Movie Review – A triumph in superficialities

2014-08-24 15:00

Hyped new crime thriller Hard To Get opens nationwide this Friday. It’s all formulaic action, questionable girl power and sweaty flesh in slo-mo. Even so, it may mark a significant development in the local industry. Two Trending critics weigh in

Film: Hard To Get

Director: Zee Ntuli

Starring: Pallance Dladla, Thishiwe Ziqubu, Israel Makoe

Hard To Get is a critical fish in a barrel. It’s almost too easy to take it apart.

Director Zee Ntuli’s debut feature is a ­dubstep Bonnie and Clyde set in “the gritty underbelly” of Joburg.

It is fast and furious, and chock-full of slow motion fight sequences, deep meaningful stares, guns, neon lights and empty streets. It is a triumph in superficialities.

The strong female lead is a conglomeration of projected male desires. It is a gangsta fantasy that reads as an overcompensation for post-struggle male insecurities.

To be fair, I never quite figured out what the plot was. TK (Pallance Dladla) is a handsome dude in a small-town bar.

Skiets (Thishiwe Ziqubu), a hot woman who operates perpetually in slow-mo, walks in and they spontaneously steal a car from a bad guy called Mugza (Israel Makoe), who chases them to Joburg where they f**k shit up. So far, so Afda Tarantino.

It’s a good two-thirds of the film in before the two leads have an actual conversation. Not that conversation is a prerequisite for good film – it’s just that among all the flash of Hard To Get, there is very little reflexivity and very little that the film gives us other than slickness. It is an entertainment – and an empty one at that.

But for all the derision, I predict that people will turn up to see it. It’s fast-paced, sexy, with just enough local idioms and location to lend it a fleeting sense of authenticity, but not too much to alienate foreign viewers.

In short, Hard To Get is exactly the film the National Film and Video Foundation has been trying to make for the past 10 years.

It is all sound and dubstep, signifying nothing, except perhaps box office returns. It is slick trash done competently. It is no more superficial than the best of Hollywood mainstream. Hard To Get could be an important film for South African cinema.

There can be no self-sustaining art house or alternative cinema in South Africa without a mainstream. Hard To Get is nothing if it is not quality.

That it attains this quality though superficial means does not make it less valid cinema. While it certainly delivers on drama and action, with the same kind of formulaic plot and masculine stereotypes as iNumber Number, it does so with much more confidence and dubstep.

Ntuli grabs the audience by the back of the neck and forces them to come along for the ride.

In fact, Hard To Get might be the most significant commercial local film since Mr Bones 2 – and should it succeed at the box office, it would go a long way towards proving that the National Film and Video Foundation’s approach to film development can build the industry (if not the actual art) of South African-voiced film making. Should it fail, it goes a long way to proving the opposite.

The foundation, in concert with other state bodies, recently announced an Emerging Black Film Makers’ Fund to produce seven films a year.

Should films like Hard To Get start being produced at that rate, some artistic reinterpretation of the tropes the foundation’s cinema has been littered with is bound to occur. That then would be a reason to celebrate.

On its own, Hard To Get is a slick, hypermasculine piece of entertainment that will fade into insignificance.

However, as a model for the market that the foundation is trying to open up, it’s their best effort yet. Oh, and did I mention the ­dubstep?

This daring, crooked and ­twisted tale is not your everyday romance of flowers and candlelit dinners, but a dark and ­intense contemporary love story.

Lust and emotion run through the veins of the hero and heroine as they manage to make their circumstances all the more hopeless in a series of sticky situations.

The chemistry, the passion, the aggression are all too palpable and as the lovers grow with each other, so does their romance, which eventually takes a much clearer and more solid shape than the plot.

Where the direction of the story does not carry much weight, these emotional entanglements make all the difference.

I cringed through some of the scenes of passion, and shuddered when the language got too strong. Yet I laughed at the jokes and light moments in between the fights, car chases, robberies and high-octane violence. Israel Makoe is hilarious.

– Siyabonga Sithole

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