The ‘bad man’ and society: A review of Kemi Adetiba’s ‘King of Boys’
The ‘King of Boys’ is the title of a film that was written and produced by a young writer and filmmaker Kemi Adeniba. It was released in Lagos some time ago. Watching it on Netflix left a very powerful impression. The story was a credible yarn, unfolding with a crisp, effortless flow. The characters were authentic, and the language – a melange of Yoruba, English, and pidgin blended perfectly.
Following the original film, a series of seven installments has been launched on Netflix. It is titled – yes, ‘King of Boys: the Return of the King’.
It has always been a matter occasioning moral ambivalence when a character who is an out and out villain is painted in literature or film in such profound human complexity that, in the eyes of the audience, he acquires a heroic status of sorts. It is the ultimate expression of moral collapse when the most strait-laced, judgmental consumer of the artistic fare begins to cheer for a ‘hero’ who by the normal rules of decent society should be dead or safely behind bars.
In modern times, the prototypical hero-villain is Don Corleone, ‘The Godfather’ of the book and film series that have provided untold hours of pleasure and hero worship to at least two generations of viewing and reading public all over the world. Priests, lawmen, dashing young men, and frail old ladies are among millions of people who consider Don Corleone and his son Michael, as well as some of the crooks and killers the gathered around them, as some of the most compelling characters they are ever likely to encounter. People who live by the sword and disdain the normal laws of society are seen, not just as perverse sociopaths but as cerebral, calculating protagonists with their own set of laws which they enforce with relentless, brutal efficiency. They are philosophical, even religious, showing reverence and devotion to their own idea of God. Don Corleone’s people, like most of their Sardinian Italian countrymen, are devout Catholics who love their wives and children and are devoted to their mothers. How they square their gory profession with their reverence for God can be illustrated by a scene where a hitman goes to kill a target inside a Church. There is a statue of the Madonna inside the Church. The hitman reverently and apologetically turns the face of the Madonna away, shoots his victim dead, then turns the face of the Madonna back the right way and mutters a prayer before making his exit.
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Psychiatrists have devoted great amounts of research time to the study of the criminal mind, but they have not been able to fathom why even they can become fascinated by such characters. There is a psychiatrist in Lagos who laces his conversation with profound philosophical quotes from the Corleones.
Contemplating making a woman ‘King of Boys’ in a Nigerian society where even the criminal underworld is male-dominated is a bold paean to the power and potential of women
Eniola, ‘The King of Boys’ is an unlettered country girl who grows wise and hard in the most pernicious, most unforgiving rigours of crime-riddled life in a Lagos ghetto. The original ‘King of Boys’, aging and befuddled by the passionate embrace of a beautiful young woman who stokes the embers of his waning masculinity, is played with great realism by veteran actor Jide Kosoko. He is acknowledged head of all the criminal gangs in that neck of the woods. Nothing happens without his say-so. One thing leads to another, in a manner of speaking. A deathbed Nikkai seals a hasty marriage. The shy and illiterate little girl, now a beautiful femme fatale, inherits ‘the King’s’ wealth when he dies, but even more importantly, his mantle. She has to prove her mettle and show she is worthy of sitting at the head of the table where killers and criminals gather regularly to talk business. She pulls it off with deadly aplomb.
In a manner reminiscent of Don Corleone, she dispenses favours to the aggrieved and downtrodden. On the dirt-infested streets of the Lagos slum, she is open-handed, ostentatiously interested in the most trivial details of the life of a commoner, and ‘blind to the colour of money’.
Kemi Adetiba, writer, producer, and director of ‘The King of Boys’ and ‘The Return of the King’ has taken on a very ambitious project by creating such a powerful anti-hero and trying to make her credible and likable. Contemplating making a woman ‘King of Boys’ in a Nigerian society where even the criminal underworld is male-dominated is a bold paean to the power and potential of women. To complicate matters further, this ‘King’ is politically interested and politically involved. Not content to be ‘the power behind the throne’, not content to be financier and enforcer for the shenanigans of political jobbers, ambitious for herself and her dynasty, nothing is off the table, including what looks like an impossibly long shot at the Governor’s office in Lagos. Meanwhile, she must not lose her grip on her underworld constituency, the real source of her power.
The series is a chance for Sola Sobowale, one of the most powerful character actors in Nollywood to show her force and range. By and large, she delivers. There is impressive acting from Adesua Etomi -Wellington as the King’s daughter and another young actor evokes pathos portraying a whistleblowing tyro journalist who is taken through a painful lesson in how, in the real world, ‘the truth is not enough’.
An exciting product from the Nigerian Film industry. The story line may be a bit of an overreach, but the excitement is real, and the portrayal is very professional. Even those who are no great admirers of ‘bad man’ heroes will find something to relate to in the portrayal of the seamy underbelly of Nigerian politics.
This film is highly recommended to the viewing audience.