As this film may seem very campy and cheesy, this film is a very important film in the history of South African cinema.
There is an upcoming soccer match between rivals Eagles and Falcons. Some players have defected to join the Eagles team, making the Vulture Gang uncomfortable. When Lucas, the Eagles’ trainer is killed by some of the Vultures posing as press, the Eagles can turn to only one man. His name is Joe Bullet and he’s been friends with some of the players on the team, the same players the Vulture Gang wants to defect to the Falcons.
When a kidnapping plan goes awry, the thugs take desperate measures. As they attempt to kill or kidnap the team president and his daughter, Joe always shows up in time to rescue them. This angers Rockey, the boss of the gang, who attempts to hire anyone willing to take on Joe Bullet for a price. However, when Joe’s attempt to rescue the team president’s wife ends up in him getting abducted, Joe must find a way to get free and become a one-man army against Rockey and his organization before it’s too late.
America had Shaft and South Africa had Joe Bullet. Both could be said to be pioneering films. Shaft, along with Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song pioneered the 70’s Blaxploitation era. However, at the same time, Joe Bullet ushered in what would later be known as the B-Scheme in South Africa during Apartheid. The only major difference would be that Shaft and Sweet would stay released while this film would be banned after only two screeners in 1973.
Four decades after its ban, the film once again saw the light of day and it is clear that this pioneering movie, the first South African film to have an all-African cast, may be campy and typical of what was seen in Blaxploitation. However, the fact that this film was the first to feature an all-African cast and was banned and lost for a total period of four decades. Thanks to Gravel Road, a distribution outlet in Cape Town, this is one of many “B-Scheme” films that have been unearthed for new generations to see.
Many will know Ken Gampu from his role as “Gorilla”, one of the six protagonists in the 1981 martial arts film Kill and Kill Again. The actor, who passed away in 2003, was a well-respected actor and here, he takes the titular role of Joe Bullet. It is clear why Gampu has this respect among his peers because for a film of this caliber, he elevates the film due to both his tough exterior and caring interior. He’s not the typical action hero, but one who has a lot of heart as he cares about the team as if he is a “big brother” to the players.
The film starts out with a bit of a slow burn with spurts of action. However, once Mathew Molete’s Spike, a karate expert hired by Sol Rachilo’s Sonny to stop Joe Bullet, enters the fray, the film’s action mainly takes over the film. We get to see Gampu do a little of what would we see him do later in Kill and Kill Again as the 6’2” actor used his strength to save his friends and in the midst of one action scene, has a little fun when he sees his cohort attempting to go over a fence before helping him. There are also a few hilarious uses of special effects that seem laughable but forgiving considering the time we are dealing with.
In the end Joe Bullet may be seen in general as a campy, cheesy 70’s action film. However, its history is very special and because this film made history in its native South Africa, it should be viewed by anyone who loves film history.
WFG RATING: C+
Gravel Road Entertainment presents a Bullet Films production. Director: Louis de Witt. Producer: Tonie van der Merwe. Writer: Tonie van der Merwe. Cinematography: Louis de Witt. Editing: Oscar Burn.
Cast: Ken Gampu, Joe Lopez, Abigail Kubeka, Jimmy Sabe, Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje, Sydney Charma, Matthew Molete, Sol Rachilo.