Joe Bullet is a set in the corrupt, dangerous world of South African football. Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje and Sydney Chama play the star players for one team in competition for the Cup. The other team is apparently trying to kill off their teammates, their coach, and their club president in order to sway the result.
There’s only one man who can save them.
Ken Gampu’s Joe Bullet. He even has a theme song. It’s not a great theme song, it’s not a sensical theme song, but it’s a theme song. Because Gampu isn’t just a karate master or a knife master, he’s also a great football coach. And he’s going to save the day.
The film’s extremely cheap–Joe Bullet is a Black South African film made during apartheid and it’s clear director de Witt is cutting a lot of corners to get it made. The first half of the film, where there’s the most attempt at setup and plot progression, has almost no establishing shots. Interiors often appear to be the same set shot from different angles, with different decoration. de Witt tries to cover by using a lot of close-ups and tight two shots. It’s somewhat successful–his cast can handle it–but it kills any flow between the scenes. Oscar Burn tries to help with the editing.
Still, de Witt directs those close-ups and two shots pretty well. Once the film drops the pretense of exposition and goes into a series of action sequences staged at various locations (now outdoor ones), de Witt shows a real understanding of background and foreground action. There are some neat moves in Joe Bullet thanks to de Witt; he composes vertically, which is particularly interesting in 4:3 composition. He’s also got a fantastic sequence where Gampu listens to a bug recording of a room to figure out what happened in it. Very concise, very nicely executed.
The acting is all over the place. Gampu’s a good lead and he does the action scenes quite well. He’s a big guy and de Witt gets how cool it looks to make him move through enclosed spaces. Sadly, producer and writer Tonie van der Merwe doesn’t give Gampu a character. Everybody in town knows him. He’s Joe Bullet; the women want him and the men respect him, but Gampu doesn’t get any romance. When Abigail Kubeka–who gives the best all around performance–flirts heavy, he ignores it. Joe Bullet doesn’t have time for love. He does have time for a sidekick, Jimmy Sabe (in the film’s most enjoyable performance). But they just kind of goof off. Sabe doesn’t have a character either.
Maybe the only people with any characterization are Tlhotlhalemaje and Chama as the star players and Dan Poho as the club president. And only then because the lengthy first act spends so much time establishing how much they’re in danger from the other football team.
van der Merwe’s writing isn’t impressive, unlike his producing. Joe Bullet’s got quite a few problems, but it’s something of a success. The first half–which is basically the first act–is boring. At least until Matthew Molete’s evil karate master hitman arrives. Anyway, once he shows up and gets things moving, Joe Bullet doesn’t really slow down. There’s no time for football intrigue, there’s way too much admirably executed micro-budgeted action. All under de Witt’s peculiar eye.
Photographed and directed by Louis de Witt; produced and written by Tonie van der Merwe; edited by Oscar Burn.
Starring Ken Gampu (Joe Bullet), Jimmy Sabe (Popeye), Dan Poho (Eagles’ President), Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje (Flash), Sydney Chama (Jerry), Abigail Kubeka (Beauty), and Matthew Molete (Spike).