WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX?
Color, 2010, 70 mins. 50 secs.
Directed by Nabawana IGG
Starring Kakule William, Sseruyna Ernest, Bukenya Charlse, Nakyambadde Prossy
Color, 2016, 72 mins. 15 secs.
Directed by Nabawana IGG
Starring Nalwanga Gloria, Alan Hofmanis, Bisaso Dauda
American Genre Film Archive (Blu-ray) (US R0 HD)
The history of zero-budget DIY filmmaking is filled with all kinds of outrageous wonders to behold, and one of the most unexpected sensations in the past decade is the sudden explosion of Wakaliwood, a Uganda-based homegrown studio started by filmmaker Nabawana IGG (a.k.a. Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabawana). His love of action films led to the creation of extremely low-budget labors of love with local village talent that ended up being sold on DVD to their neighbors, never intended to make it out of the area for wider distribution. However, one of the company’s earliest films, 2010’s Who Killed Captain Alex?, became a major YouTube sensation when its trailer (featuring hyperactive “Action! Action!” voiceover by frequent narrator VJ Emmie, "Uganda's Best Narrator") started racking up views in the millions.
Actually seeing the entire Who Killed Captain Alex? feature proved to be a lot more difficult for most viewers, but Wakaliwood started posting its entire features about five years later along with lots of other bonus content to rev up audience interest. Further proving that home video is a gift that will never stop giving, it even made the move to Blu-ray in 2019 from the perverse imps at the American Genre Film Archive in a “Wakaliwood Supa Action Vol. 1” double feature with the later, somewhat slicker 2016 action film, Bad Black, with a load of bonus features that turn the whole thing into a head-spinning crash course in Ugandana action movie insanity.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around an ongoing conflict between the dedicated Uganda People’s Defence Force and the ruthless crime out, the Tiger Mafia, run by violent mastermind Richard (Ernest). High on Richard’s hit list is one of the UPDF’s top men, Captain Alex (William), who proves resistant to multiple takedown attempts including an undercover seductress. In what can’t even be remotely termed a spoiler, Captain Alex does indeed turn up dead so his brother, martial arts maestro Bruce U (Charles), shows up to get to the bottom of the murder and kick some butt in the process.
Then there’s Bad Black, “a supa true story” shot over a five-year period and an experience almost entirely resistant to any kind of linear synopsis. Interestingly, Long Island native Alan Hofmanis became aware of the Wakaliwood movement early on and visited to help the films get more exposure, only to be recruited for a role in this film himself. The story (which is related entirely by our reliable VJ this time) starts off with a prologue about a "good man" named "Swaaz" (which means "Schwarzenegger" in Ugandan) who's distraught over his sick hospitalized wife for reasons we find out in flashback(?) and a ten-year time jump. Crime breaks out all over the city, random shout outs to Captain Alex pop up, guns get waved everywhere, motorcycles and lots of Subarus chase up and down roads, neglected street kids (including one named Wesley Snipes), and benevolent American Dr. Ssali (Hofmanis, "America's Van Damme") who's come from New York and doing free clinic work. Then there's the title character (Gloria), a grown-up slum kid who lures him into the criminal underworld. Even more random than the previous film, this one starts off with a barrage of bloody action violence before swerving all over the place including an unforgettable martial arts training montage with the good doctor and li'l Wesley Snipes.
