Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bangunnya Nyi Roro Kidul, aka Awakening of the South Seas Queen (Indonesia, 1985)

Over the course of dozens of movies like Sundel Bolong and Nyi Blorong, Indonesian horror icon Suzzanna established herself as the personification of female vengeance, a representation of the payback due for every one of man's oafish transgressions against womankind. Thus it was probably inevitable that man, in the person of the production team behind Bannyang Nyi Roror Kidul, would strike back at her by putting her at the center of an insubstantial, comic relief filled film that concludes with a disco fashion show.

As many Indonesian horror films, including the sublime Lady Terminator, have told us, the South Seas Queen is a figure from Indonesian folklore who periodically rises up from the ocean to lure men to their doom with her sex voodoo. The question remains, however, whether this would happen at all were we just to leave her alone. You'll recall that, in Lady Terminator, she was roused by a foxy, constantly self-announcing anthropologist. In Bannyang Nyi Roror Kidul, it's a trio of young douchebags who mount a diving expedition to pluck her sleeping form from the ocean floor and bring it back to the mainland. Once this has been accomplished, she quickly revives and makes short work of one of their number, turning him into human jerky by vomiting lightning out of every one of her facial orifices.

This necessary culling of the cast list leaves us with the two remaining douchebags, Ario (George Rudy), the Chachi shag-wearing hunk of the group, and Dudi (Dorman Borisman), the one you'll least likely want to see showing as much skin as he does throughout pretty much the entire film. Together they head off in search of the Queen and are eventually joined by a fetching lady journalist named Wieke (Nena Rosier).

Meanwhile, the Queen (Suzzanna, natch) has chosen to walk this Earth in the guise of mortal beauty Neneng, and heads for the city to go shopping.  Along the way she is subjected to no end of catcalling and crass behavior by the male population. This she generally responds to by flash frying the perpetrator with her face lightning. Unfortunately, one of her victims is missed by a gang of armed hooligans--among whose number is an outrageous gay stereotype--who set out to capture her for their own evil purposes.

At one point, the gang attempts to rob Ario's palatial home, only to be foiled by Neneng's spooky intervention. Now, I may be wrong (yes, subtitles would have been helpful), but it seems that at this point an alliance of sorts is formed between Neneng and the heroes, which would essentially make Bannyang Nyi Roror Kidul the Godzilla vs. Megalon of the Indonesian South Seas Queen film genre. This evident goodwill leads to a scene in which the whole gang shows up to cheer Neneng on as she participates in some kind of modelling contest. This she wins handily by wearing a massive starburst shaped headdress and carrying a cobra shaped urn from which she throws candy to the audience. A final confrontation between the forces of good and evil follows that is rife with 80s action movie beats, as well as a bit where Suzzanna ends up tied to the tracks in front of an oncoming train.

All of this action is surrounded by no end of comic relief shenanigans. Yes, there is a midget, and he at one point dances to canned disco music with a fellow who is comically tall and skinny. A stock greedy holy man character appears to scam the heroes--oh, and he has a comically shrewish wife! People get exaggeratedly frightened and run away from things in fast motion. Amid all of this, Suzzanna comports herself with her usual regal calm, appearing as if she is barely tolerating all of the tomfoolery she's being subjected to.

Given all of the above, it's hard to say what type of film Bannyang Nyi Roror Kidul is at its heart. It is undeniable, however, that it is a horror film in form, and an Indonesian horror film, at that--which means that it is obligated to frighten and disgust us to at least some extent. The first it accomplishes in a scene where one of the Queen's dessicated victims sits up on the autopsy table and starts zapping everyone, which is among the most shocking and terrifying that I've seen in these films. The "ugh" moment come care of a bit where Suzzanna regurgitates live centipedes. You stay you, Indonesia.

The best thing I can say about Bannyang Nyi Roror Kidul is that Suzzanna comes out of it with her dignity intact--which is something that you would, of course, expect, given she's fricking Suzzanna. It's a shame, though, because the idea of casting one of these fearsome figures from Indonesian folklore in a superheroic context has the potential to be really fun. I think it's just that Sisworo Gautama Putro, having directed so many of Suzzanna' fright flicks, was not the director to pull it off. He has, however, done so much to contribute to an oeuvre that is for the most part outrageously entertaining that I think he can be forgiven this one.

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