Eye of the Tiger? More like Eye of the Tigris. Yep, geography joke.
Dönmez-Colin, Gönül. The Routledge Dictionary of Turkish Cinema. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 233-34. Print.
Horrocks, David, and Eva Kolinsky. Turkish Culture in German Society Today. Providence, RI: Berghahn, 1996. Print.
“Turkish Rambo Speaks: An Interview with Rampage’s Star.” Neon Harbor. Neon Harbor Entertainment, LLC, 04 Mar. 2015. Web. 16 Mar. 2016.
A nobody boxer gets a rare opportunity to fight for the championship belt. And in order to go the distance he’ll need plenty of montage-based training with an inspiring score by Bill Conti and the band Survivor.
But he’s no Italian Stallion. He’s an Istan-bull.
We’re going to the mat for another round of Deja View.
Sylvester Stallone’s breakout success “Rocky” is the ultimate underdog tale, both for the title character and the actor who played him. To date it’s launched six sequels. And although Apollo Creed would call it a story about the American Dream, a Turkish version proves that it’s a little more global.
In “Kara Şimşek,” after young Turk Serhan wins a boxing match in Germany against the national champion, he and his avaricious father Osman return to their family in Turkey from whom they’ve been absent for 15 years. But before he can even settle in, Serhan is challenged by an Italian boxer and murdered in the ring. It then falls to his kind-hearted brother Serdar to train in his place and take revenge.
“Kara Şimşek,” or “Black Lightning,” was directed by the wildly prolific Çetin İnanç, Turkey’s answer to Roger Corman. Between 1967 and 1987 İnanç directed nearly 200 theatrical films, including some he ghost-directed. But by the 1980s cinemas were fighting a losing battle with home video and İnanç branched out, opening a video shop in İzmir. One of his regular customers was champion bodybuilder and nearby gym owner Serdar Kebapçılar. İnanç was impressed by his physique. And with “Rambo” and “Rocky” currently box office heavyweights, İnanç immediately saw the potential. He had found his Stallone.
Serdar—he was billed by his first name only—explains however that there was more to his films than simply xeroxing Hollywood scripts. “We took them as an example, but we wrote the scenarios for our own culture.”
In fact İnanç would frequently use American movies as inspiration and write new stories that spoke specifically to the Turkish experience. Hence the reason why, in “Kara Şimşek,” Serdar’s father and brother have been living in Germany away from their family for 15 years.
After World War II, Germany—West Germany—eventually reached a period of major economic upturn. And in the 1960s and 70s, with more jobs than workers to fill them, it looked to migrant workers from countries like Turkey to fill huge gaps in unskilled labor. Unfortunately these “guest workers” were often discriminated against and treated as third-class citizens.
So when Osman laments with bitterness being treated like a subhuman and becoming a slave to money, his feelings would have been relatable to countless migrant workers and their families. His son’s success in boxing and victory over the German champion—perhaps inspired by an event in “Rocky III”—are a symbolic victory for Turkey over Germany itself.
The boxing genre also gave İnanç a novel way to dress up the traditional Turkish melodrama. Turkish melodramas often explored the conflict between rich, Westernized characters and lower class, traditionally Eastern ones. It’s been an endless well of dramatic material ever since the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, when massive reforms impelled the country to modernize and move away from its Ottoman roots.
Here both sides are in the same family. The father has become accustomed to Western luxury and its excesses—gambling, drinking, and infidelity. His wife and two other sons in Turkey, living in the slums of Izmir almost without his support, have a poor but honest life. Representing them, Serdar is the hero because he pursues his new life without abandoning his traditions. Melodramas didn’t paint the West as inherently evil but stressed that modernization should be tempered with a sense of heritage and family values.
Meanwhile, a subplot involving Serdar and his wealthy boss’s daughter forms a classic rich girl-poor boy love story that also was very often repeated among Turkish melodramas.
But “Kara Şimşek” still has plenty of familiar material for “Rocky” connoisseurs. Osman convincingly fills in for Paulie as the drunken lout. Serdar’s fatherly trainer employs Mickey’s brand of tough love. The obligatory training montage is in place with Serdar in Rocky’s signature sweat suit. And while Serdar trains, his opponent lives the easy life, making a movie about himself in sequences that bring to mind Rocky’s follies in the first act of “Rocky III.”
And the music is very familiar, as much of the score is made up of needle drops from the “Rocky III” soundtrack.
By not simply duplicating “Rocky,” however, “Kara Şimşek” brings something new to the table for Stallone fans. Still others may find it interesting as the forerunner of revenge-oriented kickboxing movies like Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Kickboxer” and Roger Corman’s “Bloodfist.” Regardless, although “Kara Şimşek” may appear to be a lightweight entry in the boxing genre, it still has plenty of fight left in it.
If the title “Black Lightning” is puzzling, that’s because it has less to do with Stallone and more to do with David Hasselhoff. “Kara Şimşek” was the Turkish title for the TV series “Knight Rider,” which was wildly popular in Turkey, and director Çetin İnanç saw an opportunity to cash in on the familiarity of the name.
So he snagged it, KITT and kaboodle.
Thanks so much for watching, and I’ll see you next week.