“What is a good film to you?” Nollywood indie film director, Imoh Umoren, asked on Twitter. I replied “A film that has a great story, often poetic dialogue, beautiful pictures that cover the essence of the story or the film’s location, and performances that are emotive and unforgettable!”
If you agree with my reply, then you will agree Dare Olaitan’s Knock Out Blessing is a good film. I first came across the name around December 2017, media publications were publishing their roundups for the year and his debut, Ojukokoro, was a regular occurrence at the top of the lists. I was intrigued because I had not heard of the movie. I googled and read a few things about him and the movie and I was becoming a fan. But it was the interview with the NATIVE that finally won me over. His intentionality and ambition are exciting and admirable. He told Fisayo Okare, “By 30, I want to be making movies in Hollywood.” And on his sophomore feature, he shows he has what it takes.
Knock Out Blessing is a crime thriller with lots of twist and turns. It focuses on the journey of a young girl, Blessing (Ade Laoye), from the harsh hands of jungle justice to the hot waters of Nigeria’s twisted political underworld. Blessing aspires to be a boxer like her grandad, who is also her trainer. Boxing is all she knows and wants to do. She has a killer punch – if she hits you, you are getting knocked out – and it is this gift (or curse) that has led her into all sorts of trouble.
Girls that love things we have termed masculine are often bullied and mocked. Blessing is no different. And her troubles began when she gave a fatal blow to her bully. Escaping from the villagers who want blood led her to the city where she met Oby (Linda Ejiofor), a newbie prostitute.
Meeting Oby will lead her to Hannah (Meg Otanwa), then Dagogo, and the villain of the story: the suit-wearing, never-smiling,ever efficient Gowon.
As we witness Blessing’s journey, Dare, who doubles as writer and director, touches on several subjects: rape, bullying, and the pervasive filth of Nigeria’s politics; without any of them coming across as preachy. You are simply witnessing the struggles of a girl while being entertained.
The sound is excellent and gripping but, on one or two occasions, it falls short. The dialogue is good; yet, sometimes, you feel like we don’t need to be this unrealistic to be funny. The performances could also have had more scope. While Bucci Franklin and Ademola Adedoyin were excellent in their roles, Ade Laoye could have been more intense, and Meg Otanwa was just there.
It is as though there was an inner struggle between artistic, I-want-to-go-to-Hollywood Dare Olaitan and eyes-on-Nollywood-box-office Dare Olaitan.
It is understandable to want to get people to laugh even with cringe-worthy scenes since that’s what films like the Wedding Party 2 rode on to stellar box office numbers. Especially for someone like Dare, whose critically acclaimed debut did not catch fire at the box office.
Now, let’s focus on artistic Dare Olaitan, his ability to write a compelling story with a lot of twists, create intriguing characters, and get actors to perform brilliantly shows his genius as a writer and director. It is exciting! Two characters to love in particular are Dagogo and Gowon. Dagogo, played by Bucci Franklyn, is a street dude who sabi. He is funny, witty, and has an eye for good business.
Gowon, on the other hand, is a well-constructed villain. The best I have seen in Nollywood. His gaze is menacing. His confidence is sky-level, like a true villain. And the marriage between his calmness and ruthlessness is just so enjoyable. While credit goes to Dare for creating this menace, we have to give props to Demola Adedoyin for his brilliant performance. It has been a “season of compelling villains in Nollywood.”
I feel things would have been interesting if we have a deeper backstory on Gowon. Or maybe it is Hollywood’s depiction of villains as messed up kids that’s got me thinking that. Maybe that’s reserved for a potential sequel.
Overall, Knock Out Blessing is impressive. It shows a director so intentional about his art and while there are a few misses, Dare throws the right punches mostly.