This bombastic South African duo popularized “zef” (a hip SA subculture), starred in the feature film, Chappy, and introduced the world to their own unique brand of surreality with their hyper-stylized, unforgettable music videos.
Few may know of this short film, produced by VICE and written / directed by Harmony Kornine in 2011. The film clocks in a measely 4 million views compared to the duo’s usual 60 mil + pull for their mv’s. The youtube description follows:
Big dreams, big blunts, big rims, and big guns. It’s time to get gangsta gangsta. Ninja and Yo-Landi are wheelchair-bound lovers and real gangsters. They live in the outskirts of civilization, they shoot guns for fun, smoke massive joints, and sleep in the woods. They don’t have any bling to show for their gangsta cred, but the world deserves to know who they are. They’re tramps, and their wheels are starting to fall off. Ninja becomes despondent over their vagabond existence, but Yo-Landi won’t let him give up. What ensues is straight up gangsta mayhem, the realist of the real, true gangsta shit.
But don’t be fooled by these throw away phrases that threaten to undercut the rich directoral subtleties in this rugged short. Umshini Wam (“bring me my machine gun”) has a lot of heart.
The subject matter is quick and raw, the acting is rough and ad-lib, but the action compliments the thoughtful photography and editing. This is truly a director’s film, with Kornine’s focused vision taming the eccentricities that would normally threaten to throw this kind of casual production into utter chaos. The film features some dramatic and artfully composed long takes, and photography that is carefully placed and carefully paced. A lot of the aesthetic reminds me of Spike Jonze’s work, although this piece toed the line between magical realism and surreally a little more.
Another reviewer (who I can’t locate) praised Yolandi “[her] squeeking at Ninja should be stupid, but it’s not. Instead it’s compelling,” (not sic). But while credit is due to Yolandi for being able to cry on command, what makes that moment compelling isn’t just the acting. It’s the composition of the shot, the direction, the editing– the whole package. It really takes a skilled director, and a skilled editor to elicit that kind of unexpected sentimentality.
The last thing I’ll mention is the music and the special FX. A film featuring musicians has to have good music, and the soundtrack choices couldn’t be more perfect. The explosive FX are appropriately ridiculous.
Umshini Wam might not be what most have come to expect from Die Antwoord, but both fans and newcomers can appreciate the controlled-chaos aesthetic of its storytelling.