Indonesia, 2019, 123’, Indonesian, Javanese
Directed by: Joko Anwar
Script: Joko Anwar, based on the comic books by Harya “Hasmi” Suraminata
Photography (color): Ical Tanjung
Editing: Dinda Amanda
Production Design: Wencislaus de Rozari
Music: Bembi Gusti, Tony Merle, Aghi Narottama
Producers: Sukhdev Singh, Wicky V. Olindo, Bismarka Kurniawan.
Cast: Abimana Aryasatya (Sancaka/Gundala), Tara Basro (Wulan/Merpati), Bront Palarae (Pengkor), Ario Bayu (Ghani Zulham), Lukman Sardi (Ridwan Bahri), Muzakki Ramdhan (Young Sancaka), Rio Dewanto (Sancaka’s Father), Marissa Anita (Sancaka’s Mother)
Date of First Release in Territory: August 29th, 2019
Premiere status: Italian Premiere
After the huge success of Satan’s Slaves (2017), the most successful Indonesian horror film in recent years, Joko Anwar has raised the bar of ambition with his long-awaited Gundala. After revitalizing the horror genre with a remake of a classic from the 1980s, Anwar decided to revamp the glories of superhero cinema, bringing back to the big screen a local comic book hero who had already starred in a 1981 film (Gundala Putra Petir).
Gundala opens with a workers’ demonstration march that the young son of one of the protest leaders follows from afar. We are in an Indonesia that could be the recent past, an alternative present or the near future, where corruption is rife and the rights of the weakest are being crushed by riot-wearing security forces. This is a preamble to the story of little Sancaka, who, precisely because of these inequalities and social unrest, will end up losing his parents and having to grow up on the streets. Having become an adult, overcoming his fear of lightning, he receives the superpowers that allow him to tackle the corruption and violence that has always affected his existence and that of the poor people around him. But in particular, by becoming Gundala, he will have to thwart the dark plans of the cruel Pengkor, also marked by a traumatic childhood and leading an army of orphans ready to kill for him.
Gundala is not the classic superhero movie. By bringing to the big screen the first hero of the Bumilangit universe – the Indonesian equivalent of Marvel or DC – Joko Anwar launches into a complex and risky operation. Because Gundala, in fact, aims at epic standing, and to do so the director needs to build a world and a complex narrative around his character. Sancaka becomes a superhero, thanks to the lightning that strikes him. But he becomes one mainly because of his experience, because of the world he grows up in. Proceeding in a way that is curiously close to Joker, Joko Anwar is more interested in the genealogy – even psychological and sociological – of his superhero than only in his heroic deeds. In doing so, from the territory of the fantastical he launches an acute criticism of his country’s present, taking aim at corruption and inequality. And at the end of the day, he also says that it is not enough to overcome ones enemies via direct confrontation, but that it is necessary to be guided by moral righteousness.
A high goal, but the rules of entertainment do not go unobserved. Because Gundala is also a show of fine craftsmanship, aided by a technical and artistic apparatus of undeniable quality, from the direction of photography to costumes and sets, to special effects and, above all, the choreography of melee combat infused with silat, the Indonesian martial art. And particular merit should also be given to the excellent direction of the actors: Abimana Aryasatya’s excellent performance stands out. First noted in Shackled (Belenggu, 2012) by Upi Avianto (seen at FEFF 2013), Aryasatya gives unusual intensity and depth to the trauma of the hero Sancaka. This bodes well for the possible continuation of the saga of Gundala and the Bumilangit universe: not only action and escapism, but a much needed parallel with the socio-political situation of contemporary Indonesia.
The box office outcome of this first chapter still has to be analysed. With a million viewers to its credit, it was not a fiasco, but it didn’t even break the wall of sound, and Anwar’s subsequent horror film, Impetigore, released in Indonesia a month later easily outshone it. Hopefully the presentation at the FEFF and subsequent global market releases will build a cult following that will allow Gundala to “thunder on” again.
Joko Anwar is one of the most acclaimed contemporary Indonesian directors. Selected several times at the FEFF, he made his feature film debut in 2005 with Joni’s Promise and in 2017 he was behind the biggest Indonesian horror hit of recent years, Satan’s Slaves. In 2019 he completed two successful feature films, Gundala and Impetigore.
2005 – Joni’s Promise
2007 – Kala
2009 – The Forbidden Door
2012 – Modus Anomali
2015 – A Copy of My Mind
2017 – Satan’s Slaves
2019 – Gundala
2019 – Impetigore