Sunday, August 21, 2016

Just 3 Days, Part II (Ghana, 2015)

Is it ironic that it took me four days to watch Just 3 Days? The problem wasn’t just that the film in total is over two and a half hours long. It’s more that, once I got through Part I and started in on Part II, the film became so abundant with craziness that I was making screen captures at a rate of two a minute. Seriously, if you are someone who comes to a movie like this for the crude special effects, outrageous violence, CG blood spatter, and abundant backyard kung fu fights, Ugandan action auteur Ninja has done you the favor of back loading all of that into Just 3 Days’ manic second installment. Of course, that is not to say that the first half, with its unique blend of Christian evangelism and kick-boxing, is not worth an at least cursory look.

Part II begins right where Part I left off, with the trio of kick-boxer Desmond (Akwasi I. Kwarteng), his sister Sophia (Priscilla A. Annabel--who is also credited with Make-up and “Welfare”), and off-and-on best friend Lucas (Osei Owusu) escaping from the Underworld with a magical golden box that they believe will lift the bad luck that has befallen them due to the ill-fated marriage of Desmond’s miniature brother, Dominic (Jospeh Osei) to the allegedly cursed Annah (Elizabeth Arthur.) [Pauses for breath.] Never mind that this magic golden box answers more accurately to the description “yellow plastic box.” What matters is that its theft has roused two of the box’s guardian spirits, who take off in pursuit of Desmond and his partners.

The first of these spirits is Iron Eagle (Akwasi Kwarteng), a primitive computer animation of a giant robot eagle who, upon entering the mortal world, transforms into an imposing and brooding human figure in Ray-bans and a hooded black nylon cape. The other is Tanya (Mabel Amitoh), a flaming statue who likewise transforms into a fiery eyed vixen who, in a nice Max Headroom-like touch, has cornrows the size of actual corn rows. Tanya’s attire is limited to a black sports bra and biker shorts. If you have ever wondered if there was a mall in Hell, and, specifically, if it had a Sports Chalet, Iron Eagle and Tanya’s combined attire should answer your question.

Immediately upon her arrival, Tanya hooks up with two prostitutes who, inspired to pity by her meager coverings, offer to take her in. Meanwhile, Iron Eagle wastes no time in tracking Desmond down and offering him an ultimatum: return the gold box within just 3 days or die horribly along with all of his loved ones. And, yes, you are correct in noting that Ninja has waited until well into his film’s second installment to provide a context for its title.

Just 3 Days being the film that it is, Desmond takes this news home to Sophia and Lucas, after which the three of them engage in a shouty debate over what they should do. Meanwhile, the unsubtly named Pastor Christian (Iddrisu Mohammed Abdallah), a character whose every entrance is marked by the sudden appearance of Christian soft rock on the soundtrack, pays a visit to Dominic and his mother, Madam K (Rose Mensah). Christian has somehow learned of the theft of the box and beseeches Dominic and Madame K to solve their problem through prayer rather than black magic. Thus does this scene set in motion the see-saw that will characterize Just 3 Days concluding half, with sequences in which people’s heads are impaled with katanas alternating with—and being given equal weight as—those in which characters carry on sincere sounding debates about faith.

Such is the dichotomy of Ghanaian cinema, whose country of origin boasts a powerful Christian majority—most of whom, like many other people in the world, nonetheless want to see movies in which shit blows up and people get gorily mowed down with machine guns. Given this, it is legitimate to wonder whether Ninja—whose credits for Just 3 Days include Executive Producer, Writer, Director, Editor and Special Effects director—has a sincere commitment to such issues of faith, or whether presenting them is simply part of the dance he must perform in order for his films to be commercially successfully. It’s conceivable that, like Uganda’s Isaac Nabwana, he’d prefer to skip the religion altogether and just get to the explosions.

If that’s the case, the judiciousness with which Ninja weaves this moral debate into the film’s action is all the more commendable. Unlike the Nigerian film 666 (Beware The End is at Hand), whose surfeit of prosthelytizing made it leaden despite its preponderance of digitally rendered insanity, Just 3 Days trots along at an energetic pace despite it. It also has to be said that what scenes there are of people sitting on their front porches and arguing while fanning themselves accomplish, as they do in 2016, the mean feat of infusing this tale of murderous hell robots with the homely rhythms of everyday life. It is hot in Ghana, after all, so is it not conceivable that its people, made testy by the heat, might wile away the hours by lazily bickering with one another over Mirinda sodas?

Back in the story of Just 3 Days, Desmond, Dominic, and Sophia’s numerous expendable and as-yet-unnamed siblings find the rhythms of everyday life becoming an ever-diminishing commodity as they are killed one by one by Iron Eagle and Tanya. In response, Madam K, a former soldier, goes commando, confronting Tanya in full combat gear—only to beat a hasty retreat when Tanya’s head turns into a flaming death's head before her eyes (not unlike Fantomah.) Later, Tanya further proves that she is a formidable foe, murdering someone simply by spitting magic into her cell phone.

Finally, Desmond and Lucas go to an apparently very well connected kick-boxing promoter named Owen (Emmanuel Afriyie) for help. He presents them with a pair of magic candles, which he will give them on the condition that Desmond waves his payment for an upcoming, high-profile fight. These candles, once the proper incantations have been intoned, provide the men an audience with an underworld being known as the Wise Man. This creature promises to give them a pair of bracelets that will render them invincible if they will provide him with two human hearts—women’s hearts, to be exact. Desmond and Lucas agree to this without hesitation. This is followed by a well-executed sequence in which shots of Desmond’s match alternate with shots of Lucas stalking and killing two women on a deserted country road.

And it is here that Just 3 Days put us on harsh notice that the men we have been positioned to see as its protagonists may not be worthy of it—and that a conclusion in which good triumphs over evil may not look the way we earlier might have assumed it would. What we can be certain of, however, is that that conclusion will only come on the tail end of a lot of kick boxing.

Within the context of African action cinema, Just 3 Days strikes me as an ambitious film—and an indication that Ninja, in his own excitable way, is trying to drag that cinema into the 21st Century. For one thing, its melding of genres—sports drama, horror film, family melodrama, religious parable—seems deliberate and self conscious, rather than the usual reckless hodgepodge of commercial elements. Also, it juggles audience expectations with an unexpected—and almost malicious—deftness. Both of these are indications of a growing confidence on the part of the filmmaker, and bode well for the future of his industry. While so many of the national cinemas covered in this blog have seen their heydays come and go, Africa’s is still an electrifying work in progress whose best days are yet to come.

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