Femi Adebayo’s “Jagun Jagun” Proves That A Warrior’s Greatest Enemy Can Be His Greatest Teacher
When a film gets major publicity and a fanfare parade before its release, there are only two major outcomes: it would be a total hit or a complete miss. When it’s the former, the accolades and praises troop in. When it’s the latter, however, the internet streets are always there to run the film to the ground. “Jagun Jagun” (which literally means warrior when translated from the Yoruba language) is an epic masterpiece. Like its predecessors “Elesin Oba,” “Agesinkole” and “Anikulapo,” it’s a work of art that showcases an in-depth understanding of pre-colonial Yoruba history and highlights the pride and glamour of the Yoruba culture.
“Jagun Jagun” tells the tale of a mighty warlord Ogundiji (Femi Adebayo) who is revered by kings and feared by all. His dossier is filled with conquering villages, murdering men, women, and children, and using charms to carry out his nefarious activities. A powerful man like that never imagined that he would be knocked off his high horse until he met Gbotija (Lateef Adedimeji).
A servant of the trees and master of nature, Gbotija leaves his humble village in the hopes of becoming a mighty warrior and enlists in the School of Warriors that Ogundiji operates. He excels in every task he is given and grows to the point that he becomes a threat to Ogundiji.
People start hailing Gbotija instead of Ogundiji and that becomes a problem for the warlord whose ego only has room for one valiant warrior: himself. He physically and emotionally tries to kill Gbotija through “tests,” but he is unsuccessful. His final face-off against Gbotija becomes his undoing.
The film gets a lot of things right, but the one thing that stands out, and indeed should resonate among viewers is its attention to detail. “Anikulapo,” which was released last year must have been the trigger for this sudden change in Nollywood because most Yoruba epic films, at least the ones released on cable television, never pay attention to detail, nor do they care about aesthetics.
“Jagun Jagun” however crafts its tale with, not just the plot, the immaculate beauty of nature, the serenity of the villages, and the impeccable imagery of the people with their traditional dressings, facial markings, and hairstyles. With HD-quality filming reminiscent of Hollywood war flicks, the film also uses its aesthetics to bring this proverb to life: “When two elephants are fighting, the grass will suffer.”
Whenever Ogundiji has a score to settle with the oba of a village, he wages war and leaves a pile full of lifeless bodies. The cameras zoom in on the innocent people’s agony as they watch their village turn to ash and their lives taken away from them. And for what? An egomaniac’s desire to prove a silly point.
Modern technology and slangs are infused in this pre-colonial tale and it’s so refreshing to see because it sets it apart from its predecessors. Animation is employed in the scene where Ogundiji consults Majala as his warriors are mauled in battle. He subsequently sends Agemo (the weapon of death) to secure a victory.
Also, by infusing popular slangs like “so pe otilo” into the film’s language, “Jagun Jagun” captures the attention of the younger demographic whose interests will be piqued once they hear the usage of their vernacular.
Despite popular opinion, the plot is not so predictable. Simplistic, yes, but the film never discloses where it’s headed until the very end, especially when one considers the plot twists. The film ends with Ogundiji’s death, but if it didn’t, it would have been completely fine. Nothing would’ve happened to the story, the points would’ve still been highlighted, and the film wouldn’t have lost its magic touch.
Admittedly, the “hero defeats the villain and saves the day” trope is a bit overplayed, but “Jagun Jagun” gets a free pass because overcomplicating the story means confusing the audience.
A review of this film will not be complete without mentioning the outstanding performances of Adebayo and Adedimeji. It’s incredibly difficult to pick one shining star when they both prove that they deserve the crown. Adebayo’s portrayal of Ogundiji is so realistic to the point that it’s scary. That’s the point of him being a warlord obviously, but he embodies the character so well that it’s hard to picture any other actor playing Ogundiji but him.
Adebayo’s head twitching, which is now becoming a signature move because he demonstrates the same movements whilst portraying the titular character in “Agesinkole,” is perhaps the one thing that makes him stand out from the rest of the cast. But what is the meaning of this mannerism? To signify Ogundiji’s bloodlust? His psychopathic tendencies? Well, whatever is, Adebayo nails this character and deserves accolades, perhaps at next year’s AMVCAs.
Adedimeji is no slacker as he portrays a good-natured man who becomes a mighty warrior. He embodies Gbotija with such ease and adds a human touch to a character that is supposed to be unfeeling. Warriors are told that emotions make them weak, and weakness leads to death on the battlefield. Ogundiji is cold-hearted but Gbotija is the exact opposite. He’s a man that’s not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and this is shown on multiple occasions.
The one occasion that runs laps around the mind is when he kills Agemo without realizing until the final moment that the weapon of death is his lover, Kitan. In the pouring rain, he wails at the top of his lungs to the trees who swore to protect him.
His moral compass is, however, questionable. He never takes responsibility for his actions. Even as he plunges the weapon into his lover’s body, the only person to blame is Ogundiji. “Ogundiji made me do it.” “It was all Ogundiji’s fault.” Those words are not far from the truth, yet he refuses to acknowledge that as an instrument in Ogundiji’s schemes, he is equally guilty. He becomes exactly like the men that he spends the better part of the film condemning.
In all its cinematic glory “Jagun Jagun” is not without its faults.
First, the film is predominantly in the Yoruba language with subtitles in English. Why did the subtitles disappear in the scenes were the praise singers are belting Yoruba chants and adages? How are non-natives supposed to understand what is being said?
Second, the film gives little explanation as to how a lower-ranked warrior like Gbotija can defeat powerful warriors like Ogundiji and Gbogunmi (Ibrahim Yekini Itele) Yes, he has the power to command trees but is that all it takes to be a warrior? Is he a naturally gifted individual? A servant of the gods? Did he train from the ground up? All that is known is that he is exceptional, but HOW did he become that way? The film leaves us with more questions than answers.
Third, how were the strongest characters in the film able to die so easily? What happened to all the charms they all claimed to possess? Ogundiji is slaughtered like a chicken on the battlefield, Agemo’s death is thanks to a conjured weapon from a tree and Gbogunmi didn’t even have charms in the first place, at least that’s what his in-laws claim in the wake of his death.
Lastly, Gbogunmi’s prowess in war is more talked about than seen. If he’s the mightiest of all warriors, then why isn’t it shown? All that’s seen are flashbacks that prove nothing except what his in-laws claim.
In a sea of Yoruba epics, “Jagun Jagun” distinguishes itself from its peers because of its outstanding cinematography, excellent cast, admirable usage of language (there’s the usage of over a hundred Yoruba adages and proverbs), and its impressive display of the Yoruba culture.
One thing’s for certain: Yoruba epics are not going away anytime soon. So, buckle up dearest reader, because “Jagun Jagun” is just the tip of the Nollywood iceberg.
Release Date: August 10, 2023
Runtime: 2 hours 14 minutes, and 15 seconds
Streaming Service: Netflix
Director(s): Tope Adebayo and Adebayo Tijani
Cast: Femi Adebayo, Lateef Adedimeji, Bukunmi Oluwashina, Odunlade Adekola, Muyiwa Ademola, Bimbo Ademoye, Fathia Balogun, Dayo Amusa, Debo Adedayo, Yinka Quadri, Ibrahim Yekini Itele, and Adebayo Salami