Saturday, September 20, 2014

B 14, Parts 1 and 2 (Ghana, 2012)

A couple of years ago, a trailer for a Ghanaian film called 2016 swept the internet. A rapturous concatenation of dire CGI, shouty narration, jaw dropping violence and baby punting, it was truly the stuff of which memes are made. That trailer and the film it advertised were made by an outfit called Ninja Movie Production--and directed, written, shot, and edited by a person, entity, or cooperative going simply by the name Ninja. And while the rest of the world outside Ghana has since moved on from 2016 to Grumpy Cat, ice bucket challenges and other worthy distractions, Ninja Movie Production, bless them, have stuck with the business of making blisteringly insane shot-on-video action movies, of which 2012’s B 14 is a stirring example.

B 14’s action plays out against a backdrop of gang warfare. The B 14 gang is lead by lady boss Lan Di (Rose Mensah), who has returned from India with both an understanding of the supernatural and a mysterious bodyguard in a Matrix-style duster named Scorpion (Ntul Andrew). She also has a trio of minions whose sole purpose seems to be to line the wall and look comically glum as she berates and threatens them. Each of these has “B 14” branded on his or her shoulder.

Conflict flares when rival boss Storm (Joseph Osei, a child) steals a stash of cocaine that Lan Di has earmarked for an unseen “white man” and then attempts to sell it back to her. This does not sit well with the fearsome Lan Di, who -- thanks to the talents of actress Mensah -- has a habit of constantly working her mouth into a variety of unsightly shapes. Meanwhile, a sage-like old soldier named Appiah (Ebenezer Donkor) has a mysterious “black box” that Lan Di is eager to get her hands on.

In addition to all of this business, B 14 features a number of subplots which collectively seem intended to portray the toll that cocaine has taken on Ghanaian society as a whole. A friend of Mr. Addo’s son, who dreams of becoming a pro soccer player, snorts coke to boost his performance. A woman named Joyce disapproves of her sister’s “lifestyle” (she is, presumably, a drug whore.) The mother of Jonny, Storm’s bodyguard, wants him to leave his life of crime, etc. Much of this is communicated in a lot of energetic and casual sounding dialogue by a young cast who often seem like they are just goofing off in front of the camera.

But it is in those moments when Ntul Andrew’s Scorpion takes center stage that B 14 truly springs to life. Scorpion, you see, can materialize and dematerialize at will, and also has the ability to project from his palm -- alongside your usual flames and laser beams -- something that looks like an angry black turtle head. This is followed by a seemingly endless length of heavy chain which he uses to bludgeon and impale all whom he doesn’t feel like engaging in a stylish kung fu battle, thus providing the occasion for much of B 14's poorly rendered CGI blood splatter. Oh, he also reads people’s minds by turning their eyes into little TVs.

Ghana, like Nigeria, likes to turn its single movies into franchises by bisecting them at a random point and then slapping a “2” on the second half. Thus, B 14 Part 1 manages to end with very little resolved or even explained. Despair not, though, because B 14 Part 2 gets off to a roaring start, with Scorpion killing Jonny’s sister by smacking her eyeballs out of her skull and then killing her mom. When Jonny comes looking for revenge, he kills him too, putting a chain through his temple. Meanwhile, we see that everyone in Ghana, from the water lady to the workers in the field, have taken to sniffing cocaine for its magical, energy-giving properties.

We then meet Sarfo and George (Owusu Addai Evans and Adams Ali Rusel, respectively), two young footballers who want to both win fame and preserve Ghana’s good name by bringing Lan Di to justice. Together they seek counsel from the wise Appiah. Cue the training montages.

While amateurish, B 14 still occasionally rewards the viewer with moments of base-level competence, and sometimes even goes beyond that. The fights are entertainingly staged, if marred by some weirdly arbitrary use of slow motion, and the off-the-cuff nature of the dialogue gives the film an engagingly homespun feel. It also has to be said that Kwaku Adu’s throbbing techno score, while ramping up the tension in the action scenes, brings a lot of camp value to those in which little is happening. Fortunately, that is not very often, as the film seems just as interested in getting to the next fight as you are.

One of the biggest regrets I’ve had over the course of writing for 4DK is how little coverage I have given to African pop cinema. That is because that cinema, as I’ve experienced it through the films of Nigeria, tends to be longwinded, soap operatic and preachy, with the occasional moment of biblically-inspired what-the-fuckery to give it interest. Thus, I have avoided it, because I don’t want the only films made by black people that I review to be boring movies that I make fun of. And now here is Ninja and his (her? their?) crew, who -- with their quirky, ragged edged and energetic take on the action genre -- come to me, not as more of the same, but as something of a find.

A find for which I am unexpectedly grateful. For, as long as there are nations like Ghana, with nascent exploitation film industries itching to run (and kick… and stab… and shoot) before they can walk, there will be fuel for blogs like mine to continue puttering obsessively along. Given that, I doubt that this will be the last you’ll hear about Ninja Movie Production and their films, or that I will be the only person you’ll hear it from.


sunil said...

Oh, he also reads people’s minds by turning their eyes into little TVs.
Me want!

jeremy said...

two years later some random guy cant help but wonder how you did not mention mortal kombat once in this writeup

jeremy said...

jeremy said...