Inspired by true events In South Africa, Gangster's Paradise: Jerusalema documents the development of a crime lord from his beginnings in petty childhood activities. Fresh details enliven a conventional story arc. This absorbing view of urban decay has the potential to draw audiences beyond the arthouse.
Lucky Kunene (Rapulana Seiphemo, Tsotsi) narrates. He says that his heroes are the unlikely combination of Al Capone and Karl Marx. His life has followed a favorite quote of Capone-"if you're going to steal, steal big and hope you're going to get away with it." In bloody clothes, he tries to escape an extensive police dragnet. A TV announcer describes Lucky as a slumlord.
The film flashes back to 1994 when South Africa became independent. Freedom was optimistically seen the new dawn of a fresh start for the country. But many black South Africans like Lucky remain in poverty. The young Lucky (Jafta Mamabolo) and his friend Zakes (Motlatsi Mahloko) on the sly try to sell snacks and perfume on a train, fleeing anyone in authority.
Lucky is accepted to business school, but without a scholarship he is unable to pay expenses. Desperate to earn money, he becomes involved with Nazareth (a coolly confident and sinister Jeffrey Sekele). Nazareth had trained in Moscow for guerrilla action against the Apartheid regime and is now involved in illegal activities. Lucky and Zakes are assigned to a carjack, slyly called "affirmative repositioning" by Nazareth. In a very amusing sequence, Lucky and Zakes are so inept in their first carjacking that they have to force the vehicle's original owner to show them how to drive away.
Director/Screenwriter Ralph Ziman adeptly combines fast-paced action, humor and situations unique to South Africa into a forceful look at the development of a criminal enterprise. For authenticity in a country with eleven official languages, seven languages besides English are spoken. In clever scenes, Nazareth gets ideas for a heist from an American video he's watched. Crime is described as the biggest growth industry in South Africa. A large-scale robbery turns violent with casualties on both sides of the law.
Ten years later the adult Lucky (now Rapulana Seiphemo) and Zakes (Ronnie Nyakale) are still part of a crime syndicate. Lucky hits on an ingenious scheme for financial rewards; this time apartment buildings are hijacked from slumlords as Lucky takes control. Rents are held in trust. Under South African law, there is no theft of fixed assets like apartment buildings. The landlords are threatened and are unable to regain control of their property. (As an interesting aside, a friend of Ziman managed a building that was similarly taken over.)
Lucky builds his own real estate empire, maintained with continual violence, where both police and a local drug lord threaten him. Seiphemo convincingly shows Lucky's growing swagger and menace, as well as resilience from his continual lookout for new opportunities. An effective cast supports him. Ziman has given the film a strong atmosphere where the physical squalor of the slums is matched by the moral decay of Lucky, his cohorts, and his rivals.
Distributor: Anchor Bay Films
Cast: Ronnie Nyakale, Rapaulana Seiphemo, Jeffrey Sekele, Robert Hobbs, Kenneth Nkosi, Eugene Khumbanyiwa, Louise Saint-Claire and Malusi Skenjana
Director/Screenwriter: Ralph Ziman
Producer: Ralph Ziman and Tendeka Matatu
Genre: Crime Drama; English-, Afrikaans-, Zulu-, Suthu-, Xhosa-, Tswane-, Ndebele- and Tsotsie Taal-languages, subtitled
Rating: R (no rating rationale found online!!!)
Running Time: 118 min
Release Date: June 11 ltd.