Recently I discovered the low-budget cinema of Uganda, and I gotta say, I think I’m in love.
Who Killed Captain Alex is held up as Uganda’s first action movie. The plot focuses on the titular Captain Alex as he leads a team of Ugandan military commandos to take down the Tiger Mafia. Unfortunately, Captain Alex is assassinated halfway through the movie, and while the commandos continue their fight, neither side actually knows who assassinated the movie’s hero. Meanwhile, Bruce U, a Kung Fu expert and Captain Alex’s brother, wages his own revenge against the Tiger Mafia, who he blames for the death of Captain Alex. Eventually Uganda is placed under martial law as the fighting escalates until Richard, the leader of the Tiger Mafia is captured. But the assassin is never discovered.
Yes, that is a complicated and ridiculous plot. Yes, the movie is on YouTube in its entirety, though its a slightly different version from the original release, and it features both an intro and outro from the director as well as an element of the Ugandan cinematic viewing experience that is both hilarious and a cultural experience. And yes, the acting, special effects, pacing, editing, and cinematography are all sub-par. Yet this movie is spectacular. Why? Because of its heart.
First, this movie was made for around $200. You read that right, an action film was made for $200. For a quick comparison, The Milpitas Monster was a student film from a bunch of high schoolers in the 1970s, and it had a budget of $11,000. So Who Killed Captain Alex was made for significantly less money than something a bunch of teenagers in America put together over 3 decades earlier. Second, whatever the cast didn’t have, they implied with props that they made by hand. One guy sports a bandoleer with small sticks painted and carved to look like bullets. An automatic shotgun was actually two metal pipes and a can welded together. The special effects were done with a green blanket tied to a wall and then added in later on the director’s computer that he built from scrap parts.
Above all else, this is a film that the director never expected to be seen out of his village. He made it for himself, his friends, and his neighbors. Hell, the master version of the film had to be deleted simply so he’d have the hard drive space to make a sequel! The only way we are able to see it now is that a special edited version with a Video Joker audio and subtitle track was uploaded to YouTube.
What do I mean by that? Well, Video Jokers (VJs) are a part of the cinematic experience in Uganda; they watch the film with the audience, make jokes about the movie, but also serve to translate the film so that people who speak only one of the roughly 45 languages in Uganda can understand. When a film shows in a village, a VJ will be part of the experience so locals don’t miss too much and have a great time. It’s like their very own Mystery Science Theater 3000, and it’s an ingenious way to get past the language barrier so that cinema can be an art for all in a country that suffers from heavy poverty and corruption.
That’s why I find myself adoring Who Killed Captain Alex, because it’s obviously a labor of love. It also helps that the only version available to view also shows scenes from the production and offers a special thank you at the end from the director for watching. He declares cinema is an art, and while his art is cheap, it is obviously made with energy and love.
Plus, everyone in Uganda knows Kung Fu. Thanks for letting me know, VJ.