Once again it falls to Indonesian filmmakers to belie that country’s ultra conservative reputation and deliver a queer film that pulls few punches. Not as lyrical as Beautiful Boxer (nor should it be: it’s far more a zany spoof than heart-wrenching drama), Lucky Kuswandi’s début feature is a delightful buffet of comic book characters, nicely chiseled villains, a spectacular wardrobe parade and zesty tracks that all add to the lively mix of good gays vs. scoundrels.
Unlike a recent film where the symbolism overwhelmed the art (cross-reference below), Kuswandi is content to use his hero/heroine’s signature X sparingly: one glitters at the gateway to artificial cleavage and another etched in flesh as a lifelong reminder that boys playing with boys brings nothing but family shame (gay couples still enjoy less rights than heterosexuals; the queer age of consent is one year higher in the world’s largest Muslim state).
The slight plot pits cross dresser Adam (Aming Sughandi readily slips into the activist/artiste part of the character she created) against the National Morality Front and its presidential candidate Mr. Storm (beautifully buffed and tattoo-rich Marcell Siahaan) who surreptitiously heads a vigilante gay-bashing commando troupe when not being serviced by his three veiled wives (a key platform plank is to bring veils back into general usage—a satirical putdown of other nations who are trying to have the traditional coverings banned).
After celebrating his/her birthday in a club—only to be beaten with one—Adam is rescued by a couple who teach the magical art of Lenggok dancing in the marvellously named village of Beyond the Clouds. The chief instructor comes in the form of an ex special forces commander (Robby Tomeu) and his paramour (Ria Irawan is ideally cast), who is just one operation away from being a fully formed femme fatale. Their second-in-command comes in the short-short loving, predominantly deaf butler, Din (Vincent Ryan Rompies happily lets his body do the talking as his constant gestures and grimaces belie his name).
Lurking in the subtext weeds is a love affair between another of the dancers and Tarjo whose offer of a better life to the poorly paid entertainers is as empty as their bank accounts. Playing the unscrupulous conniver, Ikhsan Imawan truly comes into his own whether being bound in leather and whipped into a frenzy with a rice paddle or forced into bare confession rather than find a foreign instrument between his slap loving cheeks.
Through all of the madcap scenes and telling flashbacks there is a great sense of fun as the stage is eventually set for Adam to don her extra-gay apparel and become Madame X, superhero. Naturally there is a healthy dose of music (Bembi Gusti, Aghi Narottama and Gascaro Ramondo deftly adding their compositional skills) but the showstopper comes when music and movement merge in magnificent fashion as the Lenggok practitioners give a performance for the locals. Sadly, those moments of excellence have to be interrupted to keep the plot on the rails, but they’re almost worth the price of admission alone.
The closing chases suffer from “heavenly lengths,” especially when the harem of divas try to bring the curtain down on Madame X’s histrionics as he/she cleanses the world of evil.
No worries. It’s a party worth attending: this X almost always hits its target. JWR