Abro Ne Bayie (Review)

Abro Ne Bayie

Directed by C’emeka Uba (Don)
Written by Samuel Nyamekye, Fred Asanti Kotoko, and C’emeka Uba (Don)

Africa is a hotbed for cinema, but little is paid attention to their massive film output outside of their native continent. But with a growing visibility at film festivals and overseas markets, the time is coming where African cinema becomes a major player on the world market. Nigeria producing the second most amount of films a year, behind only India. This movie making bug has spill over to nearby countries, and now Ghana has started to get a reputation as a cinematic powerhouse as well (even though they technically produced films first!) Ghana is aided by production companies that have offices based in Europe, run by Ghanaian ex-pats who return to Ghana with big money and movie star dreams. Abro Ne Bayie itself is an example of a local film company (Miracle Films Sudios) with a large connection to a distribution company in Europe (Q-Music out of Amsterdam). But before we look into Abro Ne Bayie, we need to look into where Abro Ne Bayie and the Ghanaian film industry comes from. Prepare for the infodump!

Ghana’s film industry started during colonization, with a colonial film unit of the government. It was later replaced by the Ghana Film Industry Corporation (GFIC) after independence, which was still state run by the Nkrumah regime (and the parade of military dictators afterwards.) The GFIC got some actual competition in the 1980s, as films made on video began to spring up. The military rulers were instantly concerned, and attempted to control the entire burgeoning industry with a Ministry of Information and a censorship board. Even after the transition to democracy in 1992, the Ministry of Information continued to come out with film guidelines through the 1990s. The Ministry is often concerned with Ghanaian film not being up to the technical or moral standards that they decree, but their influence is nil in recent years.

The video boom of the 1980s and 90s was largely associated with the Pentecostal Christian movement, which experienced a boom in membership at the same time. The membership was partially a response to the government at the time, as people rejected their support and turned to other support mechanisms. Once against Christianity in favor of local religions, the military rulers (at the time, the Rawlings regime) began embracing the church do its increased influence in an effort to use the power for themselves. The Pentecostal movement in Africa incorporates local religions, but revamps them so creatures of legend are all branded as demons or working for the Devil.

Another connection to the movie industry is that a number of theaters hold worship services during Sunday, as an effort to compensate for lack of available films. The Pentecostal movement also has lots of money, due to their emphasis of tithing and church donation, and it was a natural evolution to throw those piles of cash into media to convert more people for more piles of cash. Aside from television and radio time, movies became a big industry of church spending. The church-going audience is a big one in Ghana, as Ghana is mostly Christian (70% – most of which are Pentecostals) with a large Muslim population (15%). Movie producers had a formula for a successful film, which was marketed directly to female churchgoing audiences. Notorious for many reasons director Socrate Safo went outside the comfort zones with his film Chronicles of Africa, which gave a not-to-rosy assessment of Christian missionaries. Chronicles did well at gaining foreign critical praise and won awards at FESPACO (the Pan-African Film Festival of Ouagadougou), but failed to find an audience at home and lost money.

By the time Ghana became a democracy in 1992, the increase in media freedom caused the Ghanaian film industry to explode, increasing to over 50 films a year. Though attempts were made to create truly Ghanaian cinema, the influence of American, Hong Kong, Indian, Malaysian, and Nigeria films are felt to the point of Ghanaian cinema’s voice being less distinct. But still, Ghallywood (sometimes spelled Ghollywood) soldiers on, and in the past few years, the films have become more risque and more prolific. The industry is also modernizing in the face of overseas immigrants returning with handfuls of cash. The documentary Ghanaian Video Tales show films being filmed and distributed by vhs tapes, most of the distribution tapes patched together from discarded videos and tape, and sold from the back of moving musical party vans advertising each new film. A modern film like Abro Ne Bayie (which came out just two years after the documentary was released) is shot on digital cameras and sold on DVDs/vcds overseas. (I honestly don’t know how it was released in Ghana, but probably a mix of VHS and vcd/dvd. One can hope they had their own party van as well!) Our review of Ghanaian Video Tales will cover the early years of Ghanaian horror, and these Abro Ne Bayie reviews will look at a modern example.

Abro Ne Bayie is a mix of English and Twi, the local dominant dialect. The Twi is subtitled whenever the subtitle guy feels like it, which is less often then you would think. Because no one here is likely to grab copies of this off of Netflix, we’ll do a long and complicated plot explanation complete with the patented lame jokes as we go.

