Indonesian movies are usually always a hoot, this one in particular. A totally crazed martial arts fantasy, THE WARRIOR isn’t “good” by any means, but as surreal thrill-a-minute entertainment it’s hard to beat.
Barry Prima, a.k.a. Bertus Knoch, was Indonesia’s premiere movie star during the eighties, and 1981’s THE WARRIOR (or JAKA SEMBUNG) was the film that made his name. Based on a popular sixties-era Indonesian comic and borrowing liberally from the Japanese BLIND SWORDSMAN cycle, the Hong Kong chop sockey films of the seventies and obscure (to Westerners) Asian mythology, THE WARRIOR was an enormous success in its native land. Three sequels followed, including THE WARRIOR VERSUS THE BLIND SWORSMAN in 1983 and THE WARRIOR VERSUS THE NINJA in 1985.
The director of THE WARRIOR was Sisworo Gautama Putra, who was associated with quite a few Indonesian classics, such as 1979’s QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, which he scripted, and SNAKE QUEEN (1982) and SATAN’S SLAVE (1982), both directed by Mr. Putra.
In some past era a peaceful country has been taken over by a corrupt warlord and his gun-wielding minions. Jaka Sembung is one of many citizens enslaved by the new rulers, but Jaka manages to escape his confines—and in the process become a revolutionary hero. His status is heightened when he kills the hulking, fire-breathing Kobar, who was employed by the warlord.
The latter is not at all pleased with Jaka’s heroics, and with the help of a local sorcerer resurrects Kobar. The warlord then imprisons Jaka, crucifies him and stabs his eyes out. Jaka, however, is not to be cowed, and uses a magic necklace to break out of the prison. He ends up facing down the resurrected Kobar, who uses his own magic powers to turn Jaka into a pig.
Luckily a good-hearted magician is afoot. He changes Jaka back into a man and restores his sight by lifting the eyes from a dying woman and bequeathing them to Jaka. Thus equipped Jaka heads back into action against his oppressors. First he vanquishes Kobar by slicing him in half and burning the remains, and then Jaka and his fellow freedom fighters storm the evil warlord’s headquarters for a final gore-packed showdown.
THE WARRIOR’S mix of martial arts and black magic is so irresistible one wonders why the combination hasn’t been utilized more often. Part of the film’s charm, of course, is in the ridiculousness of the action and hilariously primitive special effects (I should add that the Mondo Macabro DVD is horribly dubbed into English, which seems entirely appropriate). There are also some genuinely psychedelic elements that wouldn’t feel out of place in a sixties drug movie.
While it seems pointless to complain about this movie—it’s a product of the Indonesian cinema, after all, from which quality filmmaking is not something one can reasonably expect—it does contain some inconsistencies. Barry Prima has real presence as the title character (even though it doesn’t appear he can act a lick), but surprisingly little screen time. There are too many supporting characters that do nothing but clutter an otherwise straightforward narrative.
But then again, it’s my contention that any movie containing flying limbs, floating eyeballs, kung fu zombies, levitating bodies, mass carnage and animal metamorphoses simply cannot be anything other than a must see.
THE WARRIOR (JAKA SEMBUNG)
Director: Sisworo Gautama Putra
Producer: Gope T. Samtani
Screenplay: Darto Juned
Cinematography: F.E.S. Tarigan
Editing: Muksin E. Hamzah
Cast: Barry Prima, Eva Arnaz, W.D. Mochtar, Dana Christina, Dicky Zulkarnaen, Rukman Herman “…and A Cast of Thousands”