Djayakusuma's Whipfire, an earthy and stirring drama about peasants opposing an exploitative village head, utilises an East Javanese tradition of staging ceremonial whip fights as its central motif: instead of using guns, the film's antagonists use whips and engage in savage whip duels - resulting in spectacular and powerfully prolonged action scenes.
In addition to a plot and action scenes which have analogies with American Westerns, the film uses traditions from Bombay movies, interspersing its story with elaborately choreographed songs between lovers.
This hybrid Eastern/Western further mixes its ingredients by deliberately combining elements of different regional cultures in the one film: although ostensibly set in East Java, the film was shot in West Java, and its music is based on traditional music from West Java. At the centre of the film, though, it is the Indonesian philosophy of gotong royong (mutual assistance) that binds the villagers together in their efforts to create a more just village society.
In the history of the Indonesian cinema, Whipfire has a kind of mythological status as a film which embodies both in form and content the abstract ideal of some early Indonesian cultural theorists, who hoped that a new national culture would emerge with independence, based on a synthesis of different regional elements. Whipfire is one of most powerful of films from the early Indonesian cinema, and is very accessible for Western audiences.
- David Hanan