Indonesian video-on-demand films take world by storm | Arts and Culture News

Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia – When Netflix announced the exclusive production of seven Indonesian films and series in September 2022, few expected overnight success. But by year’s end, Timo Tjahjanto’s Big Four, the first in the series, had become one of the non-English-language video-on-demand giant’s most-watched films.

Tjahjanto’s first action comedy has grossed over 16 million hours of viewing and tells the story of Dina, a tough detective. Searching for clues to the unsolved murder of her late father, she arrives on a remote tropical island, fighting for her life with the same group of unlucky secret assassins that her father she trained.

Bloody and boasting the top action scenes for which Tjahjanto is famous, The Big Four broke into the Netflix Top 10 in 53 countries, including Argentina, Mexico, Finland and Spain. In the United States, a market that is notoriously hard to break, it ranked fifth after launching on December 15.

“It was emotional to see how the story was able to resonate and go around the world,” Tjahjanto told Variety as the film grew in popularity in December. The action-thriller. His previous, The Night Comes for Us (2018), was the first Netflix Original series ever produced in Indonesia.

A scene from the Big Four.  The director is explaining the scene on the left.  A young woman and two men were sitting in the back of the carriage.  It has padded seats and a fringed canopy.  The clothes of the man in front were covered in blood.  He's staring at the side of the frame.
The Big Four by Timo Tjahjanto, a bloody action comedy, is in the Top 10 in 53 countries around the world [Courtesy of Netflix]

Since 2016, the company has invested in other Indonesian films such as Lucky Kuswandi’s coming-of-age drama Ali & Ratu Ratu Queens (2021), which was shot almost entirely in New York, and Crime Mystery The Copier (2021) by Wregas Bhanuteja. Netflix’s global reach has helped elevate the popularity of Indonesian films and increase their success worldwide.

Genre globalization

Dag Yngvesson, lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Nottingham Malaysia, near Kuala Lumpur, and an expert on Indonesian cinema, recalls that since the late 1970s, popular Indonesian films – has a characteristic combination of action, horror, mysticism, comedy and melodrama. – often marketed abroad as “cult” fare.

It was the Raid trilogy by then-Jakarta-based Welsh director Gareth Evans that helped bring the Indonesian martial art of pencak silat to cinema during the 2010s, building ” international reputation for Indonesian films that often stick to action/martial arts conventions.” take them to new extremes,” Yngvesson told Al Jazeera.

He believes that video-on-demand funding and wider distribution have given local filmmakers like Tjahjanto an avenue to build the reputation and style that Evans helped popularize. Unlike the laga (action film) of the New Order era, which mixes action with other genres, Evan’s film is a more homogeneous “action film” and impresses fans around the world. with elaborately choreographed, intuitive and realistic battle scenes.

“The Big Four can be seen as a return to a more typical ‘Indonesian’ blend approach that foreign audiences are beginning to recognize and respond to,” Yngvesson said.

Indonesian cinema has recently gained coveted international respect after Seperti Dendam Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas (Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash) (2021) – the latest film from director Edwin, winner Citra Awards in Jakarta – won the coveted Golden Leopard award at Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival in August 2021. Adapted from Eka Kurniawan’s novel of the same name, Edwin’s film incorporates a kung epic -fu with a movie about the street and pay homage to the color and style of past hit movies.

“I believe that Indonesia currently has a strong presence in both the domestic and international film industry. Last year alone, Indonesian films like Autobiography [2022 by Makbul Mubarak] and Before, Now & Then [2022, by Kamila Andini – an Amazon Prime Original] attended many prestigious film festivals around the world, from Venice to Berlinale… 2022 is also the first year that the number of Indonesian moviegoers has surpassed Hollywood,” director Kuswandi told Al Jazeera.

A scene from Ex-Addicts Club.  Three people were standing at the bottom of the stairs overlooking a room.  There is a video camera on the left.
Salman Aristo’s quirky sitcom Ex Addicts Club tells the story of five people who form a support group to work through their grief. [Courtesy of Netflix]

One example is Satan’s Slaves 2: Communion (2022), the sequel to genre director Joko Anwar, which sold a staggering 6.3 million tickets in local cinemas, becoming a high-grossing film. third in Indonesia.

Joko is also signed up with Netflix. His new sci-fi horror series, Nightmare and Dream, is about people experiencing strange phenomena and will stream digitally later this year.

