Monday, April 16, 2012

Cango Korkusuz Adam (Turkey, 1967)

[It’s funny how we never see Kilink on 4DK without Tars Tarkas lurking around somewhere in the background. It’s enough to make one think… never mind. The point is that you can read an alternate take on Cango Korkusuz Adam over at TarsTarkas.NET, and, dammit, you should.]

Turkish pop movies have a way of showing you things that you didn’t know you desperately wanted to see until they were spooling out right in front of you. So, yes, it turns out that I really did want to see who would win in a fight between Django and Kilink, and for that I have Cango Korkusuz Adam to thank.

The funny thing about Django and Kilink, though, is that, for the film industries that spawned them, they both ultimately came to serve less as characters than as stock generic elements. By the end of the Spaghetti Western cycle, so many Italian oaters had touted Django’s presence in them that it’s easy to forget that there had not been an official Django movie since, well, Django. And Kilink, having turned up in Turkish films fighting everyone from Superman to Mandrake to Frankenstein, seems to have become as much of a default villain as Russian terrorists were in 1980s straight-to-video action movies.

In fact, in Cango Korkusuz Adam, you could say that both characters haunt the movie from its periphery more than they are actual presences within it, like specters of the much more fun and interesting movie that Cango Korkusuz Adam could have been. Technically, for instance, it is Kilink’s costume that makes a cameo, rather than the character himself. The skeleton-suited villain of the piece is actually referred to throughout as the “Death Cavalier” or “Death Rider”. Which is not to say that the association isn’t welcomed -- to the point where it’s a wonder that they didn’t just break down and call the guy Kilink. Sure, there’s no reason for Kilink to be in the Old West, but I can’t imagine any Turkish screenwriter from the period pausing to consider matters of plausibility when there was potential awesomeness at stake.

And as for Django, he appears to be less flesh and blood than he is an idea here, an identity that the hero automatically assumes once he has set out on his mission of vengeance -- kind of like the way wronged parties in South Asian movies suddenly know how to do kung fu. Before that occurs, he is Tom (Tunc Oral), the nephew of one Mr. McLee, for whom he has agreed to take charge of a newly opened gold mine. However, before Tom can reach the unnamed frontier town in which most of the film’s action takes place, McLee is murdered by the Death Rider and his bandit gang, leaving only carnage behind for Tom to find upon his arrival. It is at this point that Tom swears an oath of blood vengeance against the gang and begins telling everyone to call him Django -- a point on which he has to keep reminding people (“Forget Tom, I’m Django”), despite everyone’s apparent easy willingness to go along with it.

But wait, there’s more. Before meeting his death, McLee has dispatched one of his ranch hands to deliver to Tom a map of the mine’s location. When that ranch hand ends up dying at the hands of the Death Rider’s men, the map somehow ends up in the possession of the hapless snake oil salesman Chiko (Yilmaz Koksal). Fortunately for Chiko, Tom arrives in town soon thereafter to defend him from the Death Rider gang’s many violent attempts to prize the map away from him, and soon the two form a partnership of sorts.

Strangely, while Chiko starts out as a fairly stock comic relief character, Cango Korkusuz Adam ends up being more about his journey to heroism than it does anything else, with Tom/Django remaining on the sidelines but for those occasions when he is called upon to summarily kill some bad guys in order to move the plot along. Death Rider, to the extent that he is a Kilink surrogate, also remains uncharacteristically peripheral to the action, preferring to instead delegate most of the dirty work to his minions. The exception to this comes when it is time to discipline any member of the gang who has failed to meet his expectations, during which we see that same gleeful ruthlessness that the Kilink films have accustomed us to. One bandit gets his hand lopped off and fed to the Death Rider’s dog (yes, Kilink has a dog in this movie) and another gets stabbed in the fucking forehead. Missing, however, are all of the S&M elements and implied sexual violence usually associated with Kilink. And, at the end, things really depart from canon with a Scooby-Doo style reveal of our masked villain’s identity.

Cango Korkusuz Adam was directed by Remzi Jonturk, an accomplished Turkish director who worked frequently with Cuneyt Arkin, helming several entries in that star’s popular Malkocoglu series. More noteworthy, perhaps, is the trio of films that Jonturk did with Arkin that came to be known as the “Adam Trilogy”, the political content of which resulted in Jonturk being prosecuted by the authoritarian government of General Kenam Evren. No such content appears to grace Cango Korkusuz Adam -- though, if it does, it was lost to me somewhere amid all the random cultural dissonance and fan-subbing. As for any visual flair that Jonturk might have brought to the project, that is impossible to ascertain given the condition of the version I watched, which was made from a warbly VHS master that was in turn made from a TV broadcast complete with ads for Turkish public affairs programming and soap operas (I’m guessing someone stayed up until 4am to capture it). Suffice it to say I’ve seen chest x rays with more crispness.

What I could see, though, is that the sets and costumes in Cango Korkusuz Adam lack that lived-in look so crucial to the Spaghetti Westerns that inspired it. None of the actors look all that at home in their chaps and Stetsons, and the result gives the movie overall a sort of goofy, dress-up quality. Still, pains are taken to trot out as many of the genre’s tropes as possible. Figen Say shows up as a heroic saloon girl, at one point doing a can-can that is filmed almost entirely from the waist down. Elsewhere, barroom poker games are played and cheated at, dubious frontier remedies hawked, and pistols discharged into the sky for no compelling reason. Unfortunately, the film’s central barroom brawl set-piece serves as an exemplar of the enthusiasm with which all of this is pulled off, it being so listlessly staged that not even copious amounts of stolen Ennio Morricone music can save it.

If my sources are to be believed, Cango Korkusuz Adam turned out to be Django’s lone shot at Turkish screen immortality. Instead, it was Ringo, of all the Italian western heroes, who proved to have the real staying power, playing a titular role in several Turkish features that included among them the killer sounding Ringo vs. Gestapo. Perhaps that might not have been the case, though, if those behind Cango Korkusuz Adam had had the conviction to make it live up to the promise lurking within its premise. Could audiences of the day possibly have seen a true Turkish interpretation of Sergio Corbucci’s coffin-hauling anti-hero -- paired off against their own finger-snapping, Sadean skeleton-suited version of the id run wild -- without wanting more? Gotta doubt it.

1 comment:

memsaab said...

I will now be calling my dogs "Death Cavaliers" :D