You know what I like about the world? I like… no, I love… that there are at least two films that vie for the title of “the Turkish Rambo.” One of them, Vahsi Kan, stars familiar face Cuneyt Arkin and has a cameo by, of all things, a gang of zombies. The second, Korkusuz, stars a perpetually confused bodybuilder named Serdar as Serdar. Both of them come from the same fertile mind: Turkish director-producer-one man exploitation machine Cetin Inanc. If there are additional claimants to the throne of “Turkish Rambo,” I hope they soon make themselves known, because as far as I’m concerned, a proliferation of Turkish Rambo‘s cannot possibly be anything other than good. Of course, it would be better if we lived in a world where both Korkusuz and Vahsi Kan were readily available on DVD, but then, it’d also be better if we lived in a world where Filiz Tacbas, Olga Kurylenko, and Monica Bellucci all dropped by my apartment one day to tell me they could no longer keep their lust for me under control… oh, and also they didn’t mind each other’s company. Barring that happening, we at least have Korkusuz on DVD. And Vahsi Kan? Well, you can watch it on YouTube.
But before we dive headlong into the world of Korkusuz, and before we wander any deeper into my grand fantasies regarding assorted actresses (after all, I don’t want excessive talk on the matter make those who aren’t mentioned feel jealous), let’s take a moment to examine the life and times of Cetin Inanc. Put succinctly, Cetin Inanc is a mustache-sporting force of nature. Born in 1941, young Inanc seemed headed for a career in law until, one day, he decided to go into filmmaking instead. Among his first jobs was working with famed director Atif Yilmaz. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, Inanc directed a number of adventure films. But then he switched gears and became one of the leading creators of Turkish erotic films. When increased censorship made this career less than viable, he hopped genres once again, landing with both feet in the burgeoning world of action cinema, where he has existed comfortable for years.
Cetin (coincidentally, I think his first name is pronounced something close to “Cheatin’) Inanc finds his peers as a filmmaker in journeyman Italian exploitation director Antonio Margheriti and Filipino cult movie impresario Cirio Santiago. All three men (and their respective industries as a whole) showed a remarkable aptitude for picking up on a trend and throttling it mercilessly, making as many movies as possible until the high concept was withered and dry, at which time they would move on to the next trend. As such, all three men dabbled in multiple genres, but they seemed most at home within the confines of the action film. Margheriti and Santiago both seemed partial to war movies cut from the Rambo: First Blood Part II cloth. Inanc also showed a predilection toward such action, though he was equally partial to even more violent copies of violent 70s fare.
Outside of the small cadre of Turkish action cinema fans that has taken root in the United States, most people who would have ever seen anything for which Inanc was responsible would have seen Dunyayi kurtaran adam, known to many as The Man Who Saved the World, and known to many more still simply as “Turkish Star Wars.” Inanc had a long and fruitful collaboration with Turkish movie superstar Cuneyt Arkin, and The Man Who Saved the World caught the eye of people outside of Turkish film fandom for one obvious reason. Turkey has often found itself just remote enough to flagrantly violate international agreements regarding copyright and intellectual property with relatively little risk of the rights holders taking any sort of legal action. Similar to Hong Kong and Indian cinema, Turkish films would most commonly pilfer the scores to famous American films. And similar to Indian films in particular, they would also pilfer the plots, operating under the assumption that the average rural Turk would never get a chance to see, say, Star Wars, but he would get a chance to see a locally made knock-off. So these Turkish pop films became a thematic representation of more famous films, with the storytellers own ideas and opinions of what would play in rural Turkey being thrown into the mix.
With The Man Who Saved the World, Inanc took it a step further. Knowing that the risk of serious repercussions was remote, the crafty filmmaker didn’t stop with just stealing the score from Star Wars (as well as other musical cues, such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and the original Battlestar Galactica television series); he stole actual footage from the movie. Most notably, the climactic attack on the Death Star finds itself used in the opening scenes of The Man Who Saved the World, often with Cuneyt sitting in a fake cockpit while the footage is projected behind him as if he’s in the thick of the battle — never mind the fact that the battle raging behind him has been expertly edited to include cuts. It’s this sequence in particular that got the movie saddled with the “Turkish Star Wars” moniker, even though the remainder of the film bears little resemblance to the plot of Star Wars and is, instead, mostly a movie about Cuneyt tying boulders to his ankles and punching paper mache monsters in the face.
