For a behind the scenes insight into Ramon Film Productions, the film studio behind Bad Black, and the lives of those who have made it what it is today, don’t forget to check out Bad Movie – Bad Review’s interview with Wakaliwood’s very own Alan Hofmanis.
The super-low budget Ugandan action film studio known as Wakaliwood, and its eccentric captain, Isaac Godfrey Geoffrey Nabwana, surely require no introduction to anyone with even a passing interest in Kung Fu-themed Ugandan action indie movies. Ok, that might be slightly niche, but it’s still likely you are all too aware of the hilarious, odds-defying, action extravaganza Who Killed Captain Alex, the first film created by Isaac’s officially titled ‘Ramon Film Productions’ to be released to the west on YouTube.
No, you’re definitely not going to forget this film in a hurry
But while the film itself became a widely loved internet sensation, many were unaware of just how prolific a studio RFP really was, and that yes, they really do herald from an actual slum in Uganda, yet have embarked on an astonishing journey from literal abject poverty to becoming a highly acclaimed, worldwide film making phenomenon.
But irrespective of the various challenges presented to them, and keen to explore the action film genre through a uniquely Ugandan lens, Isaac and his plucky team of craftsmen, actors, and stuntmen each learned their craft from the ground up, and with a creative passion all too obvious within the 40+ films they have thus far created.
As such, the parallels to the heady days of early cinema can easily be seen within Isaac’s work, where the rules of how to make a motion picture had yet to be thoroughly defined, and so themselves could include pretty much whatever could not be contained within the imagination of an impassioned film-maker. Picture early silent movies but with ear-bleeding volume and two-dimensional attack helicopters, and you’ll have an idea of the creative enthusiasm that forms the cornerstone of Wakaliwoids’s stock in trade.
So we now have the very latest western release from Ramon Film Productions, the long awaited Bad Black, a tale (based loosely on real events) that follows the exploits of the titular female gang leader whose past she must reconcile if she is to survive on the harsh streets of Kampala. But of course, this being a product of Wakaliwood, the same people who made this…
…Bad Black also happens to be fucking bonkers.
There can be no better way of properly emphasising just how bonkers and just how awesome this film truly is than by describing to you some of the mental that wastes no time assaulting your senses during the opening act of Bad Black. So sit back with a few tissues for the inevitable nose bleeds and enjoy…
The First 10 Minutes
The pre-release version of Bad Black I was fortunate enough to be watching opened with the Wakali crew blowing the shit right up out of the Alamo Draft house in Austin Texas (part of a tailor-made intro for a screening that took place there) in a manner in which, had it happened for real, I think would have caused even the owners and employees to fist-pump hard enough to threaten low-flying aircraft.
But as awesome an introduction to the next 70 minutes of laughter, astonishment, and cheering with absolute glee as this was, it did precisely fuck all to prepare me for the explosion of sound, colour, cows, and actual explosions, that was Bad Black.
After an additional brief intro showing a tiny glimpse of behind the scenes shenanigans, the movie began proper with a fade to black, and then…the unmistakable dulcet tones of one Mr VJ Emmie. Ohhhh, VJ Emmie.
This man could narrate a fatal school bus accident and it would still be hilarious
Please allow me a slight detour to properly set the tone for why I found myself cheering like a hyperactive sports fan at what was almost two in the morning. One of the uniquely Ugandan pastimes within the poorer sections of Ugandan society is the practice of visiting large halls (locally known as ‘Video Halls’) to watch films and generally enjoy themselves. Fair enough. These shenanigans, however, are invariably accompanied by someone called a ‘Video Joker’ or ‘VJ’, who narrates and generally tears a new asshole of the film that is being watched. It’s an unequivocally Ugandan way for people to cut loose and have fun, all the while enjoying the latest movies in a far more communal fashion than most societies would be fortunate enough to experience.
In an attempt to capture the hilarity of having essentially a stand up comic narrate and translate Jason Statham movies to everyone, the films released by Wakaliwood invariably include the presence of their own sideways narrator, one Mr VJ Emmie (pictured with the mic in the image above), quite possibly the funniest man to ever walk this earth.
Seriously, his addition to ANY movie would be immeasurable
As the film continues, Emmie describes a busy Kampalan scene, as we see a man and a small boy making their way through the throng. The man’s clothes appear to already be covered in blood, but given this character’s rather specific story arc over the first half of the first act, I doubt highly that this man owns anything at all that isn’t thoroughly drenched in the splatter of his enemies.
The man enters what appears to be some kind of bookmakers or bureau de change, as Emmie introduces him to the story…
“This is Swaaz…” VJ informs us.
“Swaaz means Schwarzenegger…in Uganda.”
…and I have to pause for the second time in 2 minutes and 47 seconds because I’m laughing so loudly that I can’t hear anything in the film. Eventually I compose myself, but I needn’t have bothered, given the eruption of violence that then spends the next 8 minutes waking up my neighbours.
