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.
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 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.
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.
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!