Sunday, November 29, 2015

Rama Superman Indonesia (Indonesia, 1974)

According to some sources, Rama Superman Indonesia has been little seen outside of Indonesia due to the litigiousness of Kal-El Superman America’s copyright holders. Apparently, it is only for us, the fans, to call a spade a spade (Turkish Spiderman, Korean Batman, etc.), because for the filmmakers themselves to do it is to invite trouble. In the case of Rama Superman Indonesia, this is no great loss, as it is not a film that needs to be seen—unless, of course, you are suffering from a rare disease that can only be cured by seeing the dutiful trotting out of standard superhero movie plot points.

To be fair, Rama Superman Indonesia trots out those plot points with a lot of good natured zeal. It should also be commended for being only 70 minutes long, which is as long as any superhero movie needs to be. To further hold it up as a model of brevity, let me point out that it’s recounting of Rama’s origin story takes up as little as 5 minutes of screen time. 5 minutes! Seriously, Marvel, get these guys on the phone.

That origin story involves Andi (Boy Shahlani), a roly-poly youngster who hawks newspapers on the streets of the city. One day he offers food and comfort to a sickly old man whom he finds at the side of the road. In return, the man gives him a golden butterfly amulet which, when kissed, turns Andi into Rama (August Melasz), who looks like either a foxy surfer dude in a red leotard or a masked member of Kaptain Kool and the Kongs. (Ironically, Rama’s origin is less similar to that of Superman than it is to that of the original Captain Marvel, another character whom National/DC’s lawyers sued into near oblivion.)

In one of the film’s first capitulations to superhero movie canon, Rama’s arrival on the scene necessitates that Andi’s seemingly peaceful town immediately turn into a treacherous maze of peril and intrigue. An untended baby crawls into the path of an oncoming train, a random wacko starts chasing people around with a machete, etc. These vignettes, of course, allow our hero the opportunity to demonstrate his various powers for us. These include super strength and the power of flight, although we mainly just see Rama beating people up and grinding the stacked heel of his boot into their chests. Interestingly, there are times when Andi opts not to turn into Rama when under threat, as if these are situations for which the special powers of an out-of-shape 13-year-old are more suited. Also, Rama flies in an upright position, which is truly interesting.

In further obeisance to the form, Andi has an attractive female friend named Lia (Yenny Rachman, introduced with a spectacularly unsubtle ass-cam shot). While Lia is impossibly out of the league of a putz like Andi, it almost goes without saying that, immediately upon learning of Rama’s existence, she has a daydream in which she goes to the beach in a bikini and is attacked by literally every man on it—only to be rescued by Rama, who then makes out with her. In a later musical sequence (set to the song “Jabat Ha Ti”, sung by Rachman herself), she envisions Rama coming to her on a white steed and plunging with her into a sublimely silly montage of cliché romantic frolics.

Despite all this, it is not Lia’s rich fantasy life that makes her important to the plot of Rama Superman Indonesia. What does make her important is her role as that indispensable action movie mainstay, the beautiful daughter of the professor who has invented some new kind of super weapon. These efforts have made the professor a person of unwelcome interest for a character called The Black Dragon, who himself holds up a certain superhero movie tradition, the one decreeing that the villain is always the best part of the movie. Wearing a black hood that makes his head look like it’s wearing jodhpurs, the Black Dragon sits behind a desk covered with rotary phones and commands forth a parade of bumbling minions to kill the professor and steal his formula. These minions, of course, all end up being ground under Rama’s boot heels.

Aside from a refreshingly brisk pace, Rama Superman Indonesia boasts a great 70’s cop show funk soundtrack (credited to “Band THE DISC”) that always clues us in that we are watching an action scene, even when that is not manifestly apparent—as is the case with a couple of very leisurely car chases. The fights are of the Bollywood variety, with lots of ersatz kung fu accompanied by loud “DISHOOM DISHOOM” sound effects, but are nonetheless satisfyingly bone crunching—except for a bout with an especially dodgy looking cardboard box robot, during which Rama is conspicuously pulling his punches for fear of toppling the thing over.

Like that robot, the Black Dragon’s high tech lair is a triumph of dime store art direction, a strictly cardboard and construction paper affair. Indeed, Rama Superman Indonesia’s overall appearance of being an elementary school recreation of an old Republic serial puts it in the company of some classic Turkish pulp film of its era, such as The Deathless Devil and 3 Dev Adam. Many of you will recognize that as high praise coming from me, and I stand by it. Like those films, Rama enlivens dusty old tropes by attacking them as if they were new. It’s pure comic book ambitions could be made no clearer than by the Batman-style starburst graphics that accompany Rama’s blows. It is short, to the point, unfailingly entertaining and, by keeping it simple, in no way calls out for a reboot. Hollywood, take note.


Tars Tarkas said...

Looks great, love the robot. I had barely heard of this film and didn't realize it was available, which is cool in itself. Another one for the want list!!!

Todd said...

Thanks, Tars! It's always a point for pride for me when I find an outlier like this that you have not yet seen.