TEENAGE KICKS: SWEDISH TAEKWONDO PUNKS ON FILM

In the 1980s, Sweden’s youth culture was carried away by Bruce Lee, THE KARATE KID, and hip-hop, ushering a new wave of counter-culture and youth rebellion. Combined with Sweden’s own version of the “video nasties,” which elevated otherwise rote actioners to must-see status (among them Mats Helge Olsson’s essential, homegrown breakout VHS hit NINJA MISSION), delinquency was on the rise. And just as it swept midwestern American mini-malls, taekwondo made the juvenile offenders’ feet their weapons of choice.

The new subculture, known as “kickers,” was immortalized in the most unlikely of fashions: STOCKHOLMSNATT, a highly polished feature docudrama financed by Sweden’s state-owned telephone company and made for compulsory viewing to discourage payphone sabotage. This was a big mistake: a trend that most people weren’t even aware of went national, and the young hood stars, who played fictionalized versions of themselves, became icons. Years later, in 1993, SÖKARNA, featuring similar cast members, extended the core essence of STOCKHOLMSNATT into a more mature, sex, drugs, and violence-fueled portrait of Stockholm on the brink of full-on social collapse.

While one might be tempted to imagine Sweden as a bunch of blonde haired, blue eyed babes in a cultural bubble, the kicker films are unique in their frank acknowledgement of social problems, racial tensions, immigration and transatlantic cultural (re-)reappropriation. They’re a thrilling window into an obscure international subculture and, at the very least, unbelievably entertaining—if not always intentionally. And as Swedish Sensationsfilms author Daniel Eckeford argues, they represent the culmination of decades of violence and smut in Swedish films before relaxed censorship and the floodgates of the internet gave young punks less to kick back against.


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STOCKHOLMSNATT
aka STOCKHOLM NIGHT/THE KING OF KUNGSAN
Dir. Staffan Hildebrand, 1987
Sweden, 45 min.
In Swedish with English subtitles

FRIDAY, AUGUST 7 – 10:00 PM
MONDAY, AUGUST 10 – 10:00 PM
SATURDAY, AUGUST 22 – 7:30 PM
THURSDAY, AUGUST 27 – 7:30 PM

STOCKHOLMSNATT is a true gem: a super stylized, state-supported 1987 quasi-docu-drama made for compulsory viewing in Swedish schools and designed to wean teens off a generally non-pervasive wave of random jumpkicking crimes—a non-trend that the movie then inadvertently popularized, making unlikely folk heroes out of its juvenile delinquent stars and christening Sweden’s “kicker” subculture.

Martial arts outlaw Paolo Roberti, already a notorious youth criminal, was hired to play himself as a young Italian Swede struggling with identity and feelings otherness. And like a lot of lost teens, he works this out through delinquency and violence, uniquely in this case by jumpkicking stuff like windows, people, and payphones, and really I guess just anything he can ram his foot into. His best friend, Quincy Delight Jones III (Quincy Delight Jones III, son of Quincy Jones and Swedish supermodel Ulla Andersson), tries to steer him on the right course, partially through the power of righteous positive synth jams. Parties, beatdowns, smash-n-grabs, teen romance, and a whole lotta jumpkicking ensue. Will any lessons be learned? Yes: jumpkicking stuff is awesome.

Transcending national borders, STOCKHOLMSNATT is the most overwhelmingly 80’s object ever made. It’s seriously like if Billys Idol and Squier had a jumpkicking movie baby. The music and fashion is so incredibly on-point, and it’s the kind of movie where when something sad happens there’s an epic guitar wail and suddenly Paolo is standing in a stairwell in the Kungsträdgården metro station while his long beautiful hair is backlit by neon and random fog rolls down the stairs (cue progressive baby-to-troubled-teen photo montage). It’s like this gritty glossy punchdance-fueled neon-neo-realism aesthetic filtered through badly failed corporate anti-vandalism propaganda. There’s even Swedish beatboxing and rapping. If anything, the seamless synthesizing of hair metal, synth pop, and hip-hop is a major feat in itself. Actually, maybe this is just a feature-length expansion of the Aerosmith/Run-DMC “Walk This Way” video, only mixed with the Michael Jackson video where he transforms from panther form and smashes a car.

I don’t want to spoil anything but I seriously have to tell you about this one part where Paolo and his hoodrat friends smash a window to steal a diamond-studded jean jacket with tiger-print lapels and when they’re running down the street and the cops try to stop them Paolo just JUMP KICKS one. Hahahahahahaha. AND THE COP DOESN’T EVEN TRY TO REACT. He’s just as stunned as we are that this curly haired punk is ramming his foot into his chest. Hahahaha. This movie makes jumpkicking look seriously fucking cool.


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SÖKARNA
Dir. Daniel Fridell & Peter Cartriers, 1993
Sweden, 108 min.
In Swedish with English subtitles

FRIDAY, AUGUST 7 – 7:30 PM
SUNDAY, AUGUST 16 – 7:30 PM
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 19 – 10:00 PM
SATURDAY, AUGUST 22 – 10:00 PM

Set in the world of teen delinquency, crime, drug addiction, race conflict, and violence, SÖKARNA (literally “The Searchers” or “The Seekers”) follows a couple of low-rent hoods weaned on nascent Swedish hip-hop and Taekwondo whose sole virtue is that they enjoy beating the shit out of skinheads. Existence is bleak: but after leader Jocke is sentenced to jail time for a violent mugging, life goes off the rails when he reenters society with some new friends. Jocke plunges into a world of high-stakes robberies, violent shakedowns and mob deals while smoking, snorting, shooting, and freebasing his way straight to Hell.

SÖKARNA is considered by author Daniel Ekeroth to be the explosive culmination of the trajectory of Swedish “sensationsfilms” that began in the early 1950s. At once horrifyingly disturbing and giddily cheesy, the film is a wickedly warped portrait of society on the brink set to an awesome/awful backdrop of Neneh Cherry-style Euro R&B. (Although controversial Swedish G-Funk classic “Shoot the Racist” by Infinite Mass is actually pretty hardcore. Appropriately, the movie does begin with Jocke throwing a neo-Nazi under a subway train.) SÖKARNA is further noted for its unique tone that elevates urban realism into something slightly suggesting dystopian science fiction: it’s like the Swedish BASKETBALL DIARIES with a tincture of CLASS OF 1984.

Adding to the film’s legend is the incredible fact that in 1996, nearly three years after it’s release, amateur leading man Liam Norberg—who also has a small role in STOCKHOLMSNATT and had run a Taekwondo shop with star Paolo Roberti—was convicted of of the largest cash heist in Swedish history, which had taken place in 1991. (There are undeniable shades of Scorsese’s GOODFELLAS in both this historic real-life crime and the Lucchese/Lufthansa heist as well as the films’ aesthetic exuberance.) In fact, alongside unbelievable state subsidies, Norberg’s stolen money had partially financed SÖKARNA’s production. For his role in this legendary heist, Norberg and his collaborator received whopping five year prison sentences. The third accomplice, Dragomir Mršić, recently consulted and provided his voice and likeness to the popular video Swedish video game PAYDAY 2 and even had a decent sized role in Doug Liman’s EDGE OF TOMORROW. Way to keep it real, Sweden. Norberg, meanwhile, is back in the national spotlight as an outspoken born-again Christian.

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