Although by far the best known of Inanc’s films here in the United States, The Man Who Saved the World represents a drop in the bucket of the man’s career as an exploitation giant. Most of his movies were action films, and no matter how violent the original may have been, Cetin Inanc never met a film that couldn’t be improved by adding more violence, sped-up kungfu fights, and explosions. Korkusuz is the first of his films I’ve seen that didn’t star Cuneyt Arkin, and it probably didn’t star him because Cuneyt had already appeared in Inanc’s other Rambo rip-off, Vahsi Kan. This time around, we have a guy named Serdar. Serdar was apparently a former competitive bodybuilder turned gym owner when he caught Inanc’s eye and agreed to sign on to do several pictures. This is the only Serdar film I’ve seen so far, but I would imagine that seeing one of his performances qualifies you well enough to judge the others. To summarize: when Serdar removes his shirt (or, more likely, has it violently ripped from his body), you understand why he was cast in a film. When he acts, you understand why his shirt gets ripped off so frequently.
In Korkusuz, he plays Serdar, a member of an elite military agency. I think it was supposed to be a surprise that Serdar was a government agent, but I can’t imagine too many people being surprised. It seems that a particularly scenic stretch of scrubby central Asian brushland is being ravaged by brigands. Their ability to pop up, stage a guerrilla attack, then melt back into the surrounding countryside frustrates government soldiers, so a plan is devised in which Serdar will be planted among bona fide members of the organization who have been captured, and lead them in an escape attempt while they are being transported by, for some reason I assume is mostly budgetary (the Turkish military being somewhat fairly advances and much feared — ask my Grandpa Harley about Turkish soldiers who made necklaces out of ears they cut off of captured German soldiers), a Winnebago camper. Having gained their trust by successfully leading the escape, Serdar is lead by his newfound compatriots to the secret mountain base of the brigand leader, played by Huseyin Peyda.
To draw parallels, seeing Huseyin Peyda as the villain in a Turkish action film is about as common as seeing Vic Diaz as a villain in a Filipino film, or Amrish Puri as a Bollywood villain. In fact, I like to think that whenever these guys appear in their respective movies as members of a vast and shadowy conspiracy, the other guys in their own movies are actually part of the same continuity. Thus, Amrish Puri’s Mogambo was probably on the phone at some point with Huseyin Peyda’s evil brigand Ziya, who had to reluctantly put Mogambo on hold when sadistic prison warden Vic Diaz called him to see what should be done with the scantily-clad female undercover agent he’d just thrown into prison. Of course, this veritable Legion of Doom (represented in the United States by Richard Lynch) can only be opposed by an equally impressive loose confederation of heroic commandos that would include Mithun Chakraborty, Cuneyt Arkin, Sho Kosugi, and Cynthia Rothrock.
En route to the brigand base, Serdar and his traveling companions pick up an unnamed but acceptably hot female traveling companion, because someone needs to end up in a rainstorm while wearing a thin, clingy dress, and no one wants to see hairy ol’ Osman Betin do such a thing. Thoughtfully, Cetin Inanc leaves clingy dress duties to former nude model Filiz Tacbas (actually, at the time, she was probably a current nude model). Her function in the movie, aside from being hot, is to… well, I guess it’s just to be hot. It’s not like Serdar needs her to inspire him to take down Ziya; he was going to do that anyway. And it’s not like he needs to have his soul saved or his faith restored. Although Serdar’s character, Serdar, is obviously modeled heavily on Rambo, he totally lacks the complexity of that character (yes, I said that). There is no crisis of conscience. Serdar didn’t come home from a war to find himself hated by an anti-war population. He wasn’t brutally hounded by Brian Dennehy until he finally had to jump off a cliff and break his fall by hitting the branches of a tree (something my elementary school friend Larry Becker once demonstrated for us when he was the only one who had seen First Blood… with predictably ambulance-summoning results). Serdar has never been betrayed. He loves Turkey, and he’s damn well going to complete his mission. Having the girl there to give weird speeches really serves little purpose other than to train the camera on a pretty girl. But I’m hardly going to complain to Cetin Inanc about that.
When they finally reach Ziya’s compound, the brigand chief is decidedly less enthusiastic about the arrival in their midst of this beefy outsider with no past. When one of the criminal’s who brought Serdar along — Ziya’s own brother, no less — vouches for the big guy, Ziya displays the limit of his trust in his brother by lashing him to a cross. The girl he throws to the mercies of a captive businessman (who is, quite obviously, another do-gooder undercover agent). And Serdar? Ziya buries him up to the neck in the mud. And here’s my favorite example of Serdar’s bizarre skill as an actor.