And, because we’re extra awesome, this is one of TarsTarkas.NET’s entries in the MOSS (Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit) inaugural Conspiracy (theme month) – Skeletons in the Closet. Check out other MOSS member’s entries on the splash page! Every entry features either dudes in skeleton suits or skeletons/skulls featuring in the plots of films and comics. If you don’t click the link, I’ll break every bone in your body in alphabetical order.

There is lots of setup in these films that go nowhere, and more loose ends than a loose ends factory. It’s almost as if the films’ scripts where more general ideas, written as they went to outline what should be happening. Just when you think there might be epic conclusions, resolutions to plot arcs, or just a sense of things going somewhere, whole chunks of the film are dropped and forgotten. If we’re lucky, we get an offhanded statement that clears things up, but oftentimes opening just as many questions as it answers. But in reality, we might as well put some of the characters on milk cartons, because they’ll vanish without a trace.

From watching lots of films from lots of countries, both epic in scope and ridiculously on the cheap, I am well familiar with different narrative forms in different cultures. But I’m also familiar with films from countries that doesn’t even line up to what is considered good movie structure in those countries. You don’t have to be an expert in world cinema to recognize cheap film production with no script and no clue. The Abro Ne Bayie films are pumped out quick and cheap to get sales as soon as possible, in order to churn out more quick and cheap films. It’s a vicious cycle of cinema torture, and it happens everywhere people don’t demand better.

In fact, from some interviews and articles I’ve read about other Ghanaian film productions, I’m convinced that the same happened here, in that much of the dialogue (especially the arguing between Kofi Adu and Mercy Asiedu) was ad-libbed, and the script was as bare-boned as you’d expect.

Is Abro Ne Bayie a comedy? Comedy Horror? There is certainly attempts to be comedic. The bickering between the mom and dad is definitely supposed to be funny, too bad most of it is in Twi and unsubtitled. So the jury is still out there. It looks like the brother I’ve dubbed Drools McGee is supposed to be comedic. Drools seems to enjoy causing trouble and defying his parents, who want to keep him hidden. But Vincent refuses to treat his brother like crap and isn’t embarrassed about him. When Vincent is bringing heart to the situation, those scenes come off more tragic than comedic. It’s an odd dichotomy that is among the best parts of the film, even if it looks like it was completely unintentional.

Dufie (Mercy Asiedu) – Evil secret witch who conspires to destroy her son….because. We’re never given a reason, but who cares about motivation when a character is evil? That’s the kind of thinking that turned Darth Vader into a whiny crybaby. Arguments between Dufie and her husband Owusu fill up time and pad the film out, while her witch antics also pad the time out and drive the plot. Mercy Asiedu has costarred with Kofi Adu so often rumors of them being married continue to spring up, despite it being not true.
Mr. Owusu (Kofi Adu) – Owusu is the father of Vincent and Dufie’s husband. He spends most of the film not knowing what is going on and arguing with his wife. In fact, his character is pretty useless, and only does something slightly useful in the second film. Actor/comedian Kofi Adu (also known as Agya Koo) has appeared in over 100 films (some articles list that number as high as 400) and is one of the most popular entertainers in Ghana. He originally planned to be a stand up comedian, does comedic roles, but has also branched into dramatic roles and is a prolific singer as well. Married with two daughters, the Ghanaian film industry is so small that he regularly gets calls on his cell phone from fans. Kofi Adu was honored by Ghana’s former president John Agyekum Kufuor in 2008.
Vincent (Bernard Aduse-Poku) – Vincent is the healthy son of Dufie that she promised to her witch coven. Vincent believes in the power of Jesus, so Dufie’s witchcraft has no effect on him. She’s resorted to disrupting his lovelife and conspiring to set him up to marry a woman employed by the witches to destroy him. Vincent spends most of the film unaware of what is really going on around him.
Rosemary (Shasha Opoku) – Vincent’s fiancee, who is immediately disliked by Dufie because she’s not evil. Dufie and the rest of the witches must destroy her.
Queen Eva (Babara Amayah A. Amantey) – The Queen Witch, Eva wears a blonde wig and dirty, filthy clothes like all witches. Her group of followers are each dressed spookily, but only a few are named, including the black painted faced Kpongbo, and the star of our witch coven….
Sunsum (Yaw Adu) – Sunsum is the star of the movie, a crazy kid in a skeleton suit with a horn who dances and freaks out and does general witchery. He can transform into a full grown man and seduce women! How many kids do you know who can do that? Maybe 15. Sunsum is awesome, he’s so awesome he’s jawesome!
Natasha (Benny A. Sowah) – The new woman in Vincent’s life after Rosemary leaves him. She is working for the witches, and vows revenge on Pastor Joseph because he dares to stand in her way.
Pastor Joseph (Gottfred Opoku-Mensah) – Local church leader who unwittingly gets involved in the witchcraft conspiracies because he has marriage advice.
Drools McGee (???) – What is this character’s name? He’s not even listed in the credits or subtitles despite being the focus of several scenes. So we just named him Drools McGee. I guess his full name would be Drools McGee Owusu, as he’s also the son of Dufie and Mr. Owusu, and Vincent’s brother. Dufie and her husband are sort of ashamed of their son, but Vincent is not ashamed and likes spending time with his brother. I think he’s supposed to be comic relief, but he’ll disappear with no explanation in Part 2.

