Celluloid Wunderkammer: Beauty and Warrior – 2002 / Director: Sukma Romadhon

Watch Beauty and Warrior, one of Joseph Lai’s more recent excursions since the early nineties into animation, and the issue you face is that context for its slight plot is not given. It’s not difficult to grasp what is going on if you think about it. Of all things, if I can take anything from this Lai produced Indonesian short animation, you realise that over exaggeration and low tolerance is pretty common with pop culture critiques, especially online. YouTube comments for this had people, just reading the first page, spitting venom and saying this was the worst thing they had ever seen. There’s much worse. This is no way near the barrel let alone at the bottom of one, despite being a technically bad work, which is very frightening for me to think even though I found enjoyment in this. Also its baffling that this can be seen as gibberish. In fact in most cases with “bad” cinema, it’s actually that they have understandable points but are badly plotted out. It’s an over exaggerated concept. Everything in Beauty and Warrior‘s tiny, forty minute narrative would make full sense in another film. The problem is not that’s its gibberish, but amongst its many “quirks”, there’s no context to what’s happening onscreen.

After some clouds are passed through in the first few minutes, maybe the fog of turmoil, although it takes a while to actually get past them, we see the home of immortals. A king banishes his daughter for marrying a mortal. Voice acting, in English, is not great, although it says a lot that I’ve heard much worse in English anime dubs. Noticeably as this scene takes place, the many young women shown look exactly the same. Black hair, same features drawn the same way. Is it laziness, a failed attempted to save animation time or did it mean to suggest immortals have a lot of quintuplet or more births? The woman’s sister, although she could be the maid servant, protests and is banished too. Understandable plotting. The animation is not good, but again I’ve encountered worse. We’re sparred from more extreme close-ups of a character in still motion as the image is wiggled about drunkenly, to represent shock, aside from one which I presume is the perspective of their mother. It’s actually the case that we’re not actually, as the viewer, going to follow the immortal princess who married the mortal. She leaves, eventually, after a pointlessly lengthy good bye on top of a random volcano, where recycling and doubling of movement is close to being a recycling factory, and we’re actually supposed to follow the other sister/maid. The missing context, which would just point out this once, even without exposition, is not provided. Instead the animation just leaves you out of step in having to create the context with no good constructive reason for doing this.

If Joseph Lai ever directly influenced his work, it’s obvious seeing this that he was the one that encouraged that films, even if they had to have a-to-b plots, could get there anyway without real considering of setting everything up clearly. Befitting a man who encouraged splicing random ninjas into films.  The sister is asked by demons to rule them. Considering she’s a sympathetic character, it’s quite unexpected, considering what happens, that demons are actually courteous to her and politely ask for her to be their Queen, as if they are merely demons as a task. Its definitely the puzzling case when, as his (identically drawn) brother tends to his body as his spirit takes on the following task, that a man comes to defeat the demons to gain a magical sword. Mythology is able to juggle (or get away) with tonal shifts like this, but while immensely enjoyable here, it’s going to cause others to scratch their heads, not because it doesn’t make sense, but because it feels abrupt. The amount of names and terms that a Western viewer would have no idea of becomes obvious in the dialogue by this point, possibly from real Indonesian mythology, but divisive in being there because of the English dialogue is very simple for a possible Western audience aside from these terms. A lot of recycled footage and very pregnant pauses take place throughout the short, especially with the actual fights with the demons.

Unlike the human characters, these demons got someone with a creative flourish to design them. They’re colourful and styled like cheap, nineties action figures, but still unique to each other. Red demon. Sludgy grey demon, White bird demon. The standout is the yellow demon, with stripes like a tiger and the exact hair of Guile from the Street Fighter videogame series. I won’t spoil the rest of Beauty and Warrior. But two people spinning around each other is symbolic of conception – amusingly U-rated, just don’t use it to educate kids on where babies come from. The baby itself is recycled footage personified. The other brother is evil or headstrong, leading to a fight between brothers in a cave, standing and upside down, where even a tiny piece of stalactite is a very dangerous weapon when thrown by toes. The story isn’t ended, finishing with the suggestion they’ll have to fight each other again on a grander scale, for another chapter that likely never came to pass. It’s here the only incomprehensible thing takes place. Logically it happens because the good brother realises their battle is inevitable, and that he can’t help but love his other brother. But giving him the thing he can use to destroy and terrorise, without that blasted context again, after fighting over it is the sole stupid thing in this animation. That rest of it is a mess, but it’s an interesting mess, while this is ridiculous.

Altogether, any other review would call this mediocre or terrible. The truly worst of cinema and moving pictures however is ungodly, while this, especially at its short length, is a pleasurable leisure into silliness. I admit to just taking interest in the fact Joseph Lai, as the site’s resident Godfrey Ho and Lai expert informed me, actually went beyond martial arts and ninja films and produced animation, cut-up works and material like this, helping to push this Indonesian work into existence. It’s entertaining as a failure, not to laugh at, although stuff in it is exceptionally amusing, but to admire the failure like marks made during the creation of it. Of course, it may have been a mere commercial venture – this I couldn’t ignore with the Ho films. Oddly, for a work that could be claimed to have little happen, or that its lack of representation of what is happening makes it blank, it’s too idiosyncratic in personality. That if it was made to merely be on DVD to trick someone into buying it, it however soaked up concepts and ideas that really go against this. Which, honestly, is a lot more apparent in anything else Lai produced than you think.

Tags: Animation, fantasy adventure, Indonesia, Joseph Lai, Short FIlm