The best way I can think to describe the job Serdar the actor does is to liken him to an alien shape shifter who is struggling both to control his new human face and also comprehend how to express human emotion. While buried, Serdar is supposed to be expressing, I assume, the idea that “it is hot,” and later, “it is rainy.” But the thing he does with his face is just… I have no idea. It looks like he’s in the middle of suffering a stroke, and while his face is contorted by the experience, he’s also bored by it. All the while, Ziya keeps coming out to scream at poor Serdar, convinced by standard issue criminal paranoia that Serdar is an enemy. Finally, in order to prove allegiance, Serdar is ordered to deliver yet another rival criminal to Ziya’s compound. Ziya, of course, plans to kill Serdar once the mission is under way, which seems like a complicated way to go about killing a huge dude with a demonstrable skill for survival and handling a giant knife, especially when you previously had him buried to his neck in the mud. In a more complex film, one could attribute this to Ziya’s mounting psychosis, the feeling that everyone is out to get him somehow clouding his sound judgment. But I think, mostly, Inanc just needed a way to get Serdar out of the mud so we could move things on toward the finale, in which Serdar will tear around in a jeep for a while until it’s time to decimate Ziya’s forces by employing a knife, a Turkish commando force, and an RPG that goes “thoop” when fired.
The “thoop” is, admittedly, the product of the dubbing, but we can forgive them for it since I doubt I could have resisted doing the same, seeing as Serdar’s RPG launches without any smoke or fire and, instead, each rocket just sort of pops off as if weakly launched out of some child’s compressed-air pop gun. Looping in a big whooshing rocket launch sound would have been just as out of place. While learning that RPGs launch their ammo without emitting any smoke or flame, I also learned that the camps of Turkish terrorists are positively littered with RPGs lying about in random spots. Inside walls, behind barrels of gasoline, just out in the middle of the street — it’s like playing Contra (that’s Turkish Contra, sir). You never know where you will find a convenient rocket to shoot at stuntmen who will sometimes come running toward an explosion after it has already happened just so they can get in on the fun of hurling themselves over a fence or something.
For me, and for many readers of this site, describing something as “Turkish Rambo” rightfully sets up certain expectations that need to be met. Happily, Korkusuz delivers. The thing you have to remember about Turkish rip-offs is that they use the original as a jumping off point, and often quickly delve into their own mad plotting. For instance, Serdar is obviously modeled after Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo character, right down to the comically phallic big knife. But the movie itself in which Serdar moves in a dream-like daze is less a copy of any existing Rambo movie and more like, say, a fan fiction continuation. The unofficial further adventures of (hey, Rambo was in Afghanistan for a while, so I don’t see why he couldn’t have wandered over into Turkey for a bit on his way to Thailand), if you will. Vahsi Kan was the same way. Cuneyt Arkin has a Rambo bow and arrow, and a Rambo headband, but the movie itself is its own beast entirely. Thus, while pegging these films as “the Turkish whatever” may be useful as a cultural short-hand, but it rarely takes into account the full degree of weirdness these films possess. Calling The Man Who Saved the World the “Turkish Star Wars” hardly prepares you for the delirium that awaits (perhaps that’s for the best). Similarly, Korkusuz uses Rambo as inspiration but hardly feel compelled to ape its source material’s every step.
Judging the acting is somewhat moot. There is, unfortunately, no original language track, though in this case, it’s not a function of careless disregard on behalf of the company distributing Korkusuz in the United States. As we mentioned before, Turkish films quite enjoy stealing music from American movies. While this is usually of no consequence in Turkey itself, it makes releasing the films in the United States problematic for the would-be distributor who doesn’t want his ass sued off by the proper rights owners. So releasing such a movie requires that pretty much all the musical cues be replaced by something less… copyrighted. Under good circumstances, this isn’t terribly difficult, at least it’s no more difficult than composing a new score and replacing the old one (which, actually, is pretty complicated, but it’s at least something that can be done).
Unfortunately, Turkish films rarely come to us in “best of” circumstances. As Greek DVD label Onar learned, and now as US label Dark Maze knows as well, the “master” print for these films is usually just a VHS copy. Turkey has not shown great interest in preserving it’s cinematic culture, which means the chances of finding a good 35mm source for any of these films are almost zero. This also means that you are stuck not just with a copy of the movie that is often of questionable quality; it also means you are left with a flat audio track — one in which the dialogue, sound effects, and music are all combined into just the one recording, making separating them impossible. Thus, if you have to throw one part out (the music, in this case), the whole thing has to go with it. This means that there was no legal way for Dark Maze to include the original Turkish audio without risking the wrath of the gleefully litigious MPAA or RIAA, whoever more sue-y this week.
