Made Overseas: Pek Yakinda (2014)

Pek Yakinda (or Coming Soon) may be the only movie ever made where the McGuffin is a DVD copy of Avatar 2. Zafer (Cem Yilmaz, also the movie’s director) makes bootlegs of hot new Hollywood releases with a team of like-minded criminals. He about ready to get out of the game. His boss has one final request, though. They’ve recently acquired a preliminary pirated video of the just completed Avatar 2. Zafer is the best in the business, and his boss wants the blue people and their magic tree out on the streets before the movie hits theaters.

Zafer, though, has other plans. Years of working illegally have taken a toll on his life. His marriage to his wife, Arza (Tulin Ozen), has crumbled. He may never get to see his son again. His top priority is fixing his family. His foppish director friend Ahben (Zafer Algoz) tells about a script from the 1970’s that was never filmed. It’s called “Summit – The End of Evil.” Zafer comes up with a plan so crazy that it might work. Arza is a former actress. Zafer has a ton of money he was paid to make multiple copies of Avatar 2. He’s going to use that money to make a movie starring his wife as a grand gesture of love. He plans on keeping his involvement a secret, though, so he shows up on set in a costume that makes him look like a luchador in a three piece suit and a green mask.

What can possib-lie go wrong?

If I asked most people to name a Turkish movie, I think most people would respond with, “They make movies in Turkey?!?!” A small portion would probably cite Turkish Star Wars, referring to 1982’s Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam (“The Man Who Saved The World”). The movie infamously lifted footage from Star Wars to pad out its special effects, while inserting live action footage with cheap costumes. While panned by critics, the movie became a cult classic in America, perhaps with the subtext of “Aren’t these foreigners weird?”

Do they hate Turkish Star Wars in Turkey? It’s hard to tell, especially since a sequel (Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam’in Oglu, or “The Son of the Man Who Saved The World”, or Turks in Space) was made in 2006. This movie was explicitly a parody, with the director totally in on the joke. The movie apparently had some big name actors in it. It turns out the Turks have a pretty good sense of humor about themselves and their movie industry, which is why they can also make a movie called Pek Yakinda which is about trying to make your big dreams a reality when you have zero resources.

Fortunately, this is 2014, and filmmaking in Turkey is much improved. The outdoor scenes are shot rather beautifully. The local architecture pops in the lovely street shots. The interiors are by and large filmed at evenly lit made-for-TV sets. It’s not spectacular, but decent. I call this the Hallmark movie dichotomy, which is, honestly, quite passable for cinematic work.

Everyone in Pek Yakinda who reads “Summit – The End of Evil” thinks it’s incredible. I have my reservations. When we see the movie being filmed, it’s incomprehensible. It begins with a parlor room romance full of telenovella-ready characters. As the movie progresses, though, the set changes to a mad scientist lab. Where do they get these props? Another one of Zafer’s friends is a prop master. One of my favorite set pieces is his home, which is filled with costumes, movie posters, a giant troll head, and a ton of spears. The latter of which he cannot get rid of because, as he says, in this day in age they only need one spear and they can CGI the rest.

The movie even becomes more incomprehensible as the movie becomes a superhero film. As in: Summit is the name of the superhero squad. I want to say that this movie gets downright surreal at times, especially when the humor doesn’t 100% translate to Western sensibilities. The cast, especially, would look at home in a David Lynch, Coen brothers, or Wes Anderson movie. They’re quirky.

Lacking actors, several of the production team have to take the stage and don crazy outfits. Both the director’s constantly drunk ex-wife and his current partner are involved in the movie. The costume designer/production assistant (who is also the prop master’s niece) wears a sort of steampunk French maid costume. A little person who is a voice over actor wears a chauffeur outfit that makes him look like a Blackhawk. Zafer’s wife puts on a mini-dress that makes her look like Saturn Girl. And Zafer’s romantic rival, Suat (Cengiz Bozkurt), blackmails the team to be in the movie. He puts on a Reverse Flash inspired costume to become the movie’s main villain. It’s a weird family affair with everyone is a colorful misfit.

Incidentally, you sort of expect that Suat is going to screw things up once he muscles his way into the movie. We’ve only seen him as a buffoon the entire film. But… it turns out he’s completely perfect for the role. Despite everyone on the staff hating him, they allow him to play his role without pay because he’s that good.

There are times I cannot tell whether or not the movie is making an sly in-joke, or whether it’s missing out the obvious punchline. There are references to the Turkish movie industry that just go way over my head. At one point, one of the characters goes, “I recognize that guy,” and I’m not sure if it’s a plot point or a reference only Turkish theater goers will get. (Though at one point they also mention Javier Bardem. I GET THAT REFERENCE! And you better believe that I was impressed that Cem Yilmaz name-checked Alex Raymond. American movies don’t acknowledge any comic creators beyond Stan Lee, let alone the man who created Flash Gordon.) Other times, the joke set up and pay-off are downright baffling.

Case in point: the reason Zafer wears a green mask. The movie’s male lead, Bogac Boray (Ozan Guven) is involved in an accident. This means he can’t finish any of the scenes where he’s required to stand on his two feet. Uh oh! This a classic wrench in the works! The team comes up with a solution: Zafer can wear a green mask, and they’re going to use computers to superimpose Bogac’s face over his body.

