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Fistfights and impotence recall Indonesia's troubled history

Pulp film exploring patriarchal society draws international plaudits

Detail of a poster for the movie "Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas" ("Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash"). Shot using vibrant 16 mm film, the movie is a mashup of classic vintage genres, ranging in style from Hong Kong martial arts flicks to Indonesian horror films to American juvenile delinquent B-movies. (Courtesy of the Match Factory)

JAKARTA -- Racing through suburbia on his stripped-down motorcycle or beating people into a pulp, bare-knuckle fighter Ajo Kawir fears nothing, not even death. But Ajo's burning rage is a brutal attempt to cover up a not-so-well concealed secret: This ultramasculine antihero is impotent. From prostitutes to black magic, nothing can help the "Champion of Bojongsoang," a village south of Bandung in Indonesia's West Java Province, to "get the bird up."

With this premise, "Seperti Dendam, Rindu Harus Dibayar Tuntas" (2021) -- an Indonesian-Singaporean-German co-production distributed internationally as "Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash" -- feels like an underground cult flick. On Aug. 14, though the film won the top award -- the Golden Leopard -- at the prestigious Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, the first Indonesian movie to do so.

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