July 12, 2020

Film Rats Club

Let's Talk Movies

Reading LIVING IN BONDAGE: Breaking Free by ‘Chukwu Martin

“What do you think this is? Nollywood? We don’t do those things anymore” – Richard Williams (Living in Bondage: Breaking Free).

This line from the film helps explain the dismissal of the heavy traditional leaning that had themed its mother output in Obi Rapu’s Living in Bondage (1992). Smash cut to 2019 and Nollywood Big boy Ramsey Noauh seizes the chair to direct 2019s Living in Bondage: Breaking Free – a sequel. The film breaks free from Obi Rapu’s original to lead us through a technically buoyant adventure, and try to present Nollywood in a new form. The audacity to take on such a challenge and tickle fond disturbing memories of our darling Merit- the hero of ’92 goosesteps us into taking front row seats at the cinema, it was on!

In 1992, Andy Okeke (Kenneth Okonkwo) sacrifices his wife Merit (Nnenna Nwabueze) and before she dies, she says “Andy you killed me, despite everything I did for you. If there’s reincarnation, I would want to come back with all the love I have for my fellow human being, but if there’s not, let your kingdom be my reward O God…” Andy would go on to pay the price as his wife’s ghost torment him. He would seek help from his cult but he can only pacify his late wife’s spirit by blinding and castrating himself. A classic tragedy. This is a cost too steep. He balks and soon becomes mentally deranged before he receives salvation. But God is not so kind after all for “I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, and on the third and fourth generations of those who Hate Me…” Deut. 5:9-10. This was Obi Rapu’s ploy.

27 years later, what would Nnamdi do? It’s a familiar tale; the audience knew what they were going to see but waited to see. Nnamdi is Andy’s son and all eyes were on him, this swanky looking young man.

The films aesthetic opening sequence drives us into the world of the film, the quasi-enraptured voice of a little girl spike our nerves, we feel and ‘see’ as the man kills the thing he loves the most. The conflict rises as a poor little soul rises with it to heaven. It all begins with a sacrifice.

The story heads on into its first act introducing us to Nnamdi (Swanky JKA) as he hustles his way through a challenging life, the usual cup of tea of the average Nigerian unaware of the past and where he’s about to be headed. In no time, he has climbed up the ladder without his hands. He’s gotten a helper, his new boss Richard Williams-Ramsey Noauh playing the unperturbed Capone. The devil in whom you’d be pleased with as he manages to effortlessly work the character. Debut director Ramsey Nouah shows an understanding of character introduction and thematic dynamics. He pays special attention to critical integral cultural details around brotherhood, romance, and family as some scenes remind me of home. Obviously this was not the usual “Cry for Help”, this was Nollywood playing a different game that needed a different game. Nonetheless, all that is about to come to a near end.

The efforts of the opening scenes begin to diminish. Soon we begin to see beyond the clean cinematography, melodic acting and honest locations and get interested in the story. The chronicle of the Igbo man and his quest for affluence was the narrative for several years in the Nollywood terrain, and it comes back to play when our protagonist begins to dine with the devil and his reverent agents. These moments were to be the high point of the process. His initiation into the occult, the familiar scenes we are used to of men in fantastic makeup chanting in sonority as the camera picks them one by one on close-up. “But what do you think this is (…) we don’t do those things anymore.” This line must have played so much in the filmmakers minds that they sought to do something different, but in trying to create magic and mystification, they fell into a trap of plagiarizing on existing Hollywood protocols that left our eyes wide shut, searching- an abyss of undercooked events. “Come and see American wonder”.

Greed is a virtue to many who don’t see the end. The innocence of greed becomes the child of regret. After Nnamdi is initiated, he regrets it as they always do. The film tries to create a whirlpool of emotions as it circles the protagonist with key variables – love, family and brotherhood. These emotional props fail to perform their purpose because of the films over-ambition to focus on the spectacle of white lights and fast life that they undervalue these key variables “Love, Family and Brotherhood”. He had met the love affair, he had met his father Andy who we remember from 1992, and he had a brother.

These three emotional props were the keys and we would have begun to guess who the next sacrifice would be at the next “Dark Lord” meeting. The pressure to make tough choices is what keeps conflict burning; it is what keeps our hearts alive as we watch what he would do surrounded by these choices. The almighty internal conflict “Man versus himself”. But alas, like Andy to Merit this was a different narrative.

So what did Nnamdi do?

Living in Bondage is a 1992/93 Nigerian two-part drama thriller film directed by Chris Obi Rapu, written by Kenneth Nnebue and Okechukwu Ogunjiofor, produced by Ogunjiofor, and sponsored by Jafac Wine. The film was shot straight-to-video, and starred Kenneth Okonkwo and Nnenna Nwabueze in their breakout roles.

Living in Bondage: Breaking Free is a 2019 film written by Nicole Asinugo and CJ Obasi, story by Nicole Asinugo, Charles Okpaleke, Ramsey, Odeh Chris, Steve Gukas, Executive producer; Charles Okpaleke, Produced by Steve Gukas and Directed by Ramsey Nouah

Honourable mention:
Sound: Pius Fatoke
DOP: John Demos
Costume: Olohigbe Nwagwu

RTN: The scene with Nnamdi and the record reminds us of Isoken (2018) and her white boyfriend listening to Shina Peters. In this case, it’s Osadebe.