Sunday, March 21, 2010

Darna Ajaib (Indonesia, 1980)

It used to be that there were two types of Filipino popular cinema. There were those films made by men like Bobby Suarez and Cirio Santiago with an eye toward international distribution, and those Tagalog language productions intended primarily for the entertainment of the local audience. I think it's safe to say that both Dolphy's wacky spy movie and superhero parodies and the Darna movies rest securely within the latter category.

Still, it's not all that surprising that love for Darna seeped beyond the P.I.'s borders. After all, the Filipina superheroine has been a popular favorite here at 4DK for some time now. Thus we have the 1980 Indonesian film Darna Ajaib, the first example I've come across of a Darna film made outside the Philippines.

Darna Ajaib (or, as Google Translator parses it, Darna Wonder Girl) was directed by Lilik Sudjio -- who previously helmed the maggot-ridden Queen of Black Magic, starring Indonesian horror queen Suzzanna -- and stars Indonesian model-turned-actress Lydia Kandou in the title role. Kandou had made her screen debut just a year earlier at the tender age of seventeen, and would go on to star in such top grade Indonesian trash as Jungle Virgin Force and Five Deadly Angels. Nonetheless she seems to be as, or even more, well known in her home country for her controversial marriage to Muslim actor Jamal Mirdad (Kandou is a Christian), and the couple's subsequent ten year struggle to have that marriage legally recognized. So I imagine that, for those with an interest in religious freedom in Indonesia, she's a bit of a superheroine in her own right.

Not surprisingly, Darna Ajaib offers a somewhat different take on Darna than those Filipino productions starring Vilma Santos that were just wrapping up around the time of its production. Not only does it play pretty fast and loose with the whole Darna mythos, but Sudjio's obvious comfort within the horror genre also insures that it is instilled with a much higher level of flat out creepiness than we're used to seeing. And, of course, there's also a generous infusion of the Indonesian mysticism that somehow seems to find its way into pretty much every Indonesian exploitation picture. This is, after all, the country that somehow managed to fuse a female-fronted Terminator cash-in with the tale of an ancient, man-hating sea sprite.

In that spirit, Darna Ajaib kicks off with a spontaneous pregnancy and proceeds, in very short order, to the subject of said pregnancy giving birth to a snake with a human head. Yikes! When this woman's husband comes home and tries to capture the snake baby -- presumably to flush it down the toilet -- he is kicked to death by a giant caveman who appears out of nowhere. Meanwhile, in another part of Darna Ajaib's obviously very twisted world, another woman is giving birth to an apparently normal baby, albeit concurrent with the passing of a green comet over her house and the blossoming of a mysterious white flower outside her window.

Both of these offspring grow up to be apparently normal children with special hidden powers. In the case of Maria (Dian Ariestya, I think), that special power involves her being a creepy little girl who turns into a snake and kills people when she gets angry. In the case of Darna, it's the ability to run like the Six Million Dollar Man and twirl bad guys around her head like a sack of wiffle balls -- and later, upon clutching an amulet hanging around her neck, to transform into a flying, costumed superhero version of herself. Circumstances eventually conspire to place Maria and Darna in the same school together, and by the time they reach high school -- when the main portion of Darna Ajaib's action takes place -- they have become total BFFs.

During this early portion of Darna Ajaib, we're treated to a couple of musical numbers, including a sorrowful lament sung by the younger version of Maria. Despite the initial appearance that Darna Ajaib is going to be a full fledged musical, this exposition through song is dropped entirely for the remaining half, which is for the best, really. The staging of these musical numbers just isn't very interesting, to the point where they could be in essence described as, respectively, "Sad song sung by freeway guardrail" and "Disco song sung in car".

Maria is indeed portrayed as something of a tragic figure here, and, as such, we see -- between instances of her losing her temper, turning into a snake and killing people -- evidence of her struggling against her evil impulses. Nonetheless, it is clear that a confrontation between her and Darna is inevitable. And things are helped along in this regard by the fact that both Darna and Maria share the same love interest in the form of High School chum Dodi (Dony Nurhadi). Eventually, the giant cave man, who Maria addresses as "Papa", makes a reappearance -- or at least his floating, disembodied head does -- to give Maria her marching orders, which I think have something to do with getting a hold of Darna's magic amulet. (As you've probably already guessed, this film had no English subs.)

After this, Maria's already considerable creepiness hits critical mass:

Finally, Darna is forced to have a weird superwoman to snake-girl heart-to-heart with her erstwhile gal pal, after which she does battle with the giant cave man, impaling him on an electrical tower in a scene pretty clearly inspired by the earlier, Vilma Santos fronted Darna and the Giants.

Even without subtitles, Darna Ajaib is a hugely enjoyable example of world pop cinema hybridization, engagingly mixing good-natured Pinoy superhero goofiness with an equal amount of lowdown Indonesian freakiness. While Lydia Kandou can't match the perky charisma of Vilma Santos (or the perky everything else of Anjanette Abayari), she's still an appealing presence, and shows evidence of the very combination of guilelessness and good sportsmanship that carrying such a vehicle requires. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that she, or anyone else, ever made a repeat attempt at bringing this version of Indo-Darna to the screen. Nonetheless, the existence of Darna Ajaib has raised hopes in me of finding other indigenous versions of Darna created by other non-Filipino film industries. Right now, my money is on the Turks.


Anirban said...

I continue to be fascinated by your wide range of selection of Asian films. It is simply amazing.

A minor point related to the title of the movie. I am guessing that the word "Ajaib" is derived from the Arabic "Ajeeb" which translates into "strange". ;)

Todd said...

Yeah, "strange" sounds about right.

Unknown said...

Todd, I'm speechless!!! I can't BELIEVE you've found a Darna knockoff from OUTSIDE the PI!!!

Is it time for another trade? We're in the middle of subtitling DARNA AND THE PLANET WOMEN and ALYAS BATMAN EN ROBIN, if that's any help...?

Todd said...

Andrew, if you're dying to see it, someone's posted the whole movie on YouTube:

amulet pendant for good luck said...

well, it is interesting old movie about mystical hero.