Living In Bondage a blockbuster from Okpaleke’s Play Network Studios

By Anita Eboigbe

Simple, fresh and nostalgic. These were the words used to describe the first film in the Charles Okpaleke and his Play Network Studos lineup. ‘Living In Bondage: Breaking Free’ was not without its own flaws but it worked and brilliantly so.

It was a timely and an appropriate sequel to the 1992 hit ‘Living in Bondage’.

The movie introduced several elements to seal the nostalgia strategy. Amidst an array of the older actors like Kenneth Okonkwo back as Andy Okeke, the film re-introduced Jide-Kene Achifusi (Swanky JKA) to the world as the impressionable Nnamdi Okeke.

Charles Okpaleke and his team at Play Network Studios had stumbled on a winning formula and judging by the box office performances, accolades and even suggestions for a sequel, it was a good bet.

The sequel made over N160 million during its cinema run, and won seven awards at the 2020 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA).

People loved the film but this conversation is not about ‘LIB: Breaking Free’. It is about how easy it is for filmmakers to take the audience for granted by not trying hard enough after a successful run.

Like how most can argue that Patty Jenkins did with ‘Wonder Woman ‘84’ or closer to home, how EbonyLife milked the party theme so hard that the breasts dried up and audiences became lactose intolerant.

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There is nothing wrong with formulas – you can call them strategies if you wish but the key is in showing that each time you set out, it is with the best. Off the successes of the first Play Network film, Okpaleke and company set out to work on their next project. Another rebranded Nollywood classic.

The announcement came and the audience replied, “bring it, we are not complaining. We see what you did with LIB, we trust you.” With boldness, the team had picked Amaka Igwe’s classic ‘Rattlesnake’.

What is there to fear? One can only get better – the people thought and so, held out a candle for the team willing them to deliver.

Like the original Ahanna (Stan Nze) is left to fend for himself after the death of his father. When he discovers his Uncle and mother have begun a life together, he reunites with Nzenuozo (Bucci Franklin) and Amara (Osas Ighodaro) and, they birth the Armadas, an armed robbery gang with conflicting interests.

One of the few good things about the Okpaleke remake is the cinematography and perhaps the reintroduction of Stan Nze as one of Nollywood’s underrated actors. Every other things is washed off by the unnecessary pomp, watery storyline and lack of direction that insults the trailblazing efforts of Igwe’s film.

Yes, how could we forget that 2020 has been quite a year and the pandemic badly hit Nollywood? Surely we remember but December already has too many films struggling for the spotlight that no one really needed a sub-par production.

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Okpaleke, Ramsey Nouah and the entire team might have made genuine mistakes in ‘Rattlesnake’ (whatever that means) but there is no excuse for the work turned out in the Idia Aisien-led ‘Nneka the Pretty Serpent’ remake.

The team basically told the audience, “Yes, we made one good film. Thanks for loving it but this is the end of the road and you don’t deserve our respect anymore.”

Between the lack of focus, direction, bad editing, sloppy story, woody lead and loads of technical errors, it is clear that Play Network Studios might be a one-trick pony.

The worst thing about ‘Nneka the Pretty Serpent’ was that the timing of release is unworkable. Despite having ‘Rattlesnake’ still showing in the cinemas and barely a month post release, the team released another film that was clearly rushed with no iota of respect for the people who would see it.

Internally, Play Network Studios might have reasons why this was done or maybe not. This year has been tough and added to this, Nollywood loves December, and it is where everyone puts their ‘best’ works and hope to make lots of money.

Still, is there any real justification as to why the audience has to suffer through donkey minutes of a badly made film that they are more than aware had more potentials?

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Remakes are different – with originals, you can invent and people might criticise but the ingenuity saves you some criticisms. With remakes, people have lived through an era where this film was a hit and families have told and retold the plot of this classic. It is etched in their minds. The last thing the people need is for a poor business decision to ruin the nostalgia for them. Well, Okpaleke and Play Network Studios have graciously done this.

With two more classics under development from the same team, the crowd is growing weary. Will they take a fine, imperfect but classic thing and make it a monster or will they go back to the drawing board that produced the decent ‘Living in Bondage: Breaking Free’?

One can only wait it out as ‘Glamour Girls’ and ‘Osuofia Goes To Miami’, a sequel to 2003 comedy, Osuofia in London, are also in the works for a 2021 release.