Indonesian cinema is poised for a major shot in the arm on Friday when local fantasy action film “Wiro Sableng” takes over close to a third of the country’s movie screens. If the heaving crowds at Monday night’s premiere are any indicator, the film has strong prospects.
That is important as “Wiro Sableng” (aka “Crazy Wiro”) is one of the costliest films in the massive but cinematically under-developed country – local media have reported a production budget of $2 million. It is also the first Indonesian movie backed by Fox International Productions, the international production division of 20th Century Fox, which has invested in local-language movies in Europe, Latin America and the more mature parts of Asia.
Combining local mythology, Indonesia’s Silat form of martial arts, and a couple of fart jokes, the film tells the story of a young man who doesn’t take himself too seriously (Wiro, played by Vino Bastian) who comes of age while on a quest to reclaim the throne for the rightful king, and exorcising some of his own demons. Along the way Crazy Wiro picks up some unusual friends, falls for a gorgeous princess, and learns to control his own superpowers.
Where the cinematic effort gains strength is both from its heritage, and from its slick packaging and presentation. The result has something of the feel of “Baahubali” the smash hit fantasy actioner that emerged onto a global stage in 2015 from South India, not the internationally-known Bollywood.
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The script for “Wiro Sableng” was co-written by Tumpal Tamubolon, Seno Gumira Ajidarma and Sheila Timothy (“The Forbidden Door,” “Tabula Rasa”,) a filmmaker and former advertising executive who doubles up as producer through her Lifelike Pictures. The story’s roots are in the “212 Warrior” series of martial arts fantasy novels, written by Bastian Tito (Vino Bastian’s father) over a period of 39 years. With 185-books in the series and an earlier TV adaptation, the “212” franchise and the “Wiro Sableng” movie start with the benefit of a major fan base.
For decades the film industry in Indonesia was on a so-called negative list, which prohibited foreign investment. That was lifted in 2016-17, but to date the handful of significant foreign direct investment plays have been in the exhibition sector, not production or distribution.
Kurt Rieder, Fox’s executive VP, theatrical distribution in Asia, says Indonesia has the scale (box office has grown at an estimated 28% per year for the past four years to hit $345 million in 2017) and development potential that makes it of great interest to the Hollywood studios. Despite the film being Fox’s first in South East Asia, there was no need to make things complicated.
Rieder says the studio offered minimal script notes and largely kept out of the way of a solidly Indonesian team. Preparations, pre-visualization and rehearsals lasted for six months, ahead of a 74-day shoot on locations in West Java and in studios in Jakarta. Local firm, Caravan Studio and Chris Lie provided key costume and weapons design, while the large volume of VFX shots was farmed out to 10 local effects companies.
The final picture was completed in 4K, exceeding Fox’s contractual requirement that it be delivered in 2K.
“With a producer as professional as Sheila (Timothy) our job was not to get in her way,” said Rieder. He also called Timothy a “marketing genius” who spent nine months on the promotional campaign and “hugely overdelivered compared with the p&a budget.”
That campaign was in high gear at the XXI Epicentrum complex in Jakarta, where silat and contemporary dance routines jostled with half a dozen media partners and 20-plus consumer goods sponsors, headed by the Panther energy drink firm. A display of fan art posters lined one side of the red carpet. And teen girls became appropriately noisy at the appearance of Vino Bastian, a former model turned actor.
Tencent-related Games firm Garena AOV was also on hand to give a launch to its mobile-only “Wiro Sableng” game. While Michael J. Werner, former head of Fortissimo, and Fox’s exec producer on “Wiro Sableng,” is now tasked with selling the film overseas. The game has already got an international release, that is set to include China.
“With so much material, this film was of course something of an origins story,” said Timothy earlier this week. “Any anyone who stayed through the end credits can see the teaser introducing a new character, perhaps a new nemesis for Wiro.”