AND NOW THE STREAMING STARTS:
WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? (2010)
Review by Jenny Orosel
I love a good art movie. I love the pretentious, meticulously crafted bits of cinema that it often takes hours of research just to understand. I love them and live for them. However, sometimes you just want to watch a crazy, goofy, wild action flick, and this is how WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX? (2010) fits onto my list of favorites.
The plot is relatively simple: Captain Alex and his team have been recruited by the Ugandan government to stop the Tiger Mafia from terrorizing the slums of Kampala. The Tiger Mafia does not like this, and sends their own assassins out to get him. Only, someone killed Captain Alex before they could. So who did it?
Yep. That’s the plot. Sounds as basic—if not more basic—than it gets. So what’s so special about CAPTAIN ALEX? First off, the fact it was even made at all. Director Nabwana I.G.G. grew up in the slums of Southern Uganda. The action films imported from the United States and Hong Kong gave him an escape first from the violence of the Idi Amin regime, then after the Civil War. In the early 2000s, he decided watching these imported movies wasn’t enough and set out to make them himself.
Nabwana has no formal filmmaking training. Instead he could only afford the first week of a six week computer repair class—just enough for him to learn to build a computer to edit and distribute his films with. He made it with parts from the local dump, found props from there as well, and recruited his neighbors from the small village of Wakaliga and started making movies with an average budget of $200. Sometimes things haven’t gone well for production—sometimes things are stalled when the village loses power for weeks, and then there was the time his star had to be hospitalized for a bacterial infection from the cow blood they used for bullet wounds (it has since been changed to food color).
The first sequence of CAPTAIN ALEX isn’t part of the story. Instead it’s behind-the-scenes footage how actors swinging from ropes in front of a house draped with a green sheet was turned into helicopter footage. In this day and age, we’ve become so used to computer graphics that we’ve forgotten how recently this was high tech. Yes, the effects in the movie are as cheesy as they get. Knowing from the get-go what they had to go through to get it done, it’s very easy to forgive.
As I mentioned, the plot itself is pretty bare. You have the good guys and the bad guys fighting to gain or keep control of a village. Good guys kill bad guys. Bad guys kill good guys. Good guys return the favor. That really is it. We never even find out who DID kill Captain Alex.
Bad effects, bad script. Then, what is it that makes CAPTAIN ALEX on my list of new favorites? First off, it’s the fight scenes. The hand-to-hand combat scenes are choreographed so well, they are what Tarantino wishes he could do. The star of most of the Kung Fu scenes is an actor dubbed “Bruce U.” He’s brought in to avenge Captain Alex and fights so well I wondered why they didn’t bring him in in the first place instead of Captain Alex, considering he can take down twenty men without a weapon. What is even more impressive is when you find out Bruce U and the other actors are completely self-taught, learning all their moves from watching Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris movies. It is all pure talent.
Another great part of CAPTAIN ALEX is the sheer enthusiasm of its actors. Obviously, none of them are professionally trained. Even though they aren’t polished, all the performers throws themselves head-first into their roles. You are watching people having fun, doing what they love to do. When everyone onscreen (and probably off-screen as well) is having as much fun as these guys are, it’s hard not to yourself.
It’s not just the filmmakers having fun here, though. Through CAPTAIN ALEX I learned of a Ugandan tradition while watching movies—the Video Joker. Since the movies are usually DVDs screened at a bar or someone’s house, and usually aren’t translated into the local dialect, a Video Joker comes into play. They do a real-time translation of the movie, running commentary either cheering on the screen (“Supa fighting skills!” “Ooh, the ladies love Captain Alex”) or a riffing style similar to MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. The only surviving copy of CAPTAIN ALEX includes, not just English subtitles, but a running commentary (with its own subtitle set) by VJ Emmie. I would love to see him get his own MST3K-style show.
All the promotional materials for CAPTAIN ALEX dub it “Uganda’s first action movie!” Any others to follow have some impressive, if not odd, footsteps to follow in.
Nabwana I.G.G.and his “Wakaliwood” movies definitely deserve to have eyes kept on them. As their access to funds and technology grows, hopefully the audience for these movies grows as well. Sadly, Nabwana is having trouble getting picked up by many of the major (and minor) festivals. Organizers have said that, with his talent, he should be making “important” films about things like poverty, not crazy, silly action films. What they don’t realize is Nabwana isn’t making movies for them. He is making the kinds of movies he and his team want to see. They, like moviegoers around the world, want fun action flicks. The Landmark Theater chain used to run a clip before the trailers that said, “The language of film is universal.” It’s true—and not just for “important” films, either.
Thanks to modern technology, we a hemisphere away get to share in the madness that is Wakaliwood movies, and I look forward to seeing what kind of insanity comes out of there next.
WHERE TO WATCH THE MOVIES: You can watch WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX?(with VJ Emmie commentary) on the official Wakaliwood YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEoGrbKAyKE They also have a Patreon page where you can keep up with the latest Wakaliwood madness: https://www.patreon.com/wakaliwood
© Copyright 2017 by Jenny Orosel