Sunday, October 10, 2010

Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung (Indonesia, 1985)

If you've seen Mondo Macabro's interview with Barry Prima, you know that he doesn't look too kindly upon those exploitation films that made him one of Indonesia's biggest stars during the 80s, nor does he hold in high esteem anyone who would seek such movies out. Well, guess what, Barry? I'm going to continue watching your shitty old movies, because they're awesome and you're a god. So screw you -- er, in the most respectful and heterosexual way possible, that is.

Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung -- aka The Warrior and the Ninja, aka Warrior 3 -- is Barry's third go-around in his star-making role as the hero Jaka Sembung*. To be honest, I haven't seen the second film in the series, Si Buta Iawa Jaka Sembung, but the lovely and talented Houseinrlyeh has written a very thorough review of it over at The Horror!? if you want to get up to speed. As for this entry, it's helmed by H. Djut Djalil, who also directed Mystics in Bali, Lady Terminator and Dangerous Seductress, which bodes very well for Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung indeed.

As the mournful introductory music would indicate, this film starts out with things pretty much already in the crapper for our hero and his people. For starters, the inhabitants of Java still have yet to get out from under the tyrannical boot heels of those bastards the Dutch. (Full disclosure: I am one quarter Dutch.... and 100% bastard.) To make things worse, a volcanic eruption has forced the righteous freedom fighter Jaka Sembung and his fellow villagers to flee their homes in search of safety elsewhere. After a long, solemn trek through the parched wilderness, they come upon a town that is under the control of the despotic Captain De Koeneng, who, as is so often the case with these colonialist types, maintains order through a cadre of local collaborators that include all manner of evil sorcerers and unscrupulous wielders of black magic.

Despite what you might think, though, it turns our that Jaka Sembung's services might not be needed, because this town already has a righteous freedom fighter of its own. That would be Bajing Ireng (Zurmaini), who is a humble peasant woman by day and, by night, an ass-kicking lady ninja who steals the wealth of the white occupiers for distribution among the poor townsfolk. Of course, since no one can imagine that anyone else could be as awesome as Jaka Sembung, the powers that be assume that he is responsible for these crimes, and so begin a reign of terror against the inhabitants of the town in order to shake him out. This indeed brings our hero out of hiding, and also into an alliance with Bajing Ireng, which makes for some pretty spectacular scenes of the Dutch forces being gorily dispatched by their combined fu.

If all of these goings on sound too sedate for your tastes, let me point out that, meanwhile, the volcanic eruption seen at the beginning of the film has freed an indestructible and apparently completely insane warrior who was confined to the bowels of the Earth some time ago by Jaka Sembung's old master. Volcano Guy, as I will call him, then rampages through the countryside, beating people with uprooted trees and giving them third degree burns with his hands, all the while grunting and growling like a rabid Bonobo. The Dutch, realizing a good thing when they see one, decide to recruit this excitable fellow for the purpose of putting paid to their accounts with Jaka Sembung once and for all.

The resulting confrontation is indeed a close match, but Jaka ultimately calls upon his magical powers, delivering a blow to Volcano Guy that literally shatters him into pieces. The hero then thoughtfully has Volcano Guy's head delivered to the colonial forces. This, of course, only leads to more suffering for the common folk, and the virtuous Jaka must eventually turn himself in to the authorities in order to put a stop to it. This in turn leads to the tableau of martyrdom that sits at the center of every Jaka Sembung film, in this case with Barry being stretched on the rack before being strapped underneath a razor sharp pendulum. (And it is in this moment that the lack of subtitles is most acutely felt, as we non-Indonesian speakers don't get to be privy to the impassioned patriotic speechifying that Prima engages in throughout.) Of course, the real thrill of this sequence is that, by the time Barry is going through his agonies, we have been thoroughly sucked into the moral logic of the film, and are eagerly awaiting the moment when Bajing Ireng will show up to free him and, with him, turn the tables on the white devils and their cronies with resounding finality.

And when this moment comes, it is indeed an occasion for much whooping and hollering. Bajing Ireng shows up with an army of rebellious townsfolk in tow, most of them women, and, after a chaotic, drawn out battle involving all hands, her and Barry take part in parallel fights in which each goes one-on-one against one of the big bads. In Barry's case, it's a crippled mystic who fights only with his hands while sitting in a lotus position. This may not, in fact, sound like a very involving match-up, but it's to Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung's credit -- or perhaps my own willingness to buy into the crazy universe that it presents -- that it ends up being pretty kinetic and exciting. For Zurmaini's part, she pairs off against an evil sorceress, delivering the film's standout OMG moment when, in a final burst of rage, she grabs her opponent and quite literally tears her fucking face off.

With its wall-to-wall martial arts action, period setting, cross-gender ass kicking, and frequent one-against-all battles, Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung reminded me of nothing so much as an old school Shaw Brothers joint that had been injected with a delightful dose of Indonesian mystical freakiness. And if you don't read that as a compliment, you're reading the wrong blog. Of course, as thrilling as it is, the film still doesn't live up to the fevered absurdity of the original Jaka Sembung, thought that is more a testament to the high bar set by Indonesian trash cinema as a whole than it is to any real shortcomings on Bajing Ireng dan Jaka Sembung's part.

