Sunday, 9th December 2018

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski

Kill Mosquitoes ‘Til They’re Dead

Posted on 30. Aug, 2009 by in Personal essays

Choreographing the singing chicken, goat and twin rabbits

JAKARTA, Indonesia

Incense is far from a simple commodity. It’s an essential component of Indonesian meditation. But add a swig of insecticide, manufacture it into coils that emit an insect-defying smoke, and you get that wonderfully Asian invention dubbed the mosquito coil.  Ridding the world of little devils, in either case.

Back in the 1970s, Hennoch Tampi, one of my clients in the Jakarta advertising agency in which I worked, wanted a new campaign for his three mosquito coil brands.  In the visual and not always-literate marketplace they were named after the animals represented on the packs: Kambing (Goat brand, so called because it has a picture of a goat on the front),  Ayam (Chicken) and  Dua Kelinci (Double Rabbit).

I felt I owed him a Big Idea.  After all, he was the first to feed me rat curry, a major treat in his hometown of Manado.

We did lunch at the Executive Club.

“How about we maybe get some famous comedians to slap each other all night because they can’t sleep because there are so many mosquitoes because…” he suggested.

I saw greatness beckoning.  “Here’s what we do,” I said, scribbling on the linen tablecloth.  “The film starts with an animated scene of a mosquito control tower sending mosquito fighter plane-warriors to attack a peaceful human village.  Who comes to save them?   Why the heroes of the mosquito war — Super Kambing, a human goat dressed like Superman but with horns; Abdul Ayam, a giant chicken looking like a refugee from Aladdin’s lamp; and Titi and Tati, the two rabbits.  Together they beat up the mosquitoes and save the village.”

“Is that it?” Hennoch asked, somewhat disappointed.

“Oh, I forgot.  They sing.”  And I made up a jingle while nibbling chocolate mousse.

He loved it so much he paid for lunch.  Now I really owed him.

First I flew to Singapore and saw my buddy Horace Wee.  Whenever I had a jingle idea I sang it to Horace and he would grimace, strum on his guitar and say “surely this what you had in mind.”

The film was combination live action and animation – the cartoon mosquito villains would be added later.  I gave the role of Super Kambing, the goat superman, to my kung fu instructor, a Bruce Lee protegé.  He asked that filming not interfere with his special armed forces assignment.  “I’m bodyguard to the Ambassador,” he said.

“Which one?” I asked.

“Yours.  The American.”

His buddy was a perfect Abdul Ayam.  We told him he looked very nice in his turban and balloon pants.

Now for Tity and Tati.

I liked to hold casting sessions in the office.  It amused my colleagues to have would-be commercial stars prancing around.

We found Titi, the first rabbit pretty easily.  But no Tati, and we were on the fourth casting call and shooting was set to start in a few days.  Then a very pretty Arab lady arrived, a minor film actress, together with a friend.

“Can you do kung fu?” I asked the actress.

“No.”

“Karate?”

“No.” She added, “And I won’t wear skin-colored tights.”

“Well, then you must be able to dance.”

Her eyes lit up.  “Yes.  Disco.”

She didn’t get the job.  But the Arab woman’s friend, Yeti, was great.  She had rabbit-like curves and had been a gymnast.

“Have you ever been in a film?” I asked.

“No, and I don’t want to.”

I looked her straight in the eyes with my most intense, but sincere, gaze.  “Yeti,” I said.  “I can make you a star.”

The shooting went smoothly.  We had asked the prop man to get white smoke coming from the end of the fake 2 1/2 meter mosquito coil.  So before every take he puffed on two packs of cigarettes and stuffed them into the hollow end of the model mosquito coil.

During the mosquito attack a terrified mother clutching a baby looks up at the sky and implores, “Who can save us?”  And we figured we’d have a great shot because the kid would be crying her eyes out.  All little kids cry when they’re put in front of the lights and surrounded by strangers.  Well this mellow kid wouldn’t stop laughing and gurgling.  “THE MOSQUITOES ARE COMING!  WE’RE DOOMED!  SAVE US!” people screamed.  “Gurgle, gurgle,” gurgled the baby.  “Go on Tony, I told the Australian director.  “Pinch the kid.”

“I can’t,” he answered.  “I’ve got a kid her age.  I hate to see little girls cry.  You pinch her.”

The two rabbits were terrific.  They swung on vines and punished an imaginary giant mosquito with flying kicks.

There’s one scene in the commercial in which a little old lady chases the fleeing mosquito villains with a broom.   Of course there were no mosquitoes for her to chase during the shoot since they were to be animated and added later.

“Now Ibu, in this scene you’re really angry,” I explained.  “You’re chasing after these real bad mosquito villain guys.”  Here we were asking a four-toothed, sixty-something woman, who had probably seen about two commercials in her life, to give a performance Dame Edith Evans would have had trouble with.  “You can’t really see the mosquitoes, Mother, but I want you to chase them down this path just the same.  They’re about this big,” I said, holding my hand as high as her shoulder.  “Pretend they’re there.”  And she did, with gusto.

The grand finale of this epic comes after all the mosquitoes have been run out of town and the villagers cheer their four heroes.  After the first take, Titi, Rabbit Number One, was furious.  Some boys in the front row of celebrating villagers were, well, taking liberties.  We moved the naughty boys to the back and the little old ladies to the front.  Kambing the Goatpicked up a baby and swung him over the crowd.  The baby was supposed to be happy and gurgling, safe in the hands of the friendly giant who killed mosquitoes and saved the village.  The formerly happy kid bawled and screamed.  Never mind.  It was a long shot, and with a bit of luck we wouldn’t see her face.  Film was expensive and the cast of dozens was getting restless.

“All right you barnyard animals, SING!”  Tony shouted.

“I’m Super Kambing,” the goat man bellowed.

“I’m Abdul Ayam,” the chicken crooned.

“We’re Dua Kelinci,” the rabbits trilled.

“And we’ve come to kill mosquitoes ‘til they’re dead.”