Rambu! The Indonesian Rambo

What does Rambo have in common with Batman and Spider-Man? Besides an animated series, that is.

Further Reading:

Stallone, Sylvester. Audio commentary. First Blood. Dir. Ted Kotcheff. Orion Pictures Corp., 1982. DVD.

Toby2Dope. “A Chat with Peter O’Brian.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 08 May 2012. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Tombs, Pete. “Mystics from Bali: Indonesia.” Mondo Macabro: Weird & Wonderful Cinema Around the World. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998. 64-75. Print.


Muscles bulging, our hero gears up for battle: Boots. Knife. Headband. And with his signature rocket launcher he’s ready to take on a savage horde as a one man army.

Just another day in Indonesia.

We’re bringing out the big guns for this case of Deja View.

“First Blood” introduced us to to John Rambo in 1982 but it was the sequel, 1985’s “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” that redefined the action movie, set the template for countless imitations, and cemented Rambo’s musclebound, survival knife-wielding, headbanded look in the international consciousness. The film sent him to Vietnam to rescue POWs and established exotic locations, giant machine guns, huge fiery explosions, and sadistic foreign foes as compulsory for all sequels—and rip-offs.

In “The Intruder,” ex-cop and muscly good samaritan “Rambu” runs afoul of criminal kingpin John White. After Rambu thwarts his kidnapping attempt, White sends his goons to destroy Rambu and everyone he loves. Soon Rambu is entangled with a second criminal organization and, pushed to his physical and emotional limit, unleashes his fury—and so many bullets!—in brutal revenge.

With a plot involving competing gangsters, cocaine, stolen documents, and a fleet of weaponized autorickshaws, the film may not sound like Rambo. But, gosh, our hero sure looks like him! Star Peter O’Brian was just a tourist from New Zealand when he was spotted on the streets of Jakarta by some of the film’s crew. They thought they were following Sylvester Stallone. And given O’Brian’s uncanny likeness, big shot Indonesian producer Raam Punjabi was quick to sign him on for a film: “It’s a Rambo copy movie,” he said. “You’re going to be Rambo: Indonesia.”

Indonesia has a long history of applying its own style to Hollywood. Some of the earliest Indonesian films were adapted from Hollywood hits like “Dracula,” “Zorro,” and “Tarzan.” And while Indonesian cinema can boast a heritage all its own, occasional remakes found their way into the mix, from versions of “The Exorcist” to “The Terminator.” By the 1980s many films were also being made with an eye toward the international video market. Foreign buyers were keen on the exotic look of Indonesian films, and especially keen on the ones with a little bit of sex and a lot of violence and action. And if the leads looked a little more Western, that was even better.

So Rambo was ideal grist for the mill. While he may be an American-made hero, his appeal is international. Stallone has balked at Rambo’s adoption as a symbol of American jingoism, pointing out the character’s disdain for the system and his choice not even to live in America. And Rambo 2’s director George P. Cosmatos insists that the film is, at its foundation, a straightforward story of an underdog battling insurmountable odds.

“The Intruder” is a terrific example of a fun phenomenon in pop culture and cross-cultural remakes: iconic characters stretched to the limits of recognizability, but still just iconic enough to be familiar and marketable. It happens a lot with comic book characters. Entire franchises reboot, giving their characters all new backstories. Unauthorized adaptations are made and the characters retain little more than their name, ethos, and bits of their costume. Sometimes less. Take, for example, Turkey’s mafiosi Spider-Man or the very out-there “Super-Batman.”

And while not as iconic as Spider-Man or Batman, Rambo has sort of an iconic superhero status himself. He has a trademark look, signature weapons, a yen for freedom, an underdog outsider quality not shared by the Schwarzenegger tough guys, and a particular post-Vietnam cynicism. In other words, there’s enough there for a kind of “shorthand” for Rambo, even if you take some of those things away. And, of course, they do.

This wasn’t even an international phenomenon. In America, Rambo was divorced from his Vietnam history and PTSD to become a weekday cartoon for children. But he still had the name, the weapons, the ethos… And vitally, like superheroes, the costume.

“The Intruder” works much the same way. Rambu’s given the look, the weapons, the name (sorta), and an ex-cop—but not soldier—backstory. And then instead of Vietnam, he’s dropped into an action movie about crime lords.

Yet while it’s not strictly a remake, “The Intruder” does occasionally “quote” the original films. We see Rambu beaten in jail and crucified. He’s pushed to revenge after a compatriot is murdered. He machine-guns a room as he vents his rage at the traitorous villain. And there are a few other minor nods to the source material, including one teeny, tiny dubbing slip-up:

John White: What about that intruder, Rambo?

In the end, returning to the idea of comic book heroes, “The Intruder” is the “New 52” Rambo. The “Ultimate Universe” Rambo. His origin is different, but he’s called basically the same thing. And he does the same kinds of things. And you have to admit, he sure is drawn the same. Which is good, because how are you going to recognize Rambo if he doesn’t look like Stallone?

Actually, that was less of a problem than you might think. As “The Intruder” was being made, every shot of the Western actors was filmed a second time, but with Indonesian stars. The upshot is that “The Intruder,” starring Peter O’Brian, was released internationally, and an alternate and nearly identical film, “Pembalasan Rambu” (Rambu’s Revenge), starring Eddy Darmo, was produced for an exclusively local audience.

But that’s for the episode on the Indonesian Indonesian Rambo.

Thanks so much for watching, and we’ll see you next week.

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