It’s a witchtacular night! So a coven of Ghania’s most witchly witches are meeting up to discuss witch news: broomsticks, cauldrons, smelly children being turned into mice.

The setting has plenty of “skulls” on posts and painted onto backdrops along with spiders and other “spooky” decorations thrown around. Basically picture your local Haunted House during Halloween. The witches are dressed like how Whoopie Goldberg would dress up as a Mad Max character. They’re all wearing wacky costumes and covered with scary facepaint that looks like grease from the stove was slathered over their faces. Some wear black clothing covered in white handprints, some wear all black, many have crazy wigs of dirty white hair, that make them look like dirty bag ladies. Important character Dufie is one of the witches, and has a blonde wig along with the crap smeared all over her face.

None are as awesome as the kid dressed in a skeleton suit with skull makeup and a giant horn sticking out of the middle of his head. His name is Sunsum, and he’s obviously the Head Witch’s favorite, as he has a seat right below hers, and gets up to randomly gyrate, screech, roar like a lion, and dance. Someone get this kid an Oscar!

There’s drama in the coven, as Dufie has promised to deliver them her son, but she keeps failing because her son is a Prayer Warrior! The Head Witch is all prepared to kill her, but after Dufie begs for more time, they group relents…but not without ragging on her for how she’s a failure. Dufie, you’re so failtacular!

We cut to Vincent sleeping. Dufie warps in via video effects and attempts to pull out his soul with witch magic (shown as a double exposure), but an angel visible only to the upper torso appears and throws a fireball at her. The angel is a dude in a blonde wig, and Dufie must not be able to see him because she just looks around confused as she’s repeatedly pummeled with fireballs. This is the saddest game of Super Mario Brothers ever. Dufie warps out, and the now entirely visible angel throws angel sparkles all over Vincent. I am unaware if this is the power of Jesus of the power of some sort of fucked up pornography I know nothing about.

The next day Dufie is up making food while her husband asks about her face, which I guess is supposed to be horribly burnt, but is just slightly darker. Basically, Fireball Jesus gave her a localized tan. Both parents are ignoring their son, Drools McGee, who appears to have some sort of horrible handicap, as he’s drooling and constantly shaking his arms. He can talk, in a stuttering manner. It is implied but never actually stated that this is because of his mom’s witchery. He also disappears in the middle of the second film, never to be seen again.

Vincent comes home to introduce his new bride-to-be, Rosemary. The subtitles tell us “Even the Bible supports the institution of marriage” – good thing that’s cleared up! Drools McGee enters, and Dufie chastises him for not wanting to stay hidden when company is over, but Vincent is not ashamed of his brother.

That night, Dufie warps into the room where the new girlfriend Rosemary is sleeping and starts sprinkling water on her for nefarious purposes. Not water! Anything but that…. A poster of Jesus on the wall starts blasting Dufie with fireballs! Jesus is like Level 4 from Super Mario Bros where you are in Bowser’s castle and fireballs start shooting towards you. Go for the axe, mom!

Sorry, our princess is in another castle, and Dufie fails to curse her future in-law.

Dufie is against the marriage despite dad’s objections to her objections. Listening to the couple argue in Twi with the subtitler apparently on a smoke break reminds me of listening to my in-laws arguing in Cantonese. I have no idea what they’re saying, but I know they’re going to continue for hours.

The cadre of witches plot to make Rosemary mad by killing her. Yes, that’s their plan. This plan is brilliant! I get so mad when I’m killed….