There’s a slight problem, though. This solution is expensive. They’re already running out of budget, and this would cost them tens of thousands of lira. No problem, Zafer says. He knows a guy who can do things cheaper. This fellow is a criminal associate who specializes in forgeries and hacking into public works systems.

It turns out that the guy will do it for 50 lira. You can already imagine the scenario that’s going to play out: Bogac’s head is going to look really bizarre on Zafer’s body. Maybe he screws up a scene and it looks like Bogac is headless. It’s going to be really crazy, right?

Nope. Everything goes well. The guy is true to his word, and Zafer with a superimposed head looks exactly like actor Ozan Guven acting normally. So… was this a joke? Maybe they set you up for silly hi-jinks only to pull out the rug from you at the last minute. The crew working on this movie turned out to be incredibly competent after all!

At the end, we see snippets of the completed film in trailer form. It’s not a masterpiece. The plot seems nonsensical, and the costumes are cheesy Silver Age cosplay, with Batman-esque “Bams” and “Pows” edited in. (A nice touch that’s perhaps the truest homage to a low-budget movie: the onomatopoeia is rendered in “Feast of Flesh”, a popular free font you can download from dafont.com.) But… it’s not terrible either. It’s about the level of a CW superhero show. I could see this movie performing well in the Turkish market, especially one where Pek Yakinda was one of the top three performers of 2014. Better than Frozen, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies!

I’m leaning toward the “subverted expectations” explanation, mainly because other parts of the movie break the fourth wall and wink at the audience. At one point, the main crew is sitting around the table making fun of obvious product placement. Then, at the same time, they all pick up a Pepsi bottle, take a long drink, and put the bottle back down with the Pepsi logo facing the viewer. Then they continue with their conversation. Not much attention is called to this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but the gag is obvious. It’s obvious as all the vintage Pepsi signs littering the prop master’s cluttered home.

And if just in case you think that it’s your brain playing tricks on you, they do the same gag later in the movie. This time, though, they make a fun overt call-out to the local cellphone service operator. (In addition to Zafer’s criminal cohorts not believing him when he said that maybe he’s in place with no service. How is that possible when the service is so reliable, huh?!?!? They got you there, Zafer!)

I would also like to point out something that also strange and perhaps unintentional. At the beginning, production logos are flashed across the screen at the beginning of the movie, as they do. The last one they show before the movie starts… is Pepsi. This is more distracting than that M&M commercial that they show ahead of every movie in American theaters!

This reminds me a lot of an Adam Sandler movie. The product placement being super obvious is part of the joke. The characters are wild and outlandish. The main character has anger issues, but deep down beats a heart of gold. Broad slapstick comedy is paired with a “heartwarming” story of redemption.

This brings me to a point that might rankle the haters. Sandler is generally a lot more likable. And before you give me a hard time on that, let me tell you why Zafer is estranged from his wife and son: he hit his wife while he was drunk. It’s not glossed over either. Arzu threatens him with a wireless device that she can press to bring the police over if he threatens her with domestic violence again. We’re suppose to be on Zafer’s side. This was a one time thing. He’s not going to hit her again! But since this movie is all about Zafer being underhanded and deceitful, I have a hard time believing he’s going to keep his word even if all his lies are supposedly about getting Arzu back.

In addition, the whole reason they get Bogac on their movie is because they ruin his life. Bogac is mega-star, and they need to take him down a peg so he can work for peanuts. So the crew eggs him on and stage a scenario where it looks like he’s about to hit a kid. The video goes viral and Bogac’s career is ruined. (It’s actually pretty funny to watch Bogac bawl as he watches his Twitter followers dwindle from millions to less than fifty.) The plan works, and Bogac signs on so he can stage a comeback. At no point does Zafer look like the good guy in any of this.

In a Sandler movie, he would include a scene to show that Bogac perhaps deserved to be take down a peg. That doesn’t happen here, necessarily. Bogac looks decent and more sympathetic as the movie goes on. He knew Zafer from way back and considers him a friend. He fights through his injury to make sure the movie gets done. (There’s a twist late in the movie that subverts this development and gets Zafer off the hook, but to me it makes Bogac more endearing and intriguing.) So basically our movie’s hero bullied a poor guy into appearing in his garbage production. Can we get a movie focusing on Bogac instead?

Generally speaking, I wanted more homemade costumes. More fun special effects. Maybe even some footage borrowed from a modern sci-fi film like Avatar and integrated into the finished film-with-a-film. (Seriously. There is an entire subplot about a stolen DVD with unreleased footage. Are you telling me that not once did they consider ripping off the footage and integrating it into their movie somehow? This is such an obvious plot thread!) Basically, I was hoping to see a Michel Gondry film, only more specific to Turkey and their proud tradition of do-it-yourself movie making.

But, like “Summit – The End of Evil”, executing something that ambitious is probably a lot more difficult than it looks at first. It’s going to cost you way more than 50 lira, at least.

Pek Yakinda can be streamed on Netflix.

NEXT: Well, I sort of mentioned it about a month ago, but this is it for Made Overseas for now! I hit the wall in the next entry, mainly because I was splitting my time so much with real world concerns. This isn’t the end… let’s retroactively call this the end of “Made Overseas – Season 1” … but with Thanksgiving and Christmas coming up (plus with us babysitting a newborn) I have very little time to watch anything and writing about it. I have the next few movies queued up (and some reviews are partially written), but for now Made Overseas is on hiatus. Thanks for coming along with me on this fun ride looking at movies made overseas!