This predecessor to films like The Bodyguard and Bodyguard from Beijing has a notoriety of being a re-mastered Apartheid-era South African film that has been found and restored for a new generation of cinema fans worldwide.
Robert Gambu is one of the top bodyguards in the area. His latest task has him working for Mr. Dlamini, a very rich and powerful man whose has the fear that anyone could do him harm by taking his money or taking his daughter Charlotte for ransom. Gambu’s job is to protect Charlotte at all times. When she learns why Gambu is there, she is not a happy camper and she feels that with a black belt in judo, she doesn’t need any kind of protection.
Despite her reluctance, she accepts Gambu’s position and the two occasionally bond. He becomes quite fascinated to learn what she wants to do with her life and in the midst of things, he slowly begins for fall for her. When she decides to open an art gallery, Gambu feels like something doesn’t add up with Max, the man who is helping her with the plans. Gambu’s misgivings prove to be correct as Max and his partner Barack have kidnapped both of them in an attempt to get ransom from Dlamini. However, these two kidnappers have no idea what’s in store.
During South Africa’s Apartheid-era, while there was loads of racial tension between the local Africans and Afrikaners, there were filmmakers out there who didn’t care about the prejudices and made films for the local African audience when they would be denied entry into a mainstream theater. While many have been gone, a distribution outlet, Gravel Road, found some of these films and decided to restore them for the current and future generations of cinema fans. Some of these films, like this one, will remind viewers of both the 1970s Blaxploitation era as well as the surging Nollywood industry from Nigeria.
One of the champions of this apartheid-era cinema is Tonie van der Merwe, who had done plenty of these films including this one. For a running time of 70 minutes, this film may be viewed more for its notoriety than its simplistic plot, which has a Bodyguard-like vibe with our hero Robert, played by local hero Innocent “Popo” Gumede, falling for his client’s daughter and involves kidnapping.
It is clear why Gumede is the country’s local action hero of this era. He brings out this charm that will remind viewers of some of our heroes of the old guard like Fred Williamson for instance but one can’t help but laugh at the moment he professes his love for the titular rich girl because it is like he goes from calm and cool to looking like he was auditioning for A Streetcar Named Desire in the role of Marlon Brando’s character.
Lungi Mdlala plays the titular rich girl, Charlotte, at first like a complete spoiled brat who thinks she needs no protection. Yes, another trope of this genre. However, we do see a more gentler side to her when she reveals to Robert that she doesn’t want to be in the family business, but has a penchant for art and hopes to promote local artists, the same way director van der Merwe is doing in terms of these films. There are a few Afrikaner actors in the film, but before you can say villain, this is not the case at all. They are actually supporting roles, one of a very nice art gallery owner who introduced Charlotte to some of his latest acquisitions to even a driver for Charlotte’s father, this clearly shows no prejudice which was very strong back in the day.
Hector Methandie and Max Mhkwanzhi play the film’s central villains, Barack and Max. Barack is the more outspoken duo of kidnappers whose lets his voice be heard with his intentions. And where Hollywood is all glamour and glitz, this local production does have the distinction of using actors in their natural form. This must be why Robert tells Barack at one point, “Look at your ugly teeth. You’ll never get away with this.” There aren’t really any action scenes until the final 15 minutes of the film and five of that includes a slow-motion shootout between Gambu and Barack. Yes, the entire shootout is in slow motion and it is ridiculous in nature. The entire film may seem that way, but you have to respect that this was made during a very turbulent time in South Africa and to see it restored today, that’s something very noteworthy.
Rich Girl is ultimately a “so bad it’s good” film, but you can’t help respect when this was made and who it was intended for. To see this rarity found and restored makes the film worth seeing at least once, especially when the opening credits are done on a typewriter.
WFG RATING: C+
Gravel Road Entertainment presents a Royal Films production. Director: Tonie van der Merwe. Producer: Hettie van der Merwe. Writer: Lianja Scripps. Cinematography: Tonie van der Merwe and Tony Cunningham. Editing: Fred Ridgard.
Cast: Innocent “Popo” Gumede, Hector Methandie, Lungi Mdlala, John Madala, Max Mkhwanzi.