After the banner year that 2016 was for Nollywood, it is only fair that industry watchers and insiders begin to fret about the New Year. 2016 was the year Nollywood went to Toronto, the long awaited ’76 was finally released, the excellent Ebola response story 93 Days came in and the year of The Wedding Party. Where does the industry go from here? In terms of storytelling, in terms of ambition and in terms of scale.
Forward ever it seems, if the new costume drama, King Invincible is anything to go by. Directed by Femi Adisa who conceived the story as far back as 2003 but had to wait over ten years for the resources to realise his vision, King Invincible is a decent attempt at genre filmmaking, in this case, the period piece drama, or in Nollywood parlance, the ‘’epic’’.
In a fictional kingdom somewhere in Yorubaland, a kingdom at war is rescued by a valiant palace slave, Taari (Tope Tedela.) As a reward for his bravery, the dying king adopts him into the royal family and he is to wed his heartthrob, Princess Morenike (Omowunmi Dada). They are to live happily ever after.
Man has plans, but the gods, they have plans too and a troublesome prophecy in particular brings with it discord among some of the royals. Taari and Morenike succumb to a moment’s weakness and the newly minted Prince begins to manifest strange characteristics more wolf like than human. On a frantic search for an antidote to his ailment, Taari seeks answers in the wild forests, far away from home and it is only there that he can fulfil his destiny and submit to the will of Oba Airi, the almighty.
Back home, crown Prince and brother to Taari, Adetiba (Gabriel Afolayan) will do anything to sit on the throne and his desperation sets off a chain of events that will ultimately reveal the folly and helplessness of man in the larger scheme of things.
With its reliance on prophecies, overriding presence of the unseen Oba Airi and pro-divine intervention leanings, King Invincible can be approached as a faith based project, serviced to a mainstream audience. The director’s alliance with the Redeemed Christian Church of God further buttresses this line of reasoning, especially when the inciting factor for most of the plot is essentially punishment for the sin of lust.
But thanks to Paul Gaius’ competent screenplay and Adisa’s careful, light touch with the material, King Invincible does not go into preachy, gospel territory and is set to attract as wide an audience as possible. You can recognise the filmmaker’s politics and maybe his agenda, but they try not get in the way of the story that is being told.
Costumier Obijie Oru does fine work clothing the cast and the makeup team goes out of the way to avoid a potential disaster with Taari’s Wolverine unravelling. There is definitely room for improvement but it is all capably handled. The film’s budget is limited, and so the sets have to be cloistered and shrunken as opposed to sprawling and epic but Adisa makes good use of what is available to him. The stunt coordinators show up for work and the actors put in commendable commitment to the fight scenes and stunt work.
The ensemble cast is a mix of young actors and the veterans and where many of the actors possess natural talent, Adisa draws some more out of them, making them believable even when they are spouting cheesy, clichéd lines. The foursome of Gabriel Afolayan, Tope Tedela, Omowunmi Dada and Mike Abdul in particular are the real MVPs.
Mike Abdul who is better known for his Fuji leaning work as part of the gospel band, Midnight Crew makes a stunning, confident film debut in his role as a monarch caught in between his duty to the crown and his love for his family. Omowunmi Dada has a face that can lighten up hearts when it smiles. She does not have much to do here but her scenes with Tedela sparkle with the charm that she brings to the role. Tedela takes a character that could easily have been a punchline and keeps it grounded with his effective work. Gabriel Afolayan as the covetous Prince Adetiba is a delight to behold once again. He chews up the scenery lavishly and leaves an indelible presence.
The screenplay is fast paced and even when it sags, as in the mid portions and dwells in clichés, manages to come up with twists and turns to keep viewers interested.
But ultimately, King Invincible is a director’s film and Femi Adisa’s hard work and vision is what is most striking about the entire picture. His passion is visible in every shot, and in every fight scene. He falters on occasion, with what he gets in (clustered sets, unimpressive supporting actors) and with what he leaves out (a pivotal battle scene that could have told more of Taari’s character) but anyone can see that bigger things are sure to come from him.
King Invincible is proof that Nollywood is heading forward this year.
Premiered: 4th of January 2017