So they had to dubt he entire thing. Still, we can make some guesses as tot he quality of acting based on the evidence on screen and elsewhere. For instance, you don’t need to hear Serdar speak his own lines to guess what they would sound like. Anyone who ever made fun of Sylvester Stallone for being a terrible actor (You know what? He isn’t; he’s a limited actor, but within those limitations, is often pretty good) needs to rethink their standards after seeing Serdar. That said, there’s something charismatic in Serdar’s almost total lack of screen charisma. Maybe it’s because he seems like an idiot savant. You can’t help but root for him. By contrast, Huseyin Peyda I’ve seen many times before, and he always gives the exact same performance — which is exactly what he needs to do. Ziya, like pretty much all of Peyda’s villains, is a tornado of eye-bulging, cheek-puffing, scenery-chewing bravado. Earlier, I invoked the name of Amrish Puri, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he and Huseyin Peyda both studied the art of cartoon villainy at the same academy (which is located in a strangely temperate valley between two unimaginably high Himalayan mountains; Vincent Price is the headmaster). That Huseyin Peyda knows to also augment his look with one of those pointy Van Dyke beards like Satan (or Vincent Price!) shows he is totally committed to being the best hammy villain Turkey for which Turkey could ever hope.
The rest of the cast is disposable. Filiz Tacbas is hot. She was the it girl for a while in Turkish exploitation and appeared alongside Serdar multiple times. She’s still active as an actress, appearing in occasional movies and more occasionally on Turkish television. She’s actually gotten remarkably hotter as she has aged. Osman Betin pops up as a heavy in some other Cetin Inanc films. He was a stuntman by trade, I think, and a former athlete, so when it comes time for a fight scene, it’s him and Serdar. They deliver the goods, too, in a fight that, like many Turkish action scenes, is crude and unpolished, bt never the less energetic and entertaining. The other henchmen are either workmanlike or have nothing to do but jump into the air when an explosion goes off. The rest of the army guys mostly sit behind or stand in front of desks and take phone calls. So I don’t think we lose too terribly much from the inability to hear the original Turkish audio track. Plus, with that track, you don’t get the “thoop.”
Serdar came and went in Turkish action cinema much like Sho Kosugi did in the United States (but without insisting that Kane and Shane Kosugi show up in every movie). After his contract with Cetin Inanc was up (which included a Turkish Rocky called Kara Simsek and a Turkish Road Warrior called Intikamci, which looks just awesome), Serdar went back to his gym. It seems that during his time in films, he remained pretty well grounded (he’s been married to the same woman, a Korean immigrant, since he was making movies), so the transition back into “civilian” life wasn’t overly jarring. These days, he still runs the gym and seems a genuinely amiable and easy-to-like guy. That’s probably why, despite the fact that his acting job in Korkusuz leaves something to be desired, his character is one you can get behind. That said, I assume that somewhere in his backyard garden, Serdar has a hidden radio. One day, while he’s out sunning himself or working out his lats, that radio will beep, and Serdar will jog over, pick up a pair of headphones, and hear Sho Kosugi on the other side. “Serdar, it’s Sho. We’re needed. Pick up Mithun on your way over.”
Serdar’s buff real-life son can then team up with Kane Kosugi to form sort of a junior league team.
Korkusuz isn’t the most insane example of Turkish filmmaking. At the time it came out, Turkish movie making was on the downswing. But it’s still a lot of fun and showcases the “anything goes” energy of Turkish action cinema that so endears them to jaded old coots like myself. Cetin Inanc made classic exploitation films for the classic exploitation reason: turning a profit. But what a film like Korkusuz shows is that the desire to turn a quick profit doesn’t necessarily mean that the movie doesn’t come at you with energy and fun. Surrounded as we are in 2009 by big budget movies that seem so cynical and treat their audience with an air of contempt, a movie like Korkusuz — while we can poke good-natured fun at its deficiencies — also comes as a welcome reminder of a time when a movie just wanted to show you a good time. If the people making it were cynical, if they thought we the consumer were rubes or marks, it doesn’t really come through in the final product. It just wants to entertain us, with a big muscular guy and a pop gun rocket launcher.
Release Year: 1986 | Country: Turkey | Starring: Serdar Kebabcilar, Osman Betin, Yilmaz Kurt, Togrul Meteer, Huseyin Peyda, Filiz Tacbas, Sumer Tilmac, Mehmet Ugur | Writer: Cetin Inanc | Director: Cetin Inanc | Cinematographer: Dincer Onal | Music: Jake Kaufman (US version) | Producer: Mehmet Karahafiz, Ed Glaser | Alternate Titles: Rampage, Fearless