It’s actually pretty inacurrate to call this movie Turkish Indiana Jones for a few reasons. Most importantly, people familiar with that insane subcategory of terrible movies, the Turkish ripoff, evident in such crimes as Turkish Star Wars, Turkish Star Trek, Turkish ET and Turkish Wizard of Oz, will not recognize the trademark ineptitude and stolen special effects in Son Osmanli. Also, there are no whips, no idols and no archaeology. I had to grab your eye somehow, though. At least the Turkish part is true. Once you see it, though, you can understand what I’m getting at. The Middle Eastern setting in the earlier part of the 20th century bring about the Indy aesthetic
Up to this point, I don’t think I’d ever seen a movie from the Middle East. I’ve been sitting on a bootleg of Valley Of The Wolves: Iraq, the Americans are evil war movie with Gary Busey and Billy Zane, for a while but I haven’t gotten around to watching it. I’ve also flirted with Bollywood in the past, but the movies are excessively long and from what I’ve seen in reviews, pretty much always the same story with different pop songs and dance numbers to change things up a bit. Short of the Old Boy remake and Bollywood Fight Club, my interest in that department is pretty low. But Son Osmanli, which translates to The Last Ottoman: Knock Out Ali, is something else entirely. I was shocked by the production values and the weight of the story. It is weighed down by its own tendency to go in too many directions at once, but it gets many things right and is a genuinely entertaining throwback to older action movies much like the appeal of the first Pirates of the Carribean.
Son Osmanli takes place in Istanbul in 1918 as the British have begun their occupation of Turkey. The nation is in crisis and there’s a widespread fear that with this occupation, they’ll lose their cultural identity. This is the beginning of the end for the Ottoman Empire. Enter Ali, when we meet him, he’s holding up a poker game in the back room of an Istanbul nightclub. He’s a scoundrel with a hear of gold, though, and as the movie progresses it’s revealed that he was once a prize fighter and a proud member of the Turkish navy until he beat the crap out of a British officer and jumped overboard. Ali is shot when he stops to help some Turkish soldiers who have been abandoned by British troops miles from their home. He hands off some money to the derelict platoon and the British troops demand to know what he gave them. Being the proud Turk that he is, he refuses, starts a fight, shoots a soldier and then barely manages to escape, having been shot himself. This brings him into the care of Osman Bey, a high profile figure in the Patriotic movement in Turkey, opposing the British colonists. His desire to help his country men puts him in Osman’s service where he begins sneaking Turkish statesmen out of the city. When he stops an assassination attempt on the charismatic General Mustafa Kemal, he finds a greater sense of destiny and patriotism. All the while, Ali finds his way to back to his old girlfriend, Defne, who is now married, seemingly against her will, to a crooked arms dealer and he must decide between running off to Europe with her or staying to fight the good fight for Turkey. There’s also a clumsy subplot about Ali’s teacher, who taught him to fight, who blames Ali for the death of his wife.
I don’t know much about the background of this character, but it the movie is based on a Turkish comic about Knock Out Ali. How faithful it is to the source material, I may never know, but I do know that it’s pulpy and fun. It’s also quite effective in making its hugely nationalistic point. At times even I was swept away in the pervasive hooray for Turkey vibe. The British are depicted as savage occupants who spit on Turkish culture at every opportunity. As a matter of fact, just about everyone not Turkish is depicted as a total asshole. It’s unfriendly in every way to the British, Armenians, Greeks and so on. I’d rather not get into the racial dynamics of the movie, though. For a pulpy, two-fisted action movie, it voices some bold opinions about neighboring nations.
Despite the racism around the margins, it’s still a very likable movie with very likable characters. Ali is very much the dashing hero. He spends much of the movie fucking dudes up. Anyone out to threaten the independence of Turkey can expect a fist in the mouth when Knock Out Ali is around. If they’re particularly nasty, they can expect to eat bullets or get a knife in the ribs, too. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, violence-wise, from this movie. When it begins, Ali seems to avoid killing people. During his poker game heist, he shoots the gun out of the hand of a protesting victim of his theft and during his escape, he shoots near the British soldiers in pursuit but never really shoots them. It doesn’t take long for the movie to change its tone, though. It’s not long before Ali actually puts bullets and knives into people and it is suddenly as violent as anything you might find in the west. Despite his penchant for sudden and thoughtless violence, Ali is still a very charismatic character. His actual fight scenes are impressive and he has a tendency to really launch people when he hits them.
The rest of the story works, too. There’s the love angle where Ali is reunited with Defne, despite the fact that he has hooked up with an Istanbul prostitute, and the twists and turns of the main plot as Ali works with the patriotic underground to free Turkey are effective. The only part that really dangles is the ongoing subplot about Ali’s old teacher trying to find and kill him. It pops into the story at strange times and brings the main plot to a halt. I suspect that it was a major angle in the comic books, but here it’s just not necessary.
All told, I was shocked by the high quality of this movie. It gets nearly everything right, has some solid pacing, a ton of great action scenes and when it’s trying to be funny, it’s actually quite funny. Also, just about everyone in the movie wears a fez, which couldn’t possibly be a cooler piece of headdress. This movie got no press in the United States aside from Twitch Film and I think more people should check it out.