Sunsum turns into a full grown man in order to kill/anger Rosemary. I would question the logic of sending a child in a man’s body to seduce a woman when there are several grown men in the coven, but as everything else makes little sense, I’ll just go with it. Adult Sunsum shows up in church as a guy named Gabriel, and talks with Rosemary. He succeeds in making Vincent instantly jealous.

Dufie is doing her part, yelling at Rosemary until she cries, and poisoning the food Rosemary made via eyebeam magic. Grace is said before dinner, which magics the poison away, so Dufie has to re-eyebeam it into the food. There is suddenly a giant spider in the food (plastic, of course!) Dufie starts yelling like a maniac again at Rosemary. Come on, spiders are a good source of protein! Packed with webby goodness…

An argument between Dufie and a random lady over food and Drools McGee turns into witch accusations and vows of revenge. Dufie warps into her room at night for evil magic, turning her into a convulsive drooler like her son.

Vincent and Rosemary are rapidly turning into the new couple that argues, and they fight to the point where they decide to go on a break. Hey, this was a disaster when Ross and Rachel did it, don’t do it Vincent and Rosemary! But it’s too late, the break has broken. One interesting note is while they were arguing, they were watching a Filipino soap opera dubbed into English on the Ghanaian television network. (This later became less interesting when I found out one of the main stations in Ghana was Malaysian-owned subsidiary of Malaysia’s TV3)

Suddenly Gabriel and Rosemary are hanging out at his place in robes and he awkwardly asks her for a relationship She agrees…but only courtship. Whatever that is. I think they lost a few pages of script and think we wouldn’t notice. I almost didn’t notice because of the general level of confusion, but as an experience expert in these matters, you have to do a real doozy to slip by me, Abro Ne Bayie!

The church Pastor gives Rosemary a warning to not marry someone who goes overseas to America like Gabriel claims to have done, because he might have a secret wife there. This appears to be a problem so common that it’s just a throwaway line in a low budget horror film, so make of that what you will. Rosemary takes no heed, still dating (courting) Gabriel anyway, including showering together. The coven uses their witch magic to watch the couple in the shower and laugh laugh laugh.

Alienating her friends, Rosemary even pushes for Gabriel to marry her…but he says she will not be able to handle the real him. And transforms to the Sunsum form to prove it! Rosemary faints and Sunsum warps back to the witch hangout spot and everyone laughs and laughs. They sacrifice some kid and laugh and dance more. It’s the biggest party in years in witch and wizard circles.

Meanwhile, in an actual church service, Pastor Joseph gives a sermon about Potiphar’s wife trying to seduce Joseph. Almost relevant. We focus on a smartly dressed woman who arrives to the church and listens. She’s Natasha, and she quickly makes a bee-line for Vincent. We knew from that she was evil, but her witch eyes used to seduce him just gives the slower audience members the clues they need. He gives her a ride to her place

Queen Witch uses her magic to warp in Vincent and Natasha and marry them. But it’s all a dream. Or is it? Probably.
It’s real enough that he talks to Natasha about it, and she mentions it is probably a revelation from God. So he asks her to marry him. It looks like if you have more than two conversations with someone in Ghana, you’re either getting engaged or getting cursed.

Dufie is happy happy happy, but her and Dad can’t stop fighting about random things, including his brother, Drools McGee. Pastor Joseph advises not to rush into marriage, which immediately paints a target on his back. At night, Pastor Joseph is reading the bible when he’s menaced by a floating torso woman. Pastor Joseph tells Vincent that she’s the daughter of the dark world sent specifically to destroy him. He got all that from being attacked by a floating torso woman?

Vincent calls off the wedding, and Natasha vows revenge on Pastor Joseph. Dufie is predictably ticked off.

That night, a pigeon attacks Pastor Joseph, who freaks out and starts calling on Jesus. The pigeon turns into….Natasha! Naked!

Get Ready For More ACTION!!! Watch out for Part 2.

Yes, the film actually warns you that Part 2 is on the loose. And it is on the loose at TarsTarkas.NET…next!

But let’s go over what we just saw. In a mixture of Twi and English, we saw a battle between the forces of evil (witches) and the forces of good (the church), where the stunning conclusion was a bird turning into a naked girl in a Pastor’s bedroom. That’s the kind of cliffhanger dreams are made of.

Rated 3/10 (The holy fire of Jesus, mix and match foreign dub, Kpongbo)

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