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The Reel Guide: Movies Set in Indonesia

Indonesia is home to a unique blend of cultures and landscapes, and an equally unique blend of movies which are set there. The Japanese occupation is a well documented part of Indonesia’s history, but less known are the mass killings after the failed coup in 1965. Watch these movies set in Indonesia and you’ll learn all about its history, but you’ll also have to put up with Julia Roberts for 2 hours, so enter at your own risk…..

The Year of Living Dangerously (1982)

Mel Gibson teams up with a very short man (who it turns out is actually played by a woman) to report on Indonesian politics just before the failed coup of 1965. I really enjoyed this movie. On one hand you get a look at expat life in Indonesia, and all the weirdos it inevitably attracts, and on the other you get to see a country on the edge of revolution; the calm before the storm. Things could explode at any moment (and they eventually did), and this infuses the film with a disconcerting tension. This is definitely one of the best movies set in Indonesia, check it out!

The Act of Killing (2012)

This was tough to watch. The Act of Killing is a documentary which looks at the lives of paramilitary death squad members who carried out mass killing of communists, Chinese, and pretty much anybody that was a threat to the government after the coup attempt. Estimates put the death toll somewhere close to a million, and it’s pretty disturbing to see people who carried out the killings talking so casually about them. They seemed proud of what they did, and when asked to re-enact the killings (in their favourite film genres) they really put their full effort into it. This movie points out how terrible people can be when the circumstances allow it, but what really amazed me is that many of these people are still in positions of power within the government. One guy was running for a government position so he could extort money from his people – he was very open about it, and one government member took great pride in showing off the black rhino he had killed and stuffed.

Braindead (1992)

Before Peter Jackson became famous (and kinda annoying), he made violent, over the top horror/comedy movies in New Zealand. Braindead is the best of the bunch. The movie starts off in Sumatra, with a group of scientists on the hunt for the Sumatran rat-monkey, a dangerous and mysterious creature. They eventually find one and take it back to Wellington, where it proceeds to bite an elderly woman, turning her into a zombie. Cue some awesomely over-the top scenes, including the best use of a lawnmower in film history.  Braindead (also called Dead-Alive in some parts of the world) isn’t for the faint-hearted, but its entertainment at its best.

The Sumatran rat-monkey from Braindead, a movie set in Indonesia

The Raid: Redemption (2011)

I watched the dubbed version of this movie and what was already average acting became a lot worse with the ridiculous voiceovers. I don’t usually put local movies on these lists but this one was foreign made and attracted a lot of buzz worldwide. It’s a great action movie with an extremely similar premise to the newest Judge Dredd movie. There’s a bad guy at the top of an apartment building and the police want him dead, but first they have to get through the foot soldiers. You won’t get a lot of Indonesian culture in The Raid: Redemption, but you’ll have an enjoyable hour and a half.

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (1983)

This is the strangest war movie I’ve ever seen. David Bowie stars as the bizarre Captain Celliers, who gets thrown in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Java. The Japanese camp leader takes a liking to Celliers, and a whole lot of repressed homosexual tension ensues. The film centres on 4 characters: 2 Japanese soldiers and 2 captive British ones. The final scene, in which the prisoner/captor role is reversed, would have to be one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in a long time. If you like unique movies, check this one out.

David Bowie in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, a movie set in Indonesia

Paradise Road (1997)

A group of women end up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in Sumatra and decide that singing is the best way to keep their spirits up. It’s more interesting than it sounds, but it lacks some of the impact that most traditional prisoner of war movies (starring men) have. There just doesn’t seem as much at stake in this movie, and the women get treated better than you’d expect (and better than what they would have in real life).

Krakatoa, East of Java (1969)

Krakatoa is actually west of Java, and upon learning this, the creators decided to keep the name anyway, because east sounds more exotic. I’m impressed that they didn’t let the facts get in the way of a good title, but apart from that this movie is pretty awful. It follows a group of annoying characters on a boat sailing close to the erupting giant.

Eat Pray Love (2010) (One of the worst movies set in Indonesia!)

How the audience is supposed to accept that Julia Roberts found love in this movie is beyond me. Her character was awful, and I’d probably still say that if someone else was playing her. I’ve made my feelings clear about Julia Roberts before (definitely not a fan), so watching Eat Pray Love was harder on my soul than The Act of Killing. In case you don’t know, Julia Roberts goes around the world hoping to fall in love with a man, or god, or failing that, to just get a few decent meals in her. The countryside in Bali is nice but that’s the only reason I’d recommend this movie.

Eat Pray Love, a movie set in Indonesia

Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004)

I couldn’t find this anywhere; let me know if you’ve seen it! What I do know is that anacondas don’t live in Indonesia, so if you were hoping for a top quality, well researched movie about Indonesia I’m guessing this won’t be it. Check out the IMDB page and read the film forum!

Have you seen these, or any other movies set in Indonesia? Let me know!

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Jon Algie

Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who hates talking about himself in the third person and has no imagination when it comes to naming websites.
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12 Comments

  1. May 11, 2014 at 9:45 pm — Reply

    The only movie I’ve watched in the list is the Eat Pray Love. It’s a good one.

    • Jon Algie
      May 12, 2014 at 2:10 pm — Reply

      I’ll have to disagree with you Judy, thanks for the comment though!

  2. May 12, 2014 at 5:10 am — Reply

    There are no words to express my absolute disdain toward Eat Pray Love and the gaggle of middle aged devotees who have now infested Bali because of it! Grr!

    Year of Living Dangerously wasn’t bad though! ;D

    • Jon Algie
      May 12, 2014 at 2:11 pm — Reply

      Haha, I’m guessing single middle aged men travelling in Bali are pretty happy about it though.

  3. May 12, 2014 at 12:59 pm — Reply

    I just watched Eat Pray Love and I have to say I’m not impressed! I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s other book (haven’t read Eat Pray Love yet) and I think she’s a great writer. But maybe it’s not the kind of book that translates well into a movie? The sceneries in the movie are stunning, though.

    • Jon Algie
      May 12, 2014 at 2:13 pm — Reply

      I just really hated the character (Julia Roberts was probably a big part of that). The scenery was nice, I guess it showcases some good aspects of Bali, but like Mike said those good aspects/places are being overrun by tourists now.

  4. May 17, 2014 at 10:25 pm — Reply

    …and I’ve seen none of them.

    I considered myself quite knowledgeable about movies until I read this post and realised that there are still so many that I’ve neither heard about or seen.

    • Jon Algie
      May 17, 2014 at 11:44 pm — Reply

      Haha, they are all pretty obscure. I’d only seen half of them before starting to write this post. Check them all out except for Eat Pray Love and Krakatoa, East of Java.

  5. August 3, 2015 at 8:01 am — Reply

    From this list I saw only 2 🙂 but what about movies not set in Indonesia about about Indonesia?

  6. August 5, 2015 at 7:15 pm — Reply

    Yesterday I saw one movie that is not listed here, but it doesn’t give any honor for Indonesia 🙁

    • Jon Algie
      August 6, 2015 at 10:39 pm — Reply

      I hadn’t heard of it, looks good!

  7. Don
    December 28, 2015 at 1:23 pm — Reply

    THE YEAR OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY (1982) was movie about political issue in indonesia. i had done some research and i found it did not shoot in indonesia, but in Flipihine. They were not allowed making movie indonesia because the movie theme was very sensitive issue to running goverment back then.

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