‘Living In Bondage: Breaking Free’ is a Good Start from Where Its Predecessor Left Off

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L-R: Charles Okpaleke , Kanayo O Kanayo, Munachi Abii, Ramsey Nouah

The much awaited sequel to Living in Bondage, the supposed film that birthed Nollywood, had its premiere recently at Filmhouse IMAX Cinemas in Lekki. Vanessa Obioha and Iyke Bede report on the fanfare that greeted the movie with a critical view on the production directed by one of Nollywood’s finest, Ramsey Nouah

For three years, the creative team behind the sequel to the 90s thriller, ‘Living in Bondage’ hit a block and stalled production. There were conflicting concerns about the direction of the script between Charles Okpaleke — the entertainment entrepreneur who bought the rights of the film from the creator Kenneth Nnebue — and Nollywood actor Ramsey Nouah who was tapped to direct the film, such that the opinion of Steve Gukas, a renowned filmmaker and director was sought.

During the hiatus, not a few expressed fears that the sequel may never materialise. Sequels are not a staple in Nollywood yet, hence the doubtful thoughts. Moreover, the original was praised by critics as the quintessence of Nollywood film despite poor funding and lack of modern filming equipment. The film’s success was hinged on a blend of good scriptwriting and passionate acting. However, in recent times, these two important ingredients are largely missing in most productions, thus, it left many movie lovers skeptical of Ramsey Nouah’s directorial take on ‘Breaking Free’.

But on Saturday, November 2, the much awaited sequel ‘Living in Bondage: Breaking Free’ premiered at the Filmhouse IMAX Cinemas in Lekki. In the usual Nollywood première glam, the event was attended by well-heeled Nollywood stakeholders like Femi Odugbemi, Kunle Afolayan, showbiz celebrities and fans of the film industry who clinked glasses, pat backs and posed for the cameras on the red carpet.

The screening hall beamed with expectant faces who were eager to see if the film met expectations.

‘Breaking Free’ is centered on Nnamdi Okeke (Swanky JKA), a struggling startup entrepreneur with no knowledge of his paternal lineage. In his quest for greener pastures, he crosses paths with Obinna Omego (Enyinna Nwigwe), who eventually helps advance his business through his connects.

In the grand scheme of things, Nnamdi and Obinna share a common past of having their fathers belong to a clandestine group that soon evolves into The Six. Although, Nnamdi’s father, — Andy Okeke (Kenneth Okonkwo) in the original story — had renounced his allegiance to the occult group and turned to God, nemesis comes knocking in the form of Richard Williams (Ramsey Nouah), an occult grandmaster who seeks Nnamdi’s soul by offering him the fine things of life.

The 2019 version is not a major departure from the original. It mirrors the plot pattern of its predecessor that was schemed to get Andy to be part of the cult group. This same pattern was applied for luring Nnamdi in, but with a subtle touch through Williams’ deceptive approach. Another way it bears semblance was by retaining actors from the original to continue in their roles, thus making it easy for catch-up regardless of whether or not the viewer is familiar with the original. To a degree, this approach helps in reducing the bias that may have developed from internalising the first two films.

Though a good move, the approach also reflects the acting flaws of the new generation actors recruited to take on new roles. Though, very thin, the line that separates their level of professionalism is obvious with the veterans projecting more confidence. In fact, their presence is a key factor in appealing to its audiences. Okonkwo in particular whose role is miniscule, graced promotional posters for a nostalgic effect.

Swanky’s character on the other hand did not really strike major chords; clearly pointing to how he is unable to captivate his audience effortlessly. His input of being rather careful, and in some cases, overacting, made the film’s opening scenes drag a bit.

Munachi Abii who played Kelly Nwankwo was peerless in her role. Her acting was believable to a point where the viewer feels there are no cameras in front of her.

Although, Swanky’s role may be sensed as the major, it is actually Nouah who takes the cake playing Williams. He embodies his role with the same grace as Tom Ellis in his role as Lucifer Morningstar in ‘Lucifer’ – jovial but inherently dangerous.

Although both storylines are almost identical in sequence, what the new version present is a villain in the form of William, something the old script lacked. By actively pinpointing the source of evil heightens expectations. It turns into a clear-cut race between good and evil, and not just random apparitions tormenting their murderer.

Also, the screenplay reflects the amount of work that has been put into it over the past three years. Lines are straightforward, dialogues are engaging and relatable, and this really is what makes it a good film. The viewer follows up and isn’t confused with the plot’s trajectory.

Being Nouah’s directorial debut, there is a certain pressure to attain perfection; this is seen in the excellent cinematography and the thematic settings.

With a 27-year gap, the sequel is heavily punctuated with current sociocultural issues to give relevance. The current version adopts about 90 per cent English and 10 per cent Igbo vernacular. The original was an Igbo language film.

Whilst this is a good path to continue on, it doesn’t eclipse the original despite improved cinematography or the English language appeal. If anything, it leverages on the star power of the first and the updated storyline. Judging by how the film ends, there is possibility for a follow-up movie. When this happens, old acts will likely be dropped, and new characters introduced. It is only then one can truly ascertain the franchise potential it has for Nouah. But for now, it is one movie that is good bang for your buck!