Synopsis: Where do I even begin to describe what happens in this flick? We open with an extended short film about a man called Swaz robbing a bank with a kid because his wife is in the hospital and he needs the money, and then fleeing but not quite getting away from hordes of police on his tail. It’s got shootouts and kung fu action, it’s got sight gags and slapstick as well as wonderfully cheap green screen effects—one car T-bones another, and the T-boned ride rolls like a toy; as outtakes reveal: it is one!—all taking place in a Ugandan ghetto. The soundtrack is minimal, the dialogue shouted by the actors is sometimes difficult to make out under the constant narration of a narrator called VJ Emmie (the VJ stands for video joker). From here, we meet the young Bad Black, a girl who has somehow come to be cared for by a grandmotherly woman who is not related to her. She runs away or gets thrown out and soon ends up on the street, doing what she must to survive. Soon enough, she is an urchin working for Da Street Boss, a commando who uses and abuses beggar children, demanding they bring their food and money spoils home to him. Before long, Bad Black has enough and dispatches him. Ten years later, an older and wiser Bad Black (Nalwanga Gloria) is the leader of the grown up gang of urchins. They are plotting a robbery/extortion angle on a local rich guy, Hirigi (Bisaso Diuda), an asshat who wants to own the ghetto and force the occupants there out. And then there’s Doctor Ssali (Alan Hofmanis billed as Alan Ssali, who co-wrote the script and co-produced), a white American who’s trying to help the Ugandan ghetto along with his partner Wesley Snipes (not the real Wesley Snipes, but a ten year old kung fu taskmaster) and ends up getting his passport, money, and dog tags stolen by Bad Black. He’s out for revenge or maybe just to get his dog tags back. In fact, everyone in this movie is out for revenge at one time or another, and they all get it. Co-writer/director/producer/camera operator/effects man Nabwana I.G.G. tells a crazy story, all right, and BAD BLACK (2016) is the craziest of the crazy, blending heart, guts, comedy, and a love for action flicks into one of the most ballsy, energetic, and batshit crazy films I’ve seen in a good long while.
Wakaliwood, the film declares, is home to “da best of da best movies!” and in a certain sort of energetic way it is. I first encountered them via the shot in one or two days hyperviolent short ATTACK ON NYEGE NYEGE ISLAND (2016), which features a big music and culture event in Uganda that gets besieged by gun toting baddies and defended by King Kong, a kung fu fighting guy in a gorilla mask (of course, he fights with Kongfu style!). It’s also a batshit crazy action movie. What could have been just another, forgettable made-on-the-cheap action thing gets turned into a memorable, delightfully weird experience by kinetic camerawork, the so fast it might induce epileptic fits editing, and the narration from VJ Emmie.
A moment about that narrator: VJ Emmie is a drop dead hilarious dude, who manages to provide translations as well as interpretations. “Everyone is going to die,” he gleefully informs us in NYEGE NYEGE, “because this is Uganda!” He fills the same role for BAD BLACK, acting like the gleeful storyteller uncle who cannot resist making these funny stories his own. For BAD BLACK he tells us that Swaaaaazzzzz! is a Ugandan Schwarzenegger, while a high as a kite rich dude manages to be Rambo, Van Damme, Stallone, and even Bill Murray—in a word “unstoppable!” He explains we should “expect the unexpectable,” and he discusses the failings of Ugandan public works, claiming muddy streams are all poo poo since “Poo poo is everywhere in Uganda!” The comic touches are what bring BAD BLACK out of the realm of cheap action flick into something from another world. The movie is not wall-to-wall violent action (though there is plenty of that), it has heart too particularly about the plight faced by ghetto street kids and the disparity between rich and poor. However, it makes light of just about everything that crosses its camera lenses so as not to dwell on the depressing. To keep things lively, Nabwana throws dozens of genre tropes and stock situations into a blender and hits puree before tossing in plenty of spice for good measure. Hot damn does the movie move.
It’s a cheap flick, make no mistake. Supposedly these things seldom cost more than $200USD, and this one has a certain cheapness to its appearance, its effects, and its acting. But that somehow doesn’t matter because it knows exactly what it is and still strives to be the best it can. If you can look past the cheapness, there’s a lot to love in the picture. Kung fu cops, a machine gun toting Commando Doctor who growls “Don’t fuck with Americans!”, a training montage that culminates with a white dude running through Ugandan ghettos chased by a horde of children while the VJ Emmie shouts for them to “Eat da white guy! Cook him and eat him! He must be delicious!”, as well as moving from over the top action to over the top crime picture back to action before veering to a women in prison flick to the moving finale, which gets literally fast forwarded through by VJ Emmie himself who declares much of the stuff to be “Boring!” For the cinema goer who is unaccustomed to surrendering to a picture, it might be off-putting. However, for those comfortable enough with unique features, BAD BLACK is a dizzying, gut-busting funny and fun experience. Sort of like watching one of Tarantino’s early love letters to Japanese/Italian flicks but in fast forward. It’s a Takashi Miike crime picture (e.g., 1999’s DOA) armed with whoopee cushions as well as the kinds of kinetic camerawork.
BAD BLACK clocks in at a smooth 68 minutes, and manages to tell at least three separate stories that all converge in the end. It at once ludicrous and thrilling, an example of a picture made by someone with a lot of love and creative energy, aided by some martial arts enthusiasts and a lot of folks who enjoy being goofy. Hell, there’s a scene where Alan Ssali/Alan Hofmanis is derided for being unable to find an acting job outside Uganda.
Wakaliwood may be on the poorer side, but it’s got a lot of heart. Although the movie doesn’t necessarily look better than the blockbusters it apes, it has spirit and jazz that those mega million equivalents can’t touch. BAD BLACK is one of those balls to the wall drive-in experiences, the kind of movie where anyone can die at any time and most of the people will meet a grisly end before the credits role. Is it one of “Da Best of Da Best Movies!”? Well, it’s coming from a whole other place, all right. It arrives like a drunk relative to a family reunion and then has the eggplants to be the funniest charmer in the room, full of bawdy stories about with blazing guns and machine gun fast jokes. Needless to say: never boring. In fact, I cannot top what VJ Emmie says two or three times, “What a movie!”
BAD BLACK is available on a DVD/Blu-ray combo disc from AGFA (American Genre Film Archive) paired up with another Wakaliwood actioner, Nabwana’s 2015 feature, WHO KILLED CAPTAIN ALEX?
Next up, we will take a trip to one of John Carpenter’s often overlooked satiric romps: ESCAPE FROM LA. Billed at release as a return of Kurt Russell’s Snake Plissken character, it’s a completely separate beast from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, and worth looking at on its own merits. Grab a look at it in a DVD, Blu-ray, or streaming edition.
“Movie Mondays: Bad Black” is copyright © 2019 by Daniel R. Robichaud. Poster and still image taken from IMDB.