Complaints about noise aren’t valid if you can’t hear them
VJ did helpfully mention that this film features the Ugandan version of Arnie, which is certainly an interesting comparison…
…but I like to judge a man by his actions, and by holy Jesus does this man give plenty of action to judge. Specifically, shit goes down (as shit is wont to do) and our hero Swaaz…responds accordingly. Although to be more accurate, he straight-up murders the occupants of a travel money bureau before going on a glorious rampage of gunfire and death. Again, accordingly.
Arnie sure as shit never killed Captain Alex
Despite Swaaz himself being entirely responsible for the shit that does indeed go down, he certainly doesn’t dwell on its ramifications, instead beginning to liberally mass-murder the living Jesus out of what I’m conservatively guessing is 125% of Kampala’s police force.
Make that 5 days of mourning
You could be forgiven for questioning the morality (and tactics in general) of our hero, given how not even five minutes of film has passed through the reels, yet he has committed grade-a, class-1, make-no-mistake-about-it fucking murder. But I absolutely do not care one bit, and I’ll let you in on a secret as to why: There happens to be a tipping point at which the awesomness of the manner in which someone is murdered can, in turn, negate the moral ambiguity that can arise from being a fully practicioning fuck-tarded psychopath.
Case in point: Stabbing an old lady in the forehead and stealing her purse is fairly rough-around-the-edges behaviour in my book. But surfing a predator drone armed with rotary flamethrowers down onto an old lady who then explodes into a fountain of napalm and false teeth, well I’m very sorry to break the news but that shit is not only forgivable, it’s the stuff that chest hair and erections are made of. If you’re already certain that the next of kin will join you in a high-five after the fact, then who really loses?
As such, this is precisely the kind of logic that I applied to Swaaz as he excitedly butchered basically everyone other than himself throughout the first ten minutes of Bad Black. Yes, the only reason to suspect that this man is anything other than a Ugandan Clarence Boddicker is because VJ Emmie thankfully keeps pointing out how he is instead a hero, but Swaaz has clearly has tipped so far over the edge that I can’t help but agree with him.
VJ Emmie does attempt to explain (needlessly as far as I’m concerned) Swaaz’s…enthusiastic…behaviour as being the result of concern for his wife who is apparently dying in hospital. Oh, and also that he is a “good man”, which I’m sure will be echoed during the funeral processions for the dozens of people he has killed, but again I’m unconvinced (given Swaaz and his relationship with the local police department) and perfectly ok with it.
Swaaz, having completely run out of luck (but never bullets) shoots at the overturned car he is standing on, taking incoming fire left and right, until the vehicle explodes into flames that fill the screen as the title of the movie proudly reveals itself. Thankfully I was wearing loosely fitted jeans during proceedings, otherwise my excitement would have been obvious.
Holy shit, frankly.
The Best of the Rest…
Thankfully Bad Black changes pace following the palpitation-inducing opening scenes (my neighbours deserve a rest), as the meat of the film begins with an introduction to our main character of the story Bad Black and her exploits as a former street child. Whilst it certainly introduces elements as tonally polarised to the first ten minutes as it’s possible to be, the slower pace actually brings with it a fascinating and engrossing story. The following are my (relatively spoiler free) pics for best of the rest…
- The Muzungu Commando – As well as the tale of anti-hero gang leader Bad Black, the movie also tells the simultaneously unfolding tale of a hapless American doctor who runs afoul of Black and her gang, and the extraordinary lengths he goes to to retrieve his stolen dog-tags.
Where you or I might accept such as loss as simply bad luck and endeavour to put the whole affair behind you, this intrepid fish out of water happens to be a character in a Wakaliwood film, therefore any quiet, contemplative acceptance of the situation is instead replaced with heavy machine gun-toting chaos and screaming.
Remember, responding to something ‘accordingly’ is Ugandan for loudly murdering absolutely everybody ever
- The Kid – To prepare Dr. Muzungu for his incongruous yet boner-enducing rampage, he teams up with by far my favourite character in the entire film; a tiny, boisterous, hard-as-all-shit 8 year old boy whom, in the wonderfully cliched tradition of many-a coming of age action film that surely formed an inspiration for Isaac and the gang, embarks on a legitimately endearing and entirely hilarious teacher-student training montage. Except this time it’s the 6ft+ tall American being schooled in the ways of the commando by a tiny child who would give even the battle-hardened drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket reason to consider early retirement.
Harsh but fair
- Brilliant editing – No, honestly. Brilliant editing that cleverly uses fast cuts and pacing to help hide what would otherwise be glaring low-budget problems should the edits have lingered too long. It’s one of many examples of elements to this film that highlight the director’s incredible flair for visual storytelling, especially given how he was never trained professionally and instead taught himself everything he knows.
- The Choreography – Whilst Bad Black leans more towards dramatic storytelling when compared to the action-centric Who Killed Captain Alex, that does not mean it is devoid of the signature kung fu that forms such a key element of many of Wakaliwood’s films, and as ever, it’s superb.
