Sunday, February 19, 2012

Ratu Sakti Calon Arang (Indonesia, 1985)

I do not take it lightly when I say that Suzzanna and Barry Prima are among the great screen couples, right up there with Tracy and Hepburn, Bogie and Bacall, Mitr Chaibancha and Petchara Chaowarat, and the two Coreys. Ratu Sakti Calon Arang sees them brought together under the direction of Sisworo Gautama Putra, who had previously helmed iconic films for each star, including, for Suzzanna, Nyi Blorong and Sundel Bolong, and, for Prima, Jaka Sembung, better known stateside as The Warrior.

Ratu Sakti Calon Arang, like so many of Suzzanna's films, takes its inspiration from Indonesian folklore, in this case a Balinese legend dating back to the 12th century. Suzzanna here plays a dual role, in the first instance as the titular Calon Arang, a powerful sorceress who, along with her five female disciples, is conducting a reign of terror over the kingdom of Daha. Over the course of the film, she increases her strength by making human sacrifices to the goddess Durga, to the point where she is eventually able to set off a stock footage volcano simply by stomping her foot.

No chip off the old block is Calon Arang's daughter, Ratna, also played by Suzzanna, who tries to offset  the damage caused by her mother by using her own magic to perform small acts of kindness for the villagers. Unfortunately, her powers are no match for her mother's, and when Calon Arang becomes wise to her actions, she strips her of them entirely. The only hope for the beautiful Ratna is to be married off to one of the men of the kingdom and leave her mother's side, but, alas, the dick shriveling powers of having an all-powerful evil sorceress for a mother are not to be underestimated; Ratna is essentially considered the least desirable single lady in all of Daha, and no potential suitor is anyhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, a messenger for the king approaches the holy man Empu Barada (Amoroso Katamsi), asking for his aid in defeating the sorceress. In response, Barada sends his brave and devout son Empu Bahula (Prima) off with the mission of proposing to Ratna. In this the handsome Prima/Bahula is none too surprisingly successful, and the two are soon married in an elaborate ceremony. Strangely, Calon Arang's disciples wait until after the wedding to inform her that they had previously engaged with Bahula in a furious magical kung fu battle while trying to destroy his father's temple, and that he is furthermore in possession of a powerful magic sword. By this point, however, it is too late, for soon Bahula has run off with Calon Arang's book of evil spells, setting the stage for a final confrontation between good and evil that will involve much crazed back-flipping, spin kicking and extrusion of enchanted auras.

While Ratu Sakti Calon Arang is neither Suzzanna or Prima's best film, it is, of their co-starring ventures that I've seen, the one that most equally combines what is best in each star's individual films. We get a good deal of the horror elements of the typical Suzzanna film along with the wild martial arts action of Prima's, capped off by much of the gore and cut-rate but imaginative special effects common to both. There are also, thanks to the scenes between Bahula and Ratna, some romantic elements that may please fans of neither, but to me these were just another flavor in the already rich stew of genres that the movie presents, and hence welcome.

Suzzanna's dual performance also factors strongly in Ratu Sakti Calon Arang's appeal. To contrast Calon Arang with the virtuous but bland Ratna (who, to complicate matters, is not subjected to much in the way of makeup effects that would physically distinguish her in any way), the actress portrays the mother as a trashy, betel leaf chewing hag who, at one point, shoots a firehose-strength stream of piss at an attacker to fend him off. This character also appears to be a creature of pure evil, which makes the combined portrayals something of a split version of the usual Suzzanna villain, who, despite her horrendous deeds and appearance, is typically imbued with an element of tragedy, as well as a modicum of quiet dignity. As for Prima, his job here is mainly to act stoic and kick ass, minus the grandstanding tableaus of martyrdom that we'd get if this were his starring vehicle. In this he excels as would be expected, committing to film yet another iconic performance that the cranky actor today no doubt dismisses as completely worthless.

As for Sisworo Gautama Putra, the director here once again demonstrates his uncanny consistency in delivering colorful and surreally self-contained films that serve as models of giddy escapism. The only real criteria for determining if you will enjoy the film, then, is if you previously enjoyed any of his others. I did and I do, but honestly, the presence of its two stars are enough to guaranty my eyeballs no matter who's behind the camera.


Michael Barnum said...

I am a bit afraid to take on one of these Suzzanna/Barry Prima films for fear that I will become addicted. But they seem to contain everything that I need in motion picture entertainment, so I don't know how much longer I can resist.

Todd said...

I don't know if there's enough of them to support an addiction. A good heady binge maybe. In any case, why cheat yourself? Barry and Suzzanna have never let me down.

Todd said...

BTW, I later realized that the two films I mentioned as being Suzzanna vehicles exclusively, Sundel Bolong and Nyi Blorong, also starred Barry Prima. But, since I feel that those movies, compared to this one, really were all Suzzanna's show, with Barry playing more of a supporting role, I'm going to leave the statement as is.

memsaab said...

*sigh* Barry Prima is dreamy.

I think I may need to invest in some subtitled Barry Prima. Recommendations? Sources?

Todd said...

Memsaab, this may be your lucky day, because I'm pretty sure you can get both "The Warrior" and "The Devil's Sword", which are dubbed in English, from Netflix. If not, Amazon definitely has them.

memsaab said...

Okay, The Warrior is on its way.

Amazon has several other films with Barry Prima in them, but none with Suzzanna, sadly.

Todd said...

Mondo Macabro put out a nice disc of Suzzanna's Queen of Black Magic, but that one doesn't feature Barry, unfortunately. Still worth checking out, though, as Suzzanna is otherwise sadly underrepresented on domestic DVD.