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Prolific Indonesian hit-maker Joko Anwar is preparing to take Hollywood’s superheroes on at their own game with a franchise based on characters who have thrilled the world’s fourth most-populous country across the past 50 years.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter at the third edition of Malaysian International Film Festival, Anwar said the “characters represent the hopes of Indonesia” and include 500 Indonesian comic book characters created since 1954. “It’s about time we saw some of Indonesia’s comic book heroes up there on the big screen,” Anwar said.
The vast collection of heroes, from various Indonesian writers and artists, is owned by Bumilangit, which has formed a partnership with Screenplay Films to produce features. The two companies, under the banner Screenplay Bumilangit Film, previously produced Netflix’s The Night Comes for Us.
Plans are for a rollout of productions set to begin with the Aug. 29 release of the much-anticipated feature Gundala, directed by Anwar and based on a lightning-throwing, justice-seeking Indonesian superhero who first appeared in print in the late 1960s.
“We hope this is just the beginning,” said Anwar. “Even for those who never read the comics, Gundala represented the great Indonesian hero, and Indonesian hopes. There are so many characters in Indonesian history and often their universes would collide so the possibilities are huge.”
As has been the case globally, the Indonesian box office has been dominated by the Marvel Cinematic Universe in recent years. Over the past 12 months Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War have taken more than $33 million and $25 million, well over double any domestic production.
While not exactly declaring war on Marvel’s heroes, Anwar hopes to win a few skirmishes against them with this new franchise.
“Their budgets are around $200 million, so we can’t compete on that level but what we can do is give Indonesians a locally made production that has characters and themes they can fully relate to,” said Anwar.
The film will feature Indonesian box office favorite Abimana Aryasatya in the titular role of Gundala, reimagined as a security guard, rather than the scientist of both the original comics and the first and so far only film adaptation released 1981. Co-stars include Malaysia’s Bront Palarae and Indonesia’s Tara Basro, in the role of the female superhero Wulan.
A wholly Indonesian superhero cinematic universe was initiated by Bumilangit chairman Bhismarka Kurniawan and Screenplay’s Wicky V. Olindo and early online support for their grand ambitions has been impressive. Marvel illustrator David Ross has been among more than 1,500 artists and would-be artists to have contributed imagined versions of the Gundala character to #gundalafanart, while the likes of #gundalasongtribute and #gundalafoodart continue to expand their communities daily. A mashup of the around 300 songs produced by fans has been included in the final cut of Gundala and will play across the end credits.
“It’s been crazy so far,” said Anwar. “So many songs were put together we had to find a way to include them in the film. Fans have been getting involved since we first started so we are feeling no pressure. It’s a bit of a challenge working with a character people love so much but we have cast everyone who is anyone in the Indonesian film industry.”
With a population of around 265 million people, Indonesia is among film’s last great frontiers. But things are rapidly changing. While those millions were serviced only by around 800 theaters as recently as 2014, now there are around 1,700 as the Indonesian government has relaxed laws on international investment, leading to likes of Korean entertainment powerhouse CJ Entertainment’s CJ-CGV theater division weighing in. Government predictions are that there will be more than 3,000 cinemas open within three years.
“The market is growing so fast and as Indonesian filmmakers it is our job to make sure local films are there for the audience,” said Anwar. “It’s important that Indonesian stories continue to be told.”
Government statistics show that there were more than 42 million film admissions in Indonesia in 2017, up from 16 million in 2015.The 43-year-old Anwar has ridden that rising tide, directing and/or writing and producing 24 films in 16 years and producing a diverse range of critical and box office hits, among them the multi-award winning romance Arisan!(2003), claimed to be Indonesia’s first widely- eleased gay-themed feature, and 2017’s box office smash Satan’s Slaves.
As well as Gundala, the filmmaker has his latest trip into horror Impetigore — backed by Crazy Rich Asians producer Ivanhoe Pictures — set for an October release.
“Gundala is something new for me and we think it is something new for Indonesian cinema,” he said.
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