Filmmaking in the digital age

According to research by film and television studies lecturer Agus Mediarta from Indonesia’s Nusantara Multimedia University in West Java, it was the emergence of private television in the 1990s that first attracted creators. of Indonesia left cinema to switch to cinema and the small screen.

Cinema has continued to hold its ground despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of streaming – by 2022, the top 15 Indonesian films have sold nearly 50 million tickets at the box office – but With nearly 203 million Internet users in Indonesia, video on demand is growing rapidly.

Netflix, Disney+ Hotstar, Amazon Prime and local streaming giant Vidio are all vying for market share.

A 2022 survey by Indonesian research firm Invoji-Alvara also found that 74.2% of respondents preferred streaming services to cable TV.

“The movies and series we are developing in Indonesia are primarily for Indonesian audiences. We want [them] to see their lives and experiences reflected in the titles they discover on Netflix,” Malobika Banerji, Netflix’s Southeast Asia director of content, based in Singapore, told Al Jazeera.

“Whether they want to entertain or deeply move, we make sure there is a variety of must-see content tailored to the diversity of local audiences. However, we know great stories will cross borders on Netflix.”

Alongside Tjahjanto’s blockbuster and Joko Anwar’s sci-fi series, among other upcoming Netflix Indonesian originals is a quirky sitcom, Klub Kecanduan Mantan (The Addictionist’s Club). old) by Salman Aristo, where five individuals formed a support group to work through their grief.

Two people buy movie tickets in Jakarta.  There's a TV screen above them and the words SELF TICKETS light up
Indonesian cinema is still popular despite the rise of streaming channels and the blockade due to COVID-19 [File: Adek Berry/AFP]

Hari Ini Akan Kita Ceritakan Nanti (Today We’ll Talk About That Day), the latest installment in the series that begins with Nanti Kita Cerita Tentang Hari Ini (2019 – Later We’ll Talk About Today) directed by Angga Dwimas Sasongko, will focus on a love story between two people from different backgrounds.

In Komedi Kacau (Chaos Comedy), a series by writer, director and comedian Raditya Dika, protagonist Panca juggles his married life and newly formed comedy club.

There are also high expectations for Gadis Kretek, Netflix’s first Indonesian historical drama set in the country’s tobacco industry in the 1960s. Produced by Shanty Harmayn in collaboration with directors. Famous Kamila Andini and Ifa Isfansyah, an epic romance that cuts through time as an estranged son searches for a young woman from his father’s past to fulfill his dying father’s wish. his own, a tobacco magnate.

Ongoing global support

Kuswandi’s irreverent romance, Dear David, will be the next Netflix Original to premiere online this week, February 9.

Jakarta-born actress Shenina Cinnamon, who also stars in Photocopier, plays an A-list high school student whose life is turned upside down when a daring fantasy blog about her lover is leaked to everyone people at school.

Kuswandi believes that Netflix’s global distribution is essential for the growth of Indonesian products around the world. “Netflix Originals are available in more than 190 countries around the world,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It’s simply access. More and more people can watch movies anywhere at the same time. Movies are also subtitled or dubbed into local languages.”

Netflix’s deep pockets and production expertise are also helping.

A scene from the Gadis Kretek historical film.  A woman is sitting at a desk.  She was wearing a white shirt and an open notebook in front of her.  There were also sheets of paper, a jar of dried leaves and other glass jars.  The table is dusty.  The scene is filming and one of the crew members is squatting next to the desk
Gadis Kretek is an Indonesian historical and romantic epic drama [Courtesy of Netflix]

In partnership with the Indonesian Film Council, the streaming channel has launched a $500,000 Hardship Fund to support Indonesian filmmakers hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In April 2022, US-based Netflix also held a scriptwriting class for a series drama in Jakarta, with the participation of 40 experts in the Indonesian film industry under the guidance of Mr. Joe Peracchio, American writer and producer of popular shows including Deception, The Flash, and The Trojan War.

“We will continue to invest in Indonesia’s fast-growing industry and create stories that can be enjoyed by Indonesians and audiences worldwide, as we expand,” Banerji told Al Jazeera. its scope here and throughout Southeast Asia.

Netflix says initial success in working with Indonesian directors and producers could also lead to further investments and support for the cash entertainment industry elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

“We have seen the popularity of local titles like Doll House of the Philippines and Lost Lottery of Thailand, and we will be sharing more original stories from the region. in the coming months,” she said.


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