If you were a fan of martial arts movies at that time, at some point you would have come across an Indonesian actor named Barry Prima who headlined a series of martial arts movies often featuring supernatural elements, the most famous of which was The Warrior.
The Man from Hong Kong Big Mike Leeder, a self-proclaimed video kid of the 80’s, turns back the clock and takes a look at
( Jaka Sembung )
It is the 19th Century and Indonesia is in turmoil, the people are suffering, oppressed by the Colonial Dutch Government who rule the country with a corrupt iron fist. But hope remains in the form of one man, a rebel leader known as Jaka Sembung, also known as Parmin/The Warrior. His rebel forces and near legendary fighting ability inspires the people to stay proud of their heritage and rise up against their oppressors.
Van Schram, the Dutch representative in Java offers a reward for the death of Sembungand a hulking fighter named Kobar is despatched to go after him. But one short fight later, kobar is dead and Van Schram turns to an evil sorcerer Ki-iten (W.D.Mochtar) for his unholy help to take down Sembung. The sorcerer uses his supernatural powers to resurrect another of Sembung’s enemies, and he is overpowered and soon imprisoned and tortured by Van Schram. But he is set free by Van Schramm’s daughter who has fallen for Sembung, he escapes and with the help of a kindly magician, he learns a few new tricks of his own, which enable him to stand up for the sake of his people once again.
Jaka Sembung began life as a popular comic book by Djair, featuring the Robin Hood styled hero battling against evil Dutch colonialists, sorcerors and various monsters and demons. Writer/Director Sisworo Guatama adapted the project to the big screen with the backing of Rapi Films in 1981, and made a household name across Indonesia of young Barry Prima.
Born in Bandung, Indonesia to a Dutch father and Indonesian mother in 1955, Barry Prima (born Hubertus Knoch) was the eldest of four children. After studying a variety of martial arts with a preference for tae-kwondo, Prima came to the attention of legendary Indonesian producer Gope T. Samtani who offered him a strong supporting role in the cannibal movie Primitiff/Primative. The film was a hit and launched Prima’s career.
It was Prima's role as Jaka Sembung or The Warrior, as the film was retitled for it's international release, that really made his career, resulting in Prima becoming one of the biggest stars in Indonesia with a cult following around the world.
Prima made several more movies featuring The Warrior character and various other martial arts and action movies including The Terrorists, The Demon Sword and more.
Prima stepped back from the spotlight in the 1990’s and became something of a recluse, giving few interviews and when he does, he often appears a little embarrassed by the films he’s made and more than a little contradictory, claiming he never wanted to be an actor and has never made a good movie, while in the same interview commenting on enjoying making films and working with good people. After several years away, Prima made a surprise return to the big screen with a cameo appearance in drag in the movie Realita Cinta Rock’n Roll.
The Warrior, is an at times outrageous action adventure, starting off in the relatively real world before various Indonesian myths and supernatural elements such as sorcery and black magic are brought into play.
The film also features some very patriotic elements, which definitely appealed to Indonesia’s population (much as Ip Man played upon China’s patriotic spirit and its feelings of the Japanese occupation) with regards to it's colonial history.
The film features plenty of martial arts action, not always with the most stylized or appropriate choreography, but it does showcase Prima’s physicality and some nice reactions and stunt work from the Indonesian stunt team. There are also plenty of supernatural moments with characters being levitated, thrown around or in certain cases dismembered and still being able to fight back, sometimes using their disembodied limbs as weapons.
There’s also some pretty extreme moments of brutality such as the torture scene where Prima’s character is given a hefty beating and blinded.
As already mentioned Prima really gets to strut his stuff here and makes an appealing hero. There’s definitely something about him that makes you want to see him go through the hard times, just so he can come back and kick some ass in the name of righteousness! Prima is given solid support from a cast which includes Eva Arnez who plays his love interest (and went on to become Prima’s wife in real life), Dicky Zulkarnean who plays the corrupt Van Schram and W.D. Mochtar who makes a very memorable villain.
The Warrior makes for an entertaining late night viewing, it has a righteous hero fighting for what’s right, corrupt government officials, evil sorcerors, and mindless thugs and come on any film that can feature someone having their leg chopped off, only for it to fly 100 yards and kick someone in the face before reattaching itself, gets my thumbs up.
Track down and old VHS or ideally the Mondo Macabre DVD release, turn down the lights, crank up the volume, crack open a tasty beverage in the company of some good friends and enjoy a classic slice of 80’s Indonesian action cinema.
The Warrior was a major success on video throughout the world during the 1980’s, and Mondo Macabre gave the film its first official DVD release anywhere in the world a few years back. The remastered print is presented in anamorphic widescreen, with the addition of the film’s original trailer and interviews with the film’s producer and scriptwriter, as well as a documentary on Indonesian fantasy, action and horror movies. The film can be ordered from www.mondomacabrodvd.com
On the Mondo Macabre DVD release of another Barry Prima fantasy action adventure The Devils Sword, one of the special features is a segment entitled An Encounter with Barry Prima, which sees Prima giving a rare on camera interview. Prima seems reluctant to answer the questions put to him, and bemused that anyone outside of Indonesia may have seen or been a fan of his work. It’s an interesting featurette which leaves you wondering if Prima is playing with increasingly frustrated interviewer, or if the interview will end suddenly with Prima running for the hills, or perhaps dispatching some The Warrior styled justice to the man for asking too many questions.
The film spawned several sequels including Jaka Sembung Vs Si Buta/The Warrior Vs The Blind Swordsman, Baijing Ireng vs Jaka Sembung/The Warrior Vs the Ninja, Jaka Sembung and Dewi Samudra, and Jaka Sembung vs Bergola Ljo.