actor W.D. Mochtar gets sliced and diced like The Black Knight in MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL, THE WARRIOR is a nonstop assault on the senses and common sense.

For its first official DVD release, Mondo Macabro has presented THE WARRIOR with a brand new anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer taken from the film original negative. A on-screen disclaimer before the feature warns of imperfections to the source print due to age and storage problems. Said flaws amount to some sporadic green tinting of the original elements but are easily forgivable considering the rarity of the film. While colors are often soft, fleshtones appear accurate against their surroundings of brown, earthen villages and lush green foliage and when comparing the film with its trailer, available in the disc's Extras, it’s amazing that such improvements were even possible. Audio is present with an English Dub track in 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo that does the job quite nicely.

Extra features include a short essay about the film as well as two concise biographies on Barry Prima and Eva Arnaz. Running just under ten minutes, an interview with writer Imam Tantowi should be required viewing for anyone who has ever been interested or entertained by Indonesian cinema. Tantowi discusses his intentions behind THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC as well as THE WARRIOR, comparing his take of the Jaka Sembung character to that of Rambo. He also touches on Indonesian starlet Suzzanna, as well as his beginning and continued career in the Indonesian film and television industry. Producer Gope Samtani also relates his take on the history of the business in an on-camera interview that touches on THE WARRIORS' development, as well as his decision to hire English speaking actors in the late 1980s, such as Cynthia Rothrock and Christopher Mitchum. Gope speaks fondly of his past successes referring to each and every film as being “very well received”, a modest comment given his thriving track record that has allowed Rapi Films to continue making movies to this day. Having recently re-entered the horror film market, trailers for three current Rapi productions (GHOST TRAIN, 40 DAYS – THE RISE OF EVIL and GHOST WITH HOLE) are included with Gope's interview, with all appearing to be heavily influenced by the same J-horror trend that found American studios remaking film after film in hopes of capturing the success that Hideo Nakata found with the original RINGU. As previously mentioned, THE WARRIORS' original English language trailer tops off the disc's extras, alongside Mondo Macabro’s fan favorite trailer reel. A gore drenched mystical mind trip, they just don’t make them like this anymore. Not even in Indonesia! Here’s hoping that THE WARRIOR finds enough of an audience for Mondo Macabro to seek out and restore its tantalizing sequels. (Jason McElreath)

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