Ratings Key



★★★★
= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
★★★
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Kamp tawanan wanita (1983)

... aka: Day of the Escape
... aka: War Victims
... aka: War Victims of Camp Tawanan Wanita
... aka: Women's Prison Camp

Directed by:
Jopi Burnama

I've always defended controversial films like SALO (1975) and MEN BEHIND THE SUN (1988) because I genuinely think they have something important to say. Sure, they could conceivably be much more subtle and still get the same points across, but would those points have the same gut punch of an impact? Probably not. Though some puritanical critics out there would like to state otherwise, sometimes going the graphic route is absolutely the right way to go, especially when you don't have such uplifting things to say about the human race and are aiming to elicit disgust and anger from your audience. Let's face it, subtlety is lost on a lot of people, so sometimes you're better off being explicit. The controversy films like SALO stir up will entice people to see them. The bursts of depravity and violence will cause an immediate reaction. And because the film has implanted uncomfortable thoughts and images in the viewers mind, it will drive people onto the internet looking to affirm their opinion on the film, whether it be positive or negative. Either way, the viewer is almost certainly going to learn about the director's *intentions* in the process. Whether or not they feel the filmmaker has made a good film, or even care about about their opinion on certain subjects is in the first place, is irrelevant. The message has still been delivered.




So what does all that have to do with an exploitative low-budget women-in-prison flick from Indonesia? Simple. Like the two much more famous films I mentioned, it amps up the sadism and violence levels to hammer home its theme. In this case, the theme happens to be 'war sucks.' Unlike many other w-i-p films from the 80s (such as the same year's famously sleazy CHAINED HEAT), this strives for more than just providing cheap thrills. Sure, it provides those too, but its pretensions are front-and-center right from the opening narrated monologue: War is a thrilling and glorious thing only to those who have never experienced it in reality. Those who have never fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded, or the cries of innocent women and children. War is a barbarian atrocity which reduces all mankind to its lowest animal state. War is misery, despair, hunger, suffering and death cloaked in a shabby disguise of honor and courage. War dehumanizes all; the victor as well as the victim. It is a visitation of hell upon Earth.




While this isn't exactly new territory and it's not always well-executed, I do at least see where they were trying to go with this. And I truly hate slamming sincere, well-intended movies, especially ones where negligible English-language dubbing clearly detracts from the overall effect. With that factored in, I'm giving this a slightly higher rating than some may think it deserves.



Things center around a female freedom fighter named Amelia (Marisa Haque), who witnesses her husband being gunned down, is captured by the Japanese Imperial Army and is thrown into a brutal P.O.W. camp, where she and the other female inmates undergo the usual tortures before the obligatory revolt and escape. The film is violent, bloody and packed with sadistic torture. When Amelia first arrives at the camp she's pregnant. They beat her, strip her naked and force her to ride a donkey around the camp in the buff until she miscarries her baby. She and others undergo constant beatings, are fed "slop," kicked in the shins, forced to do slave labor and are routinely raped, tortured and killed. Well, all except our heroine. She manages to get away with being mouthy and defiant, physically fighting with her captors and helping to stage breakouts, while the extras get filled with lead for simply looking at the guards the wrong way.




The girls plot a daring escape that involves finding out why two of the guards are nicknamed "The Stallion" and "The Love Machine." The attempt is botched, leading to dozens of women being shot, blown up, electrocuted and, in one instance, being eaten by a snake! The ones who don't die are dragged back to camp and tortured. They're whipped, beat, strapped to some contraption that quickly spins them around, forced to stand on blocks of ice, are burned with a torch and some are hung. There's also several instances of hara-kiri, an outbreak of malaria and "sun torture," where the ladies are forced to stand outside all day and are refused water.



Amelia's pal on the inside is Siti, whose father is planning to raid the camp's ammunitions surplus and save her and the others while they're at it. There's another woman named Ita who's jealous of Amelia, but other than that the female prisoners aren't well-definited (if at all). The film concentrates as much time on the mostly-evil male guards than it does on the ladies. Lieutenant Nakamura (Boy Tirayoh), camp commandant, is the only one who seems to have anything of a conscience left. To champion for better treatment of the ladies, he goes to his superior and is informed that women are "prizes of war" and that "In war, the only morality is patriotism." Nakamura eventually falls for Amelia and knocks her up, leading up to an predictably tragic ending.




As much as I appreciate what this movie has to say about how minds of once-good and decent people are warped by war, I've always found it a bit counterproductive how so many anti-war movies resort to exciting action setpieces at the finale. We're told that there are no winners in war and to stop glorifying it all... So why wrap it up with thrilling combat action between the 'good guys' and the 'bad guys...' and screams of "Freedom!" ringing out from all the shots of stuff blowing up real good. The last shot of the film is an interesting one; a Japanese flag is lowered and an Indonesian one is raised. "The Beginning" then appears over top. (Clearly alluding to the Japanese armies invading lesser-developed Southeast Asian countries during wartime.)


Leading lady Haque has had a very full and interesting life. Educated in civil law and education in her home country, she also attended Ohio University in Athens, Ohio (also the alma mater of yours truly) at one point to study film and television. She worked as a model and an assistant lawyer in between acting gigs and went on to produce and direct feature films and TV shows. In 2004, she was elected to Indonesian Parliament as a member of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle. Nowadays, she's still involved in the entertainment industry, teaches hearing impaired children and is a guest lecturer.

Released theatrically by Atlas International. The VHS I watched was from the Dutch company Van Gils Video, who have, for some moronic reason, blurred out all of the nudity (though all of the violence seems intact).

★★

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