SINGAPORE — Indonesian filmmaker Edwin grew up watching and loving B-grade films, homegrown films filled with manly men fighting their way to justice.
So when he set about adapting novelist Eka Kurniawan’s 2014 book Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, his cynical humor and nods to 1980s pulp cinema really appealed to him. .
“He and I grew up in the same era – the 1980s,” says Edwin, who goes by only one name, while speaking to the Straits Times by phone from his home base in Jakarta.
“We have these experiences in common – Eka and I liked the same comics, and the action and horror films that existed then. They were popular, but also silly,” explains the 43-year-old.
This nonsense, now translated into a film with the same title as the novel, is now broadcast on the Projector. At the 2021 Locarno Film Festival, the action comedy won the top prize for the Golden Leopard.
The story begins with Ajo, played by Marthino Lio. Living in a rural part of the country in the 1980s, a time dominated by military-linked oligarchs, Ajo has little to do but fight and participate in dangerous motorcycle races. .
The troublemaker becomes something of a vigilante, but on a revenge mission against a local tyrant, he must battle a fearsome bodyguard, Iteung, played by Ladya Cheryl. They impress each other with their fighting skills and soon fall in love.
Ajo, who once threw himself into fights with suicidal zeal, now has a reason to live, but can’t bring himself to tell him his humiliating secret: he’s powerless.
In the film, Ajo’s shame over his condition drives his journey. Other male characters are also driven by their need to maintain a masculine image. This results in a cycle of absurd violence, with the men seeking to settle scores even though so much time has passed that no one can fully remember the original feud.
“At the time, these men couldn’t express themselves. They couldn’t show sensitivity. What they can show is their desire to punish, to kill. That’s what happens in a macho culture, not just in Indonesia, but everywhere,” says Edwin. . “It still happens today. We pass it down from generation to generation.”
Ajo, combative and destructive, may not be a likeable hero, but he is not the villain of the story. In some places, soldiers appear. Citizens live in fear of these men and speak in low voices of the power they wield over life and death.
During the 1980s, the purges of the 1960s were still fresh in the minds of Indonesians.