Fri, 04 May 2001

A where-to guide to hunting for VCDs in the capital

By Joko E.H. Anwar

JAKARTA (JP): No doubt about it that it's a dry week for movie openings. There is the formulaic Steven Seagal Exit Wounds, a giant mutating killer spider flick ingeniously titled Spiders and a routine Hong Kong entry.

The few good films still playing, such as Sam Raimi's hair- raising The Gift and Sean Penn's extraordinary cop thriller The Pledge, will probably not be here much longer.

It seems your best bet for a good movie may be in your own living room. DVD is great, but the problem is that there are few titles available here. VHS is as good as dead, so the only way to go is with VCDs.

Cheaper than in neighboring countries (in Singapore they are the equivalent of US$16 per title, while here they average about Rp 50,000 or $4.50), the VCDs here range from recent popular general distribution movies like Gladiator to acclaimed films such as Rushmore and Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy, which were never released here.

There are three major VCD distributors: PT Vision Interprima Pictures under Vision Home Entertainment label (ph. 021-350 7650), PT Cipta Mitra Video Nusa under Musica VideoVan label (ph. 021 6286278) and PT Dutamitra Tarra under Dutamitra label.

If you want to know more about new releases and titles currently available, contact the companies via the phone or fax numbers which are printed on their VCD cases.

There is also a growing number of VCD distributors in the capital who sell their products as low as Rp 17,500. The availability of low-priced authentic VCDs is also leading more and more people to forgo their very un-PC habit of buying cheap pirated discs.

The largest selection is offered by DMV label, which is owned by PT Citra Cemerlang Jayaputra. Although most of the movies offered at this price are little-known, low-budget action films, they also offer many good films. DMV, for example, offers many award-winning titles released by Miramax Films.

There is also a new label simply named Tango, which offers old, but good films such as The Mummy with Boris Karloff, Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times and the young Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney in National Velvet.

However, there is usually no company description written on their covers and virtually no advertisements made upon the release of the videos. That means keeping your eyes open and making frequent visits to the video stores.

There are many places to buy VCDs these days across the capital, but unfortunately most of them only offer pirated videos.

VCD collectors can find a wide selection at Disc Tara Megastore at Mal Taman Anggrek in West Jakarta.

Mal Ciputra in West Jakarta is also a good place to shop for VCDs as several stores here offer good bargains. Some of the stores even sell VCDs at half price.

There are several websites for online VCD shopping; the biggest one here is, for the chain store of the same name. But as the download is still slow, you may just want to go to the stores yourself.

And then there is Glodok, the infamous VCD black market in West Jakarta that offers the widest selection of VCDs in the capital, if not the country.

They may not admit it, but many videophiles visit the market to browse for VCDs, most of them pirated, which are available for as low as Rp 6,000 for each title (the presence of all types of hard-core porn movies makes a mockery of the censorship for films released theatrically and on legitimate VCDs).

Those who are dying to see alternative titles, which are unlikely to be shown at theaters or be released on authentic VCDs for censorship or commercial reasons, will be able to find many of them here. True buffs with a taste for the unusual will be thrilled at finding such hard-to-get films as Hong Kong's The Untold Story, hailed for being one of the best undeniably gory movies of all time.

A word of warning -- those who forsake all scruples and decide to purchase VCDs from the area must be willing to endure poor picture and sound quality (as well as the "shame on you" looks of others who respect intellectual copyrights).

Here are this reviewer's top VCD choices, available from those distributors offering low-priced but quality titles.

Life is Beautiful (La Vita Belle). Italian actor Roberto Benigni starred in and directed this beautiful tale about a Jewish father who creates a joyful world for his son when they are sent to a concentration camp during the World War II. Winner of three Academy Awards in 1999.

Good Will Hunting. Directed by Gus Van Sant and written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, this is a heart-warming story of a janitor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who turns out to be a genius, but decides to spend his youth getting drunk and fighting at bars. Robin Williams plays a professor who tries to make the janitor come to his senses.

Talented Mr. Ripley. Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jude law star in this compelling story about a bright but poor young man named Thomas Ripley who will do anything to enjoy the life of the rich, including a murder here and there.

The Cider House Rules. Beautiful award-winning film based on John Irvin's novel about morality and redemption. Michael Caine stars as a doctor who runs an orphanage, which is also a place where women can undergo abortions. Tobey MacGuire is an orphan who never gets adopted and the one Caine chooses to be his successor. However, MacGuire decides he wants to be an apple picker when he grows up.

Run Lola Run. Extraordinary German import about a young, punkish red-haired woman named Lola who runs and runs for the whole film in a desperate attempt to save her small-time criminal boyfriend. Innovative, great fun.

Seven. One of the finest thrillers ever made. This dark, gripping film tells the story of a serial killer who declares that each of his victims has committed one of the seven deadly sins. Directed by David Fincher and featuring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. A must-see.

To Die For. Gus Van Sant's sharp satirical film about an ambitious small town woman who is willing to do anything to become a big television personality. Nicole Kidman and Joaquin Phoenix give compelling performances in this stylish work.