Starring August Melasz, Yenny Rachman, Boy Shahlani, Djauhari Effendi, Godfried Sancho, Bambang Hermanto
Directed by Frans Totok Ars
Expectations: Low, but hopeful.
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
While I was working my way through the Superman films, I was inadvertently exposed to this largely unknown, low-budget Indonesian film called Rama Superman Indonesia. It all happened when I visited this post on Ruth’s blog Flixchatter, where she relates her love of the Man of Steel and shares that her father produced and wrote a superhero film in the ’70s… Rama Superman Indonesia. The whole thing is on YouTube, so since I just did all those Superman movies, I figured now was a better time than later and dove head first into my first low-budget offering from Indonesia.
I did so without the aid of subtitles, but thankfully, subtitles were mostly unnecessary. Rama Superman Indonesia features a simple story easily told through its visuals. Our film begins with Andi — who reminded me a lot of Sammo Hung — selling newspapers on the street. He is established as a kind soul, helping hungry children and defending bullied kids by punching their attackers into the river. His random acts of kindness pay off later that day when he finds a dying old man laying beside a bush. Andi buys him some food and drink, assisting the old man the best he can. The old man rewards the boy with a golden butterfly pendant and then disappears into thin air.
And when Andi kisses this magical, golden pendant he becomes Rama Superman Indonesia! He can fly, he can jump, he can kick ass with big, on-screen pows like the ’60s Batman TV show! Rama might not be Superman himself, but he definitely gets the job done. Good thing, too, because Andi’s just met Lia, a beautiful girl whose family is in need of some help. Lia’s father has developed a new kind of amazing explosive and the hooded villain Black Dragon is out to steal it away from him. Rama to the rescue! Big thanks to the Indonesian Wikipedia and Google Translate, without which this plot synopsis would be woefully uninformed.
What I always find interesting about these low-budget, foreign superhero films is where they go beyond the “normal” realm of Western film. You’d never catch a random vagrant taunting an elephant statue with a machete in a traditional Superman film, nor would he then cartwheel off-screen and try to steal Lia’s car. But in Rama Superman Indonesia this does happen, and it’s for moments like these that I wait for. This one features quite a few good ones too, which more than make up for any boredom that sets in during the talking sequences that I couldn’t understand. Little things like Lia’s dad’s friend looking strikingly similar to Jonathan Winters also help make the film’s swift 69 minutes fly by.
Like Lois Lane, Lia falls immediately for the strength and power that Rama represents. She’s not aware in the slightest that her young friend Andi is Rama; that’s one thing Rama has over Superman, his alter ego looks nothing like his superhero self. Anyway, she falls hard for Rama, even going so far as to sing a song in the park about him. This gives us a wonderful scene where Rama rides up to Lia on a white horse and takes her for a ride. Later they run arm-in-arm down the park path and arm wrestle in the grass. Y’know, the usual movie musical stuff.
Which reminds me: the music is this movie is pretty bumpin’. As long as you like raw ’70s funk with a good amount of thick organ grooves, that is. According to the credits the music was done by a group called The Disc, but good luck finding any discs or info about them. One of my side interests is ’70s funk from around the world, so I was pleasantly surprised to get a smooth organ slow jam to accompany a butterfly hunt in the park, and an especially thick groove during one of the many kidnap/attack sequences. I made an mp3 of this song in particular, both for my own purposes and for the review. Bump it below.
The Black Dragon’s lair feels like something out of a Santo film, with all kinds of electronics in the science lab office and the villain doing business behind a green, felt-topped desk in the brick-lined basement office. There’s also a midget on a lifeguard chair (the one’s so tall you need a ladder to get into the seat) in the corner and a few carefully placed traps to zap or drop any underperforming henchman to his doom. The villains also have style out of the lair, too, rolling around in the latest station wagons and an especially nice El Camino-style vehicle. Some supervillains have fancy rides, and others can fly, but the Black Dragon clan prefers to blend in with the crowd.
Being an Indonesian film, there’s also a martial arts component to the film. Virtually every encounter between good and evil is settled with punches and kicks. None of the movements or choreography is very good, but it is enjoyable in a low-budget way. My favorite of the fights was when a group of three henchmen roll up in a station wagon and Rama picks up the car. He throws it about five or six feet away and then readies his karate fists (or would they be silat fists?) to thwart these evildoers. Again, none of the fighting is especially good, but I never expected it to be.
But by far the moment that surprised me, delighted me and sent me into uncontrollable fits of laughter came when Rama was fighting his way through the Black Dragon lair. He comes around the corner after a nasty brawl with a group of henchmen and what does he find? A tiger? Another group of henchmen? Henchmen riding tigers? Nope. He finds a ROBOT. A ROBOT! A robot which does nothing much but raise his arms while Rama runs around him trying to break through his impervious metal armor. But then Rama figures it out! He’ll bend him backwards a bit until his legs snap! Oh yeah, I always forget that weakness that robots have!
Watching these low-budget superhero films is always a crap shoot, but I’m happy to report that Rama Superman Indonesia was a lot of fun. It features a good amount of light heroics and imagination, and its slim runtime and easy-to-understand story make it a brisk watch. It’s available in its entirety on YouTube and that’s probably the only way Westerners will ever be able to see it, so check it out!
Start your Rama party here!