‘King of Boys’ returns with a sequel three-years after its blockbuster debut.
This time, there’s a wily First Lady, a sword-totting moll, and a journalist of the nincompoop variety.
The 2018 original film ends on a downcast note: the eponymous King of Boys, Eniola Salami (Sola Sobowale), goes on self-exile in the United States to preserve life and limb after a bungled attempt to transfigure from ruthless, blood-curdling mafioso boss to respectable politician.
It’s been five years since her exile; now she’s touched home soil after charges against her have been dropped, abetted by the president whom she had helped install in office.
It didn’t take long before Eniola declares to a throng of reporters her intention to “throw (her) gele” into the forthcoming Lagos State gubernatorial elections, stirring old foes from sloth and inspiring new ones.
Like Eniola, Adetiba too is burdened with a bigger challenge: from making a three-hour film three years ago to making a seven-part Netflix series afterwards. The screen-time is longer and the stakes are higher.
In contrast to the original film, Eniola’s arch-nemesis in the serial is both female and fiendish: Jumoke Randle (Nse Ikpe-Etim), wife of the sitting governor who will do everything unseemly to maintain her husband’s place at Alausa, even if it means offering her body unabashedly to Aare Akinwande (Akin Lewis), another of Eniola’s many mortal enemies.
As was in the prequel, Eniola postures for political cachet by day, where she’s shadowed closely by Dapo Banjo (Efa Iwara), an investigative journalist who is whiskers away from unmasking her façade.
When a character has got you peeved, sometimes it’s a testament to the actor’s skill. In Dapo’s case, it’s not so much fluent thespian technique as it’s his slipshod writing: he is reckless without any reasonable motivation; and when eventually he confesses the rationale for his incredulous doggedness, it turns out to be an abstract, platitudinal junk.
Eniola tries to assert control over her all-but-lost underworldly fiefdom, long overtaken in her absence by the genderbending Odudubariba (Charly Boy) who wants her to either kiss his ring in obeisance or die by his hand.
But, as we soon find out, Eniola’s fiercest warfares are of an interior ilk: she’s still mourning the deaths of her two children and, as a penance, self-flagellates with a horse whip dipped in a potpourri of hot peppers in one of the opening scenes.
Mellowed by grief, the erstwhile blood-mongering overlord is fraught with a dilemma of choices: to seek heavenly redemption and forego her cutthroat ways; or to surrender to her morbid impulses, egged on and mocked, as it were, by a psychic manifestation of her younger, wickeder, rashly self — the Hyde to her Jekyll — charmingly played by Toni Tones.
In what’s Kemi Adetiba’s third excursion into filmmaking, the fourth wall stands precariously, as like paper against flame, in-between viewer and narrative: one minute you’re submersed into the filmic experience, fully oblivious that you’re only watching a make-believe, as in the graveyard scene where Eniola’s wailing is rammed up to full visceral effect by intense music and noirish cinematography. The next minute, as Eniola unpacks yet another proverb-wracked monologue, a question clots in your mind and shocks you out of that reverie: do people most of the time, you might ask, negotiate spontaneous real-life conversations using flawlessly apropos Yoruba idioms?
Not quite. Yet, Adetiba would have you believe otherwise. Far from being Adetiba-esque, this failing typifies many Nollywood scripts: the inability, that is, to simulate real-life dialogue.
Where there’s conversation in the King of Boys sequel, it comes in stilted snippets, teased even further away from credulity when some of the actors fumble through their Yoruba. At other times, a character or two use diction that strays into the implausible, as when a juju man in Episode 5 interleaves his diabolic incantation with clean, educated English. Most of the time, monologue outstrips dialogue, its most prominent culprit being Eniola, with her many hyper-dramatic, self-preening spiels, often delivered while the character’s trademark scowl hangs on her face.
Adetiba rehashes the in-your-face signature of her moving pictures in this sequel. In Olamide’s Sitting on the Throne music video, which she’d directed in 2014, when the artiste raps that ‘I ain’t got beef with nobody,’ there’s a literal interpretation, as the camera pans to an actual dish of uncooked beef floating in a small stew of blood. When Eniola Salami cries for her children, the painting of a child hangs behind her, calling attention to itself. When we are treated to scenes of the Igbo crime lord, Odogwu Malay (played by iLLbliss), we see the Biafran flag on a goon’s shirt, which I imagine is intended as a visual metaphor of sorts. Then there’s a needless, albeit, blurry, cut that honours the request of King Herod’s daughter: a severed head on a tray.
While I appreciate the realistic bullet holes that you’ll see when Eniola’s henchmen are busy with a gunfight, cut-out eyeballs and such like seem like a gratuitous romance with the macabre. You get the sense that there’s an obvious effort to commit to realism, but in doing so, there’s also an elision of subtlety. Art isn’t so much what is revealed but, in consideration of the consumer’s sensibilities, what is also deliberately edited out.
Speaking of which, it’s rather not subtle that the foremost media house in the series gets its name from its producer: KAV studios. It almost comes off, you could argue, as directorial narcissism. Adetiba isn’t just content with making the series; she wants to be in it.
The series could easily pass for a crash course on the country’s politics, and here is where it triumphs the most. There are ample instances of Machiavellism, lobbying, corruption of the religious, and deliberate disinformation by the powers-that-be in a way that I think mimics the alleged truth-denials that conspire to discredit the #EndSARS protests. If there’s any doubt as to whether Adetiba might have had the youth-centric rallies of October 2020 in mind, Toni Tones, playing the younger Eniola, intones “Soro Soke, were!” to nip any such misgivings.
With marked improvement in Sobowale’s acting, which, in this case, means less over-acting, the protagonist feels more like the experienced gangbanger that she wasn’t quite in the prequel. But the moments of gold come in the scenes where First Lady Jumoke Randle cowers in fear to the governor’s mother (played by Taiwo Ajai-Lycett).
Though the series’ final act bears the symptoms of rushed writing, raising more questions than it provides answers and rescued by a ‘deus ex Makanaki,’ the concluding stratagem by Eniola shows how much the character has evolved in five years — from a blunt instrument who boasts and yells most of the time, to a skillful manoeuvrer who relies on more subtle tactics in outwitting her foes.
In more than one way, Adetiba’s artistry, barring its excesses, has, likewise, undergone an evolution. This sequel, by and large, supersedes its predecessor — it’s tighter, it’s cleaner, and it invites a suspension of disbelief in a way that the prequel struggles to accomplish.
The King of Boys has, indeed, returned; and Nollywood has walked a couple of steps in the right direction. (Punch)