If you've seen Mondo Macabro's interview with Barry Prima, you know that he doesn't look too kindly upon those exploitation films that made him one of Indonesia's biggest stars during the 80s, nor does he hold in high esteem anyone who would seek such movies out. Well, guess what, Barry? I'm going to continue watching your shitty old movies, because they're awesome and you're a god. So screw you -- er, in the most respectful and heterosexual way possible, that is.
Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung -- aka The Warrior and the Ninja, aka Warrior 3 -- is Barry's third go-around in his star-making role as the hero Jaka Sembung*. To be honest, I haven't seen the second film in the series, Si Buta Iawa Jaka Sembung, but the lovely and talented Houseinrlyeh has written a very thorough review of it over at The Horror!? if you want to get up to speed. As for this entry, it's helmed by H. Djut Djalil, who also directed Mystics in Bali,Lady Terminatorand Dangerous Seductress, which bodes very well for Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung indeed.
As the mournful introductory music would indicate, this film starts out with things pretty much already in the crapper for our hero and his people. For starters, the inhabitants of Java still have yet to get out from under the tyrannical boot heels of those bastards the Dutch. (Full disclosure: I am one quarter Dutch.... and 100% bastard.) To make things worse, a volcanic eruption has forced the righteous freedom fighter Jaka Sembung and his fellow villagers to flee their homes in search of safety elsewhere. After a long, solemn trek through the parched wilderness, they come upon a town that is under the control of the despotic Captain De Koeneng, who, as is so often the case with these colonialist types, maintains order through a cadre of local collaborators that include all manner of evil sorcerers and unscrupulous wielders of black magic.
Despite what you might think, though, it turns our that Jaka Sembung's services might not be needed, because this town already has a righteous freedom fighter of its own. That would be Bajing Ireng (Zurmaini), who is a humble peasant woman by day and, by night, an ass-kicking lady ninja who steals the wealth of the white occupiers for distribution among the poor townsfolk. Of course, since no one can imagine that anyone else could be as awesome as Jaka Sembung, the powers that be assume that he is responsible for these crimes, and so begin a reign of terror against the inhabitants of the town in order to shake him out. This indeed brings our hero out of hiding, and also into an alliance with Bajing Ireng, which makes for some pretty spectacular scenes of the Dutch forces being gorily dispatched by their combined fu.
If all of these goings on sound too sedate for your tastes, let me point out that, meanwhile, the volcanic eruption seen at the beginning of the film has freed an indestructible and apparently completely insane warrior who was confined to the bowels of the Earth some time ago by Jaka Sembung's old master. Volcano Guy, as I will call him, then rampages through the countryside, beating people with uprooted trees and giving them third degree burns with his hands, all the while grunting and growling like a rabid Bonobo. The Dutch, realizing a good thing when they see one, decide to recruit this excitable fellow for the purpose of putting paid to their accounts with Jaka Sembung once and for all.
The resulting confrontation is indeed a close match, but Jaka ultimately calls upon his magical powers, delivering a blow to Volcano Guy that literally shatters him into pieces. The hero then thoughtfully has Volcano Guy's head delivered to the colonial forces. This, of course, only leads to more suffering for the common folk, and the virtuous Jaka must eventually turn himself in to the authorities in order to put a stop to it. This in turn leads to the tableau of martyrdom that sits at the center of every Jaka Sembung film, in this case with Barry being stretched on the rack before being strapped underneath a razor sharp pendulum. (And it is in this moment that the lack of subtitles is most acutely felt, as we non-Indonesian speakers don't get to be privy to the impassioned patriotic speechifying that Prima engages in throughout.) Of course, the real thrill of this sequence is that, by the time Barry is going through his agonies, we have been thoroughly sucked into the moral logic of the film, and are eagerly awaiting the moment when Bajing Ireng will show up to free him and, with him, turn the tables on the white devils and their cronies with resounding finality.
And when this moment comes, it is indeed an occasion for much whooping and hollering. Bajing Ireng shows up with an army of rebellious townsfolk in tow, most of them women, and, after a chaotic, drawn out battle involving all hands, her and Barry take part in parallel fights in which each goes one-on-one against one of the big bads. In Barry's case, it's a crippled mystic who fights only with his hands while sitting in a lotus position. This may not, in fact, sound like a very involving match-up, but it's to Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung'scredit -- or perhaps my own willingness to buy into the crazy universe that it presents -- that it ends up being pretty kinetic and exciting. For Zurmaini's part, she pairs off against an evil sorceress, delivering the film's standout OMG moment when, in a final burst of rage, she grabs her opponent and quite literally tears her fucking face off.
With its wall-to-wall martial arts action, period setting, cross-gender ass kicking, and frequent one-against-all battles, Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung reminded me of nothing so much as an old school Shaw Brothers joint that had been injected with a delightful dose of Indonesian mystical freakiness. And if you don't read that as a compliment, you're reading the wrong blog. Of course, as thrilling as it is, the film still doesn't live up to the fevered absurdity of the original Jaka Sembung, thought that is more a testament to the high bar set by Indonesian trash cinema as a whole than it is to any real shortcomings on Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung's part.
In fact, the comparatively down-to-earth nature of the film's approach works in some ways to its advantage, as, with less reliance on wire work and effects, we get to see more of a display of both Prima's and Zurmaini's (or their stunt doubles') real world skills as martial artists, which are, in both case, indeed impressive. (Though Zurmaini, unfortunately, is ill served by a couple of poorly lit night time action scenes.) In other words, despite what he might say, Barry Prima has nothing to be ashamed of here. Really, Barry, I would think that the fact alone that you made a man who is really way too old to be enjoying these type of films whip off his shirt and drunkenly twirl it over his head in excitement would be a great source of pride for you. That's right, I said pride. (Though perhaps not so much for me.)
*I had originally thought that Prima only starred in the initial trilogy of Jaka Sembung films, but Jack J. from En lejemorder ser tilbage set me straight: There were two further Jaka Sembung films made in the 90s in which he also starred.