• Joe Bullet

    Released by: 88 Films
    Released on: September 11th, 2017.
    Director: Louis de Witt
    Cast: Ken Gampu, Dan Poho, Richard Khumalo, Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje, Abigail Kubeka, Matthew Monte
    Year: 1973
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    The Movie:

    The titular Joe Bullet (Ken Gampu) from this 1973 South African production is, in a word, a badass. He’s the type of tough guy you want on your side and he makes a much better friend than an enemy. He’s hired Dan Poho (playing himself), the president of a soccer team called The Eagles to put a stop to The Vulture Gang, a nefarious crew that recently murdered the Eagles’ head coach (Richard Khumalo). Why did they kill a soccer coach? To stop soccer superstars Flash (Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje) and Jerry (Sydney Chama) from rejoining their old team, of course!

    To further cement their position on all of this, the Vulture’s also lay siege to a man named Poho, who has ties to the Eagles, and his daughter Beauty (Abigail Kubeka) but thankfully for them, Mr. Bullet shows up just in the nick of time. Once the leader of the Vulture’s, whose identity remains a secret, learns of Bullet’s involvement he turns things up a few notches and brings on a martial arts assassin named Spike (Matthew Molete) to eliminate Joe from the picture before the World Cup is to start!

    It’s kind of weird to North American audiences to see soccer portrayed as such a big deal in the seventies but it definitely was and still is much bigger overseas than around these parts (even if it is seemingly getting more and more popular). This gives Joe Bullet a pretty unique backdrop off of which to hang its story of a bad dude fighting bad guys to serve the greater good. There’s definitely some unique cultural aspects to the picture that make it interesting and help it to stand out from other ‘tough guy’ movies of the same period. It is essentially a blaxploitation picture in a lot of ways, but the fact that it was made independently during the apartheid years (and then subsequently banned by the government!) is what really makes it interesting.

    The film itself starts off well enough, with some interesting action and a decent setup – but once we get to the middle stretch, the pacing lags for awhile until the movie comes to its conclusion, which is entertaining even if it is a bit predictable. The movie is definitely rough around the edges but it has its own wonky charm, most of which stems from leading man Ken Gampu – he’s so cool here that his character even gets his own theme song (which 88 Films has wisely chosen to play over the main menu screen – seriously, it’s so cool that I let it play on repeat about six times before my wife got annoyed at me!). Gampu cruises through the film with style, effortlessly cool from start to finish.


    Joe Bullet arrives on a 25GB Blu-ray disc from 88 Films in its proper 1.33.1 aspect ratio in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer that was restored in 2k from two surviving 16mm prints. Given the history and rarity of the film and the materials available for this release, it looks quite good. Expect some minor print damage throughout and some fluctuations in color timing, all of which appears to point back to the source material, but this is more than watchable under the circumstances. It’s a fairly grainy movie, no surprise there, and depth is a few steps away from perfect but detail and texture aren’t bad – there’s no obvious noise reduction nor are there any issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement.

    The LPCM Mono track is okay but again, there’s no hiding the issues with the source material. Some dialogue sounds a little muffled and there’s a bit of background hiss here and there. Levels are well balanced though and for the most part you can hear things well enough. Optional subtitles are available in English only.

    Aside from a trailer for the feature the disc also includes a commentary track with the writer/producer of the film, Tonie van der Merwe, who is joined by 88 Films’ Calum Waddell and Benjamin Cowley, who works for the company that did the restoration work on the picture. This is an interesting track, with van der Merwe really giving up a lot of information about how the film came to be made, what it was like making a feature in the country at the time, the influence of local politics and the controversy that surrounded it. There’s also talk about how all the soccer footage came to be cut into the picture, how the restoration was accomplished and a fair bit more.

    The disc comes packaged with some reversible sleeve art, a slipcover and an insert booklet containing an essay from Waddell that offers up some history for the picture along with biographical details for some of the key players involved in it.

    On a side note, Waddell has also been working on a documentary that ties into the filmmaking scene that Joe Bullet was created in, a trailer for which can be seen below.

    The Final Word:

    Joe Bullet is a pretty fascinating look back at South Africa’s film scene of the 1970’s. the picture itself is entertaining enough, despite some pacing problems, but the story behind it – which is well documented on the disc’s extra features – is where one really gets interesting.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!