Watching this Blu-ray requires to viewer to "be gentle," as the packaging advises, since the master files for Captain Alex have been long deleted and an old SD master is all that currently exists. It's far better than the streaming version out there but still a case of taking it for what it is; in a nice touch, you can watch the film with or without the raucous, frequently insane VJ commentary (which is in English), though the straight version in Ugandan is a bit more sedate by comparison. Subtitles for the VJ version are offered in English, Croatian, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Russian, Spanish or, uh, Klingon, while the "no VJ" version has subtitles in English, Croatian, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, or Russian. The film also features "Uganda's first director's commentary," recorded in 2013, in which he's joined by Hofmanis in a "pigsty-turned-rehearsal studio at 4 AM, the only time the village had electricity." Even with the logistical issues, it's actually a great track as they chat about the location scouting, costume creations, the helicopter that keeps popping up in multiple films, local attitudes about action films ("Schwarzenegger!"), the very creative choses for some of the props, and the overall enthusiasm in the area that invigorated the film. The track also runs a couple of minutes longer than the final version of the feature, so don't be alarmed when it keeps on going longer. Also included the "Da Super Special Features" for the film are a "Wakaliwood Kickstarter 2015" pitch (7m36s), a Q&A from the same year's Fantasia Film Festival screening (19m44s) conducted in Montreal via Skype with the cast and crew back home, a batch of brief welcome videos for various screenings (Philamoca in Philadelphia, Fantasia, Invasion USA, Proctors in Schenectady, and Third Man in Nashville), a mountain of very short and often wildly entertaining lo-fi fan videos (Who Killed Captain Alex Animated, Tebaatusasula Reloaded, Commando vs. Tiger Mafia, Captain Alex Da Sequel, Paris vs. Wakaliwood, Return of Uncle Nerfman, We Love Wakaliwood, Battlefield One Reveal Trailer, Captain Alex Da Turkish Rambo, Captain Alex Anime, Avengers vs. Tebaatusasula, Put Your Hands in Da Hair, Cool Cat Saves Wakaliwood, Lets Watch Captain Alex, Captain Alex vs. MLG, Captain Alex vs. MLG Da Sequel, Wakaliwood on House of Fools, and Captain Alex vs. Japan). A word of warning: don't try drinking any liquids while you're watching these, especially when it involves suburban kids reenacting the film to its original soundtrack. Then there's a batch of trailers and commercials (the classic original trailer, Ugandan Film Centre, Qadafi Kapati TV commercial, Black, the lost sequel Tebaatasusul, Bukunja Tekunja Mitti the Cannibals, Rescue Team and Return of Uncle Benon. Then there's a selection of miscellaneous promotional videos under the umbrella "Wakaliwood Around the World (Part 1)" consisting of "First Time on TV March 2013," Vice TV's "New Wave of Ugandan Action Cinema," "IHE Search for the Worst," "CCTV Africa" from October 2014, Sahara TV Africa, In the Field Ugandan TV, Weltspiegel from October 2015, and NTV Uganda. Prepare to hear a voice yelling "Jesus Kung Fu!" a lot when you're done.
Featuring a better transfer by virtue of more carefully preserved source material (albeit still SD and featuring an odd mix of 1.33:1 and brief bits of squeezed 1.78:1 footage), Bad Black comes with its own massive set of separate supplements including an audio commentary that's far more scattered as it covers the real found locations, the very long production process, and the even lower budget - sixty dollars! Again subtitles are provided, this time in English, Croatian, Danish, Finnish, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Russian< Spanish, and Swahili. Hofmanis provides narration for a batch of raw production footage (26m41s) providing a fascinating look at how the film was made with frequently fascinated onlookers checking out the action scenes. Then it's time for another Fantasia Skype Q&A (25m21s) from a 2017 screening, another big helping of welcome videos (Fantastic Fest in Austin, Fantasia, Brussels Film Festival, Bucheonfilm Festival, Supa World Tour, Amsterdam, Slovenia vs. Slovakia, Estonia, Seattle, Orlando, Australia, Mumbai, Paris, Nashville, San Sebastian, New Jersey, Vienna, Kazakhstan, Hollywood, and Wisconsin). Then you get some pretty wild "music videos" including "Official Tourism Video of Uganda," "Thank You Grandma from Who Killed Captain Alex," "Buddha Fire" by Nakos Riddem Masta, "King Kong Loves Da Blonde" by Go Go Gorillo (break this one out at your next party and watch the mayhem ensue), "Time" by The Shy Lips, "Nocturno" by Cuchillo de Fuego, and "Bruce U" by Maniacs in Da Mailbox. After that it's time for more trailers and clips ("A Nice Audience in Texas," the Black and Captain Alex ones again, Ugandan Expendables Operation Kakongoliro, Demon Village (which looks amazing!), Revenge Ugandan Ghost Story 1 and 2, Eaten Alive in Uganda, and Kasumaali Robot Test Footage. Finally a second section of "Wakaliwood Around Da World" rounds out with "Ugandan Expendables on Live TV," "Bad Black vs. MLB," "Ebola Hunter Is Cooming," "Madrid vs. Ebola," "Wakaliwood on Arte Creative," "Action Filme Aus-Dem-Slum Wakaliga Zoomin TV" (say that one five times fast), "After Bollywood Ugandra Brings Wakaliwood," "City Magazine Africa," "Welcome to Wakaliwood" from CNN International in October 2018, "Wakaliwood Meets Fangoria," and "Birthday Message for a Supa Fan." If any disc ever gave you your money's worth, this would be it.
Reviewed on June 20, 2019.