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In last week’s review of Gangster Ka, the first instalment of Jan Pachl’s two-part crime thriller, I signed off hoping that the second chapter would do a Godfather: Part II and improve on the original. I meant it jokingly, but against all the odds Gangster Ka: Afričan bears out that comparison. Not in terms of craft, themes or quality, of course, but in the sense that it expands on the groundwork laid out by the first film, broadens the canvas and gives the characters more room to breathe. And it certainly makes for a far more entertaining movie…
The story overlaps slightly with the concluding events of the first film. After he evades capture by the police, mobster Radim Kraviec (Hynek Čermák) skips the country with his supposedly loyal friend and enforcer Dardan (Predrag Bjelac). They’re heading for Seychelles, where Kraviec will be safe from extradition.
Once ensconced in a luxury villa in his tropical hideout, our shady protagonist starts missing the gangster life badly, getting drunk all the time and making threatening phone calls to sleazy, corrupt Czech prime minister Milan Klein (Tomáš Jeřábek), who stitched up Kraviec in the first movie.
You can’t keep a good gangster down and Kraviec soon sets his sights on gaining citizenship in the archipelago and, amusingly, almost tanking the Seychelles economy with the first “honest” business venture of his life. His trophy wife Sandra (Vlastina Svátková) soon joins him and the strange dysfunctional family of crimelord, head goon and gangster’s moll is back together again.
The Czech police are still on Kraviec’s tail, headed by detective Lánský (Filip Čapka). He’s an honest cop who turned down a 3 million crown bribe in the first movie, although had so little to do that I completely neglected to mention him in my review. Now he’s hellbent on bringing Kraviec to justice and sets a couple of secret agents to infiltrate his home and search for clues to bring him down within his new sanctuary.
Once Kraviec realises the heat is closing he seeks political refuge in South Africa, where he quickly muscles his way into the Johannesburg underworld and hatches increasingly risky plots to make money and get back in the game.
Despite the often ponderous touch of director Pachl, Gangster Ka: Afričan has a solid story to tell and it’s far more enjoyable than its exposition-heavy predecessor. It is still burdened with too much plot, and Kraviec’s ascent to crime kingpin of both Seychelles and South Africa is so rapid and abbreviated that you have to wonder if this tale would have been better served as a mini-series instead of a two-part theatrical release.
The lead actors get more time to showcase their abilities this time around. Čermák is clearly enjoying himself in this instalment, playing Kraviec like a cut-rate Tony Montana. He’s crude, ruthless and increasingly manic, hoovering up tons of cocaine and waving guns around as he desperately tries to evade justice, seek revenge and cling to power.
We still get very little insight into what actually makes Kraviec tick, apart from his hunger for obscene amounts of wealth. He’s a thoroughly reprehensible character – his treatment of his wife Sandra is probably the most disturbing part of the whole saga – but we do at least get to see why he’s become so powerful this time around, despite his piggish behaviour. Here we see him as a shrewd operator who, no matter how high or drunk he is, always has one eye open for an opportunity. It would’ve been nice to see some of his schemes played out in more detail. If Gangster Ka was a TV series, I would’ve been happy to watch an entire hour-long episode about his idea to hire South African paramilitaries to provide safe passage for ships through Somalia’s notoriously pirate-infested waters.
Once again, Bjelac as Dardan is the most interesting person on the screen. We get more of the dynamic between his gaunt ageing mobster and his diminutive boss, best illustrated in a scene where Kraviec is drunk, sunbathing in his trousers and Panama hat (what other type of hat are you going to wear if you’re a villain hiding out in an exotic locale?) while Dardan skulks around fully clad in his all-black hitman gear.
Bjelac manages to make Dardan both threatening and sympathetic, as he gradually realizes that he’s little more than a butler with henchman skills for Kraviec. He does a lot of good work non-verbally in the margins of scenes, expressing Dardan’s conflicting emotions and increasing dissatisfaction through shifting expressions on his gloriously weathered face.
On the flipside, Svátková has little to do in a thankless role as Sandra, and Čapka is a dour presence as the determined copper Lánský. His joyless performance leaves the film feeling uneven as the increasingly deranged Kraviec doesn’t have a strong nemesis to balance him out. It’s not exactly Pacino vs De Niro in Heat.
The addition of Seychelles and South African locations also gives this crime saga an almost James Bond-ian globetrotting gloss, making it look a lot more expensive than its modest 50 million CZK budget. Overall, after a turgid first instalment, Gangster Ka: Afričan saves the day and makes the two-parter a mild recommendation from me. It’s no classic, but if you’re in the mood for a gangster flick, it’ll do just enough to deliver the vicarious mob thrills you’re craving.
This review was first published by the Prague Daily Monitor.