Review: ‘King of Thieves’ Wants You To Remember The Magic And Allure Of Indigenous Movies 

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In the good old days of Nigerian cinema and TV, movies were based on fascinating local stories. The Greeks had their mythology and we had ours culled from books and folklore handed down from generation to generation. These stories focused on the man’s relationship with his fellow man, the supernatural and usually ended with some moral lesson. Yoruba and other indigenous languages were the order of the day until the 90s when Kenneth Nnebue’s Living In Bondage and Glamour Girls which had a mixture of Igbo and English came on the scene. With the likes of Pete Edochie, Olu Jacobs, Liz Benson, and Stella Damascus, the industry witnessed a shift as movies done solely in English made their way to the big screen in order to reach a wider, international audience while indigenous films got regulated to the background.

Now, movies done in our local languages are making a comeback with the 2021 Ayinla and the recently released King of Thieves. Co-produced by Anthill Studios and Euphoria 360, the movie is an exciting blast from the past story of betrayal and vengeance with a star-studded cast. The epic, historical drama is a tale of two kings as well as their gods with a sprinkling of witches and masquerades. Set in the premodern Yoruba era (around the 17th and 18th centuries), the movie opens with an underwhelming opening with King Adégbìtẹ́ (Odunlade Adekola) but makes up for it with the excitement and drama that comes in the second scene where we meet the self-proclaimed King of Thieves; an invincible bandit named Agẹṣinkólé (Femi Adebayo), his men and their horses.

Armed with powers and driven by revenge, he exerts a reign of terror on the fictional Kingdom of Ajeromi with his band. All efforts by the crowned king, his wife (who turns out to be a witch), herbalists, wizards, chiefs and warriors of the kingdom to defeat him are endlessly futile. The reign of absolute terror is brought to a head when the King loses his only prince to the conflict which leads to a confrontation with the head hunter, Ògúntádé (Ibrahim Chatta). This encounter eventually reveals a huge part of Agẹṣinkólé’s identity which ties the whole story together. While the script is essentially a good story, it still had some unnecessary conflicts, unexplained elements and a few dragged-out scenes like the one with Odunlade blaming his wife for the death of their son or when he goes to tongue-lash the coven of witches. After he leaves the witches, the camera stays longer than necessary which makes the audience feel like something is about to go down but nothing happens (we will share some of the blame with the directing and editing team). There is also the fact that there is no real explanation for how the King of Thieves gets his powers. 

Great Casting

Still, King Of Thieves works because of the casting with outstanding performances from veteran actors like Peju Ogunmola and Dele Odule. Adebayo is believable as the invincible, bitter, vengeful and ruthless bandit and leader. His portrayal makes you feel and eventually support his rage every time he fills the screen. His right-hand Abímbéṣù (Ibrahim “Itele” Yekini) goes toe to toe with him as he equally delivers an award-worthy performance. Odunlade, known for his memes and often exaggerated acting, holds his own against the King of Thieves and brings in some unintentional humour in some scenes with his wife like when he tries to figure out if she is a witch. There are some scenes where his acting comes across as overacting but that could be attributed to the writing. The rest of the cast including Toyin Abraham (Queen Mobonuola) is great except for Lateef Adedimeji. After seeing what he can do in Ayinla and A Naija Christmas, he feels wasted as Abégúndé, a warrior and Lafongídò masquerade bearer. It is this writer’s opinion that he would have been better suited as a main character like the crowned king.

Rich Yoruba Culture On Display

The dialogue steals the show with incantations and beautiful ijinlé Yoruba language that shows attention to detail. As a biased reviewer, who wants more indigenous movies in theatres, it warms my heart to hear the rich language which absolutely helps the storytelling along. The narration done by Segun Arinze should have been done away with considering the fact that storytelling could stand by itself. My only note is that the filmmakers could have done a better job on the subtitling for non-Yoruba speakers but if Netflix can get away with it so can the Nigerian cinema. The wardrobe department certainly came through with the women in their Aso okes and the men in their native attires from that era. The set designers did a great job as the culturally appropriate furniture and props add to the rich ‘Yorubaness’ of the movie. The cinematography is also well done considering that Nollywood often drops the ball in this department. The wide and long shots of the King of Thieves making his entrance on horses as well as various close-up shots help sell the story.

Achilles’ Heel

The movie is an applaudable win for the Yoruba industry and Nollywood as a whole except for the Computer-generated imagery (CGI), Visual effects (VFX) and continuity. Agẹṣinkólé’s all-white or all-gold eyes are inconsistent during the movie. Almost all the scenes with supernatural elements like the invocation of Sango leave more to be desired. On one hand, it did feel reminiscent of the olden days of Nigerian films when we did not have the technology or budget of our foreign counterparts. Then, there is the fact that we are in 2022 and we have come a long way or haven’t we?

Ultimately, King of Thieves is a great Yoruba epic thriller with enough drama, twists, and nostalgia to make you remember the magic and allure of indigenous movies. 

Since its release in April, the movie has made over the N300 Million; a huge feat for a Nigerian film and especially a non-English title. King of Thieves is officially the fifth highest-grossing Nollywood movie of all time. After its successful theatrical run, the blockbuster will be available on Amazon Prime Video.

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