Color, 1973, 86m.
Directed by Sisworo Gautama Putra / Starring Barry Prima, Eva Arnaz, W.D. Mochtar, Dana Christina
Mondo Macabro (US R0 NTSC) / WS (2.35:1 (16:9)
Perhaps the most representative example of Indonesian exploitation, 1981's The Warrior made an instant local star out of Barry Prima (birth name: Bertus Knoch), a martial arts devotee who went on to star in a slew of action, fantasy and horror films, including two sequels to this film as well as the staggering The Devil's Sword. Here he teams up with his one-time wife, Eva Arnaz (right after the still underseen wacko gem, Special Silencers), for a rousing adaptation of an Indonesian comic about Jaka Sembung, a freedom fighter living in 19th century Indonesia under Dutch colonial oppression. We first see our hero in a dirty labor camp where he leads his fellow prisoners in a small-scale uprising. Their keepers don't take kindly to this disobedience and quickly audition thugs to take out Jaka. The chosen one, big bald brute Kobar (played by Satan's Slave's S. Parya), tracks down his prey for a showdown in the middle of a field but proves to be no match, leaving the Dutch baddies to call on an undead, rabbit-toothed black magician (Mystics in Bali's Mochtar) to trap this troublesome pest. (The scene in which the magician is revived by hand-controlled bottle rockets which blow his coffin out of the ground is unlike anything else you've ever seen.) Soon Jaka's fallen into the clutches of his enemies and chained to a wall with his eyes gouged out, but even that can't stop our hero from staging a truly unique comeback with the aid of another wizard and lots of hard, fast-flying kicks and punches to his enemies' heads.
Loaded with absurd violence, bizarre plot twists, and frequent detours into the supernatural, The Warrior manages to somehow filter the more extreme elements of its horrific predecessors into an audience-friendly stew that made it an international favorite both in theaters and on home video. Prima's limited thespian skills are put to good use here as the stoic lead, while the villains all get to chew up the scenery with wild abandon.
The Warrior is also significant in cult film history as the one that really solidified the standing of Rapi Films, one of Indonesia's steadiest drive-in purveyors, who recently staged a comeback with a string of new horror titles (more on that below). Some of the martial arts scenes appear to be influenced by earlier hits from companies like Shaw Brothers, but no other country could have come up with such sequences as the diabolical wizard being hacked to pieces and reattaching his limbs in one very memorable showdown. Prima is fairly inexpressive (except when he's getting his eyes popped out), paving the way for a subsequent decade of emotionless tough guys like Chuck Norris. Relentlessly entertaining, The Warrior is pure, mind-damaging junk food par excellence.
Fans of past Mondo Macabro Indonesian releases should have some familiarity with this title already thanks to the presence of its trailer (and those of its two official sequels, The Warrior and the Blind Swordsman and The Warrior and the Ninja) on their indispensable Virgins from Hell release, not to mention an interview with the cantankerous Prima on The Devil's Sword. Needless to say, they've really gone the extra mile here with a top-quality presentation. Ignore the opening disclaimer about imperfect source elements; the transfer looks spectacular with gloriously saturated colors and mint quality clarity. Some fleeting discoloration pops up in a few frames here and there, but it's so quick and minor you'd have to be a real grouch to be bothered. The English-dubbed track (the original audio prepared for the film) is magnificent goofiness as usual, in this case rendered even more surreal by the fact that all the Dutch and Indonesian characters look and speak exactly the same. Hmmm.
The biggest extras here are two new video interviews, the first with writer Iman Tantowi, who talks about the various actors who brought his work to life, his intentions by bringing the classic Jaka Sembung character to the big screen, and of course, his brain-melting screenplay for The Queen of Black Magic. Then Gope Samtani, the producer who pretty much established the Rapi Films legacy, talks for 11 minutes about his formula for commercial success, his move to more Westerized product, and the market demands which led Indonesian filmmakers to swerve over to TV work. The company's recent return to the big screen is also represented here by three trailers for the recent Ghost Train, 40 Days - The Rise of Evil, and Ghost with Hole, all of which look atmospheric if a bit on the bland side. On top of that you get the usual extensive bios for Prima and Arnaz as well as an updated version of the lively Mondo Macabro promo reel, which contains "images of sex, violence and midget assassins."