Warrior, The | Varied Celluloid

Warrior, The

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 21 - 2011

The Warrior (1981)
Director: Sisworo Gautama Putra
Writers: Darto Juned
Starring: Barry Prima, Eva Arnaz and W.D. Mochtar



The Plot: Jaka Sembung (Barry Prima) is a freedom fighter leading the revolution against the Dutch invaders who have overtaken Indonesia. Although he appears to us first as a captive, he soon escapes and embarrasses the local Dutch military who will do anything to capture this savage yet again. Rather than calling for military reinforcements, and looking poor in the face of the general command, the leading Dutch officer instead turns to the local citizens for help in finding this rough and tumble Jaka Sembung. Although most of the population look to Sembung as a local hero, fighting the good fight, there are still some evil men who would turn against him. This leads the Dutch to turn towards Kobar, the incredible strongman who possesses powerful black magic, as well as an evil magician who raises one of Sembung’s oldest enemies, the nefarious Kieten, from the dead! Will Jaka Sembung rescue the Indonesian people or will these forces of evil prove to be too much for this warrior?

The Review
Although modern Indonesian action has received a face lift in recent years thanks to Gareth Evans (Marentau, The Raid), the classic days of Indonesian action certainly deserve their own spotlight. Although these films weren’t the most technically well-crafted pieces of cinema to debut in the eighties, for b-movie fans they deliver just the right atmosphere of silly spectacle and cheesy fun. Lady Terminator, The Stabilizer and Rambu are all titles that have pushed the boundaries of good taste and have developed a true cult following here in the states. The previously mentioned films are all titles that really blur the lines between the cultural aesthetics of Indonesia, and the genre filmmaking laws dictated by Hollywood. Although each film is distinctly a piece of Indonesian film history and reflects certain aspects of the culture, they all take their inspiration from much more popular Hollywood films. The Warrior differs from this lineage by setting itself in the distant past and directly reflects a very important time within Indonesian history. Set within the occupation of Indonesia by the Dutch, who owned the islands right up until the Japanese invasion during World War II, we get to touch on some cultural issues and get to see the spiritual side of Indonesia’s culture. Oh, we also get to see a guy get turned into a pig after having his eyes gouged out, in graphic detail!

Jaka Sembung himself, played superbly by Barry Prima, has to be one of the main draws for this movie. He doesn’t look, act or fit into the ideal mold that has been created for martial arts action stars, but regardless he gets the job done. With gusto. Sembung is established as a pretty tough fellow early on in the movie, mostly due to his defeating the seemingly invulnerable and magically gifted character Kobar. The entire sequence seems very episodic, as does the entire movie in many regards, but this segment in particular works as a nice form of introduction for our leading man. The character of Kobar introduces us to the world of magic that this film seems to take place in, and with Kobar we see Jaka take on a character that closely resembles a comic book super-villain. He’s a bit like General Zod from Superman 2 insofar as he features impossible power levels and is absurdly charismatic, but from a looks perspective he instead more closely resembles a Asian version of Sid Haig. All of this doesn’t ultimately come as a surprise once you discover that this story was actually based upon an Indonesian comic book. Getting back to Kobar though, he really is a fantastic villain overall and the audience has to be left wishing he would have stuck around for the duration of the movie. There’s a brilliant sequence early on where Kobar demonstrates his skill by wrestling with a live bull, and he actually ends up breaking its neck with his bare hands. The entire bit is very reminiscent, and potentially inspired by, well known karate bullfighter Masutatsu Oyama who was a legitimate martial artist who promoted himself through some very controversial methods. There’s a very similar video of Oyama fighting a bull with his bare hands, and just like in The Warrior Oyama’s video features a great deal of heavy editing. Whether Oyama really was capable of killing a bull with one strike or not, I don’t remember ever reading about him spitting projectile streams of fire or throwing grown men fifty feet into the air, two feats easily accomplished by Kobar.

I’m sure there are few within Indonesia who would want a film such as The Warrior to fully represent their culture, but this is a movie that provides a brief glance into the history and customs of this nation. The first thing that grabs my attention about The Warrior, in terms of what differentiates it from other exploitation films of this era, is the heavy role of religion within this story. Islam came to the islands of Indonesia between the 8th and 13th century, and is the dominant religion even now, so it only seems natural that this would heavily play into any tale of social justices. The character of Jaka Sembung is shown to be heavily religious and uses this as a rallying cry against the Dutch. The Dutch colonized Indonesia during the 17th century and although a date isn’t properly given within this movie, it seems a fair guess that the film takes place in the late 19th century or early 20th century. The Dutch, who I don’t remember having ever seen cast as villains before, are played as barbarians here who care nothing for the ways and culture of the Indonesian people. As gloriously over the top as their portrayal is though, and considering the fact that the Dutch invaders are played by Asians wearing blonde wigs and beards, I highly doubt anyone from the Netherlands will find offense in this movie. It’s hard to take anything serious after you’ve seen a blind man transformed into a pig!

I have no doubt that there were honest intentions of raising the spirits of the Indonesian people with this film, but through the eyes of a foreigner I see only the glorious spectacle of the drama. The special effects work here are deliciously cheesy. They are never cleverly hidden, and that is part of the movie’s charm. It’s a classic case of filmmakers working within their budgetary restraints without a great deal of on-set experience. Still, they do their best and even though it is very obvious that the headless corpse walking around is just a guy with an added pair of shoulder-pads over his head, you have to commend them for the attempt and the balls that it takes to run with these ideas. It takes a very different sort of gumption to have your leading man tortured and brutalized in the way that Jaka Sembung is, and then to have him turned into a pig within a primarily Muslim country, you can’t beat this sort of craziness!


The Conclusion
There are definitely weak aspects of The Warrior. The episodic nature of the plot tends to slow things down and really disrupts the momentum of the film. The fight choreography, which I actually expected to be one of the “good” aspects of the movie, is rather dry and slow for the most part. The fights here better resemble the bar room brawls that one finds in classic westerns than any form of martial arts display. Still, for the few kinks and bugs within the system, The Warrior delivers movie magic that can not be found anywhere else. I give the movie a solid four out of five, definitely give this one a shot if you can.




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