In fact, the comparatively down-to-earth nature of the film's approach works in some ways to its advantage, as, with less reliance on wire work and effects, we get to see more of a display of both Prima's and Zurmaini's (or their stunt doubles') real world skills as martial artists, which are, in both case, indeed impressive. (Though Zurmaini, unfortunately, is ill served by a couple of poorly lit night time action scenes.) In other words, despite what he might say, Barry Prima has nothing to be ashamed of here. Really, Barry, I would think that the fact alone that you made a man who is really way too old to be enjoying these type of films whip off his shirt and drunkenly twirl it over his head in excitement would be a great source of pride for you. That's right, I said pride. (Though perhaps not so much for me.)

*I had originally thought that Prima only starred in the initial trilogy of Jaka Sembung films, but Jack J. from En lejemorder ser tilbage set me straight: There were two further Jaka Sembung films made in the 90s in which he also starred.


houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Oh, I really should get around to watching this.

There's not much that can completely live up to the first Jaka Sembung film, is there? It has become my platonic ideal of this particular sub genre.

Todd said...

And I have to get around to watching the second one. The internets tell me that one also features Zurmaini. Can you confirm? She is my new favorite actress... assuming that she tears someone's face off in every movie in which she appears.

Jack J said...

Great review, Todd. But the third film isn't the last one in the series. There are two more:

BERGOLA IJO, dir: Arizal (1983)

JAKA SEMBUNG DAN DEWI SAMUDRA, dir: Atok Sugiarto (1990)

- none of them are dubbed into English and they're only out on Malay VCD (and possibly also Indo VCD).

And there's even a 6th film if you count the spin-off film THE BLIND WARRIOR (aka Neraka perut bumi, dir: Ratno Timoer, 1987) in which the blind warrior character from THE WARRIOR AND THE BLIND SWORDSMAN makes a return.

I wrote about them all on my blog:

About the dark night scenes in THE WARRIOR AND THE NINJA: Did you watch a rip of the Greek VHS? I have that tape and it's WAAAY too dark!! Both the Malay VCD and the US VHS from the All American label have much brighter night scenes (you can actually see what's going on, LOL).


Jack J said...

PS: And I've recently found out that THE REVENGE OF SAMSON/SAMSON DAN DELILAH has been released on DVD in France. It's not a Jaka Sembung film but it's kinda in the same territory. I got it cheap from eBay France.

Todd said...

Thanks, Jack. But does Barry Prima appear in the later two films? If so, I stand corrected.

The version that I watched was a Malay or Indonesian VCD. The night scenes were clear enough that I could get a general idea of what was going on, but not so much that I could make any decent screen caps of them -- which is, of course, what I most wanted to do.

Jack J said...

Yes, Barry Prima is in all five films.

A very good movie data base for these films is the "Complete Index to World Film" data base:

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

Yes, Todd, Zurmaini is in the second all right. Alas, it's only a minor role, so no face tearing of consequence takes place.

Todd said...

Thanks, Jack. Correction made. It's good to know that I have a lot more Jaka Sembung to explore.

House: Thanks for the confirmation. I'll look forward to seeing her again, nonetheless.

memsaab said...

Barry Prima is hot.

That is all.

carol said...

very much enjoying all the indonesian movie reviews. thanks!

Todd said...

Glad to see the ladies chiming in. Memsaab, yes he is. And Carol, I'm very glad to hear it. Needless to say, there's more to come!

Anonymous said...

can i say this movie is a grindhouse film?

Todd said...

Good question. I've seen an English language trailer for this film, which I suppose could mean that it had some type of theatrical release in the U.S. -- in which case it most likely would have played the classic grindhouse circuit -- but it just as easily could have gone straight to video on these shores.

Phalayasa said...

Correction to Jack J.'s comment. "Neraka Perut Bumi" is not a spin off of the Jaka Sembung's comic/film franchise. It's the fourth or fifth films from the "Si Buta dari Gua Hantu" franchise.

Jack J said...

Thanks for the info, Phalayasa!! That's very much appreciated!

Gee, so now I have to track down this entire series too (except for the dubbed one). But even if it's not a spin-off I guess it's fair to say it's a "cross-over" then as I do believe the character (the Blind Warrior/Swordsman) is the same as the one in the JAKA SEMBUNG episode. Do you know how many films exist in this "Si Buta dari Gua Hantu" series?? Thanks.

Phalayasa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phalayasa said...

Jack J., My research at the Indonesian film documentation center site reveals five films, four of which registered with the same title. I looked for their proper title at an alternate site (www.filmindonesia.or.if) and found another one not listed there. Geesh....
Here they are in chronological order:
-Si Buta dari Gua Hantu (1970)
-Misteri di Borobudur (1971)
-Duel di Kawah Bromo (1977)
-Sorga yang Hilang (1977)
-Neraka Perut Bumi (1985)
-Lembah Tengkorak (1990)
The Blind Man from the Spooky Grotto (I know it's not a literal translation, but I like how it sound) also has a cameo appearance in Reo Manusia Serigala (1977).
There's also Bangkitnya si Mata Malaikat, a 1988 film, which was based on one of the comic books, but Ratno Timoer didn't star in it. And The Blind Man only showed up in the last minute and played by someone who obviously is not Ratno Timoer. I remember watching it and feel ripped off.

Phalayasa said...

Uh, and no. The blind man in that Jaka Sembung film is not The Blind Man from the Spooky Grotto. He's an entirely different character, they billed him as "Si Buta dari Gunung Iblis" (The Blind Man from Devil Mountain). I wouldn't be surprised if the producer of the flick trying to capitalize on The Blind Man franchise was the reason behind the titling of the film.

Jack J said...

Hey Phalayasa,
That's very very useful! Thanks so much for your info!

Now it's just trying to track down the films! o_O