Remind me to never antagonise a Ugandan
- Singing kids – It’s a surprisingly touching change of pace from all the nonsense and mayhem, and certainly a window into the directors real-life desire to help the little ones (himself using the proceeds from DVD sales to put local kids through school), but one of the central themes of Bad Black is that of family and belonging, and is principally illustrated through the suffering of destitute Kampalan street children. I frankly did not expect Bad Black to have such an emotionally engaging narrative, but damn if I didn’t actually get behind some of these characters.
- More VJ Emmie – There really is no such thing as too much of this guy. He takes a film that would otherwise already be stuffed to the gills with charm and character and adds a layer of true comedic excellence to proceedings.
VJ Emmie for President
Not the film I expected…
So much of Bad Black not only exceeded my expectations, but damn well excelled in defiance of them. I genuinely didn’t know what to fully expect going into Bad Black but I was wholly unprepared to be so invested in its characters and their journeys.
I must admit I was a little taken aback by the inclusion in Bad Black of a proper story arc set to the suffering of street children in Kampala and the broken people that such a life creates, and it forced from me yet more respect from this team of film-makers for their ability to go far beyond simple action for action’s sake. Yes, the juxtaposition of the initial waves of balls-out over-the-top violence with the sudden introspective window into the suffering of street children was a little jarring at first, but once I realised this film’s true direction I was hooked.
The characters have real weight behind them, the result of the existence of their having not just a purpose within the overarching story, but also in and of themselves. This is especially the case for our titular anti-hero Bad Black herself. Throughout the 80 minutes of runtime we are taken on a journey that tells a very personable story of one individual’s struggle with who they are and where they have come from, and the inevitable internal and external conflicts that arise from living a life absent of the grounding that comes from knowing who you are.
We are encouraged to empathise with her plight, if not her actions, and where many movies of this ilk fall short in bridging the gap between character and audience, Bad Black succeeds precisely because it forms (albeit unexpected) connections between it’s principle characters and us as its spectators. The best characters in any medium succeed because they behave as proxies for our own thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences, and it is the crucial defining trait of relatable fiction. And yes, whilst this movie does still succeed as a vessel for it’s creators childlike, jubilant fixation with every ACTION – this film, of course, a product of the same minds who devised the endearingly ridiculous Ebola Hunter…
…to my mind Bad Black is a successful exploration of so much more than that, again, much to my surprise.
Let me just clarify that no, my adoration for this film isn’t leaking from the swollen fan-boy testicles I have for everything Wakaliwood. I am being very serious when I say that Bad Black, as a follow-up to Who Killed Captain Alex (it was me, btw) is just an absolute marvel to behold.
I realise now that I was shamefully attempting to second guess Ramon Film Productions, and frankly underestimating Isaac altogether. You see, I naively expected Wakaliwood to simply excel (and never veer from) balls-out low budget Ugandan style war porn, much in the vein of the mighty Who Killed Captain Alex. But what Bad Black showed me, was that Ramon film productions are capable of much more than loosely connected action scenes stacked on top of a barely comprehensible plot.
In Bad Black we have an honest-to-goodness story happening, complete with arcs that make sense, genuine plot and character development, and (much to my genuine surprise and respect) a narrative that works. B always follows on from A, and I never felt like I was struggling to piece anything together. It’s damn well coherent. Sure, it’s made all the easier to follow with the constant aid of having VJ Emmie there to describe what is taking place, but even on my first viewing of the film, I felt like I would have been easily able to follow things had the always chipper VJ not been present, which is not an easy thing to accomplish given the massive constraints and limitations placed upon the production of the movies made by Ramon Film Productions.
I wholeheartedly recommend not just watching Bad Black, but actually supporting this ingenious studio by heading over to their (obviously bonkers as all shit) website and purchasing the Blueray. You won’t just be helping to fund one of the most honest and dedicated film studios on the planet, but you’ll also bear witness to how their love of the medium is not limited to the content of films they make, but how it also extends out to their fans as well (they regularly send out hand-drawn, personalised pieces of art to people who buy their merch). But even the Blueray itself is packed full of so much evidence of the kind of effort these people put into not just their movies, but also the love they wish to extend to those who are willing to join them on their journey. It’s kind of breathtaking.
TAKE MY GOD DAMN MONEY!
Wakaliwood is such a wondrous and multifaceted phenomenon; a rich and vibrant culture of its very own that captivates and, dare I say it, even motivates. After all, if something as accomplished as Wakaliwood can be created out of literal abject poverty, then what the hell is stopping any of us from finally doing something about the dreams we convince ourselves will never be anything but outside of our reach? They have proven, and continue to prove, that with a little bit of vision and a lot of dedication, our perceived limitations become utterly redundant, and that our dreams will become a reality. Thank you Isaac for showing that to the world, and for remembering to include explosions along the way. Fan for LIFE right here.