Image courtesy of Sebastian Stein
If you’ve ever been on a night out with friends, gotten absolutely wasted, had a brilliant idea, dismissed it as a drunken pipedream, and then forgotten about it forever, this one’s for you. Sebastien Stein takes an idea from his drunken stupour and runs with it as far as it’ll go… a full-length film.
Stein is a German-born, Japan-based producer; he also plays Hitler in the film, aptly titled African Kung Fu Nazis. Whether by blind luck or sheer willpower, Sebastian finishes a watchable, entertaining, spectacle. The adjectives “watchable” and “entertaining” come with a list of conditions though, because this movie is a far cry from your typical Hollywood flick.
Stein teams up with Ghanian blockbuster director Samuel K. Nkansah AKA Ninja-Man and 23-year-old producer Danny Boy AKA Producer-Man to regale audiences with a hypothetical tale of what would’ve happened if Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tojo managed to evade capture from the allied forces and start a new base of operations in Ghana. It features an all Ghanian and Nigerian cast with the only exceptions being Hitler, played by Stein and Tojo played by Stein’s good friend and frequent collaborator, Yoshito Akimoto.
VICE spoke to Stein about the film and how the hell he came up with the idea.You obviously have an unwavering belief in this project. Where did the conviction that this was a story that needed to be told, come from?It’s so out there I just thought it needed to be done. I mean of course, when I came up with the idea I was kinda drunk. I was thinking about Africa, and Kung Fu, and Nazis and I put it together and I just started laughing. I thought, “Man it would be cool if that actually happened, we could do it like this and make a story like that,” it’d be cool if we could really make it happen but I never thought I would follow through. I didn’t know anybody in Africa, so I had to start from scratch basically. For some reason, I just kept on it and I just wrote the script at some point. I thought it might not be a good idea, but it’s definitely a crazy one.
Was there ever a moment along the production process where maybe you stopped and thought to yourself, maybe this isn't such a good idea?
Every single step honestly. When I first contacted the producer and the director, I thought they were gonna come back to me and say, “What the hell man, what do you want with this kind of crap,” but instead, their answer was, “Oh it’s a lovely script, I’m sure it’s gonna win various awards in Ghana.” I knew then that I had to do it. Another issue we had was the budget. They told me I had to transfer the whole amount of $10,000, which isn’t usually how it works. Usually, you do it after production has wrapped, but Producer-Man told me that I had to pay upfront, so I eventually gave in. I knew it might be a bad idea and that once I gave it to him, there was a possibility that I’d never see it again. They proved me wrong and ended up really taking care of things. Still, every single step from production to post-production was riddled with problems. People wouldn’t show up because they were angry at things like the hotel, or other cast members. Our cars were always breaking down. Once, the owner of one of the filming locations thought we were doing a voodoo ceremony because of the flags, props, and costumes so they threw us out of the location. We were meant to premiere African Kung Fu Nazi in 2018 but due to all these problems and Ninja Man taking such a long time to edit the movie, it led to a year-long delay. Eventually, I ended up having to finish editing it myself.We know it's 100% satire, but in an age of woke shaming and cancel culture, do you think some people might still take offense to your film, or do you think most people will understand that it's a mockery?
I think everybody that watches either the movie or the documentary, will see immediately that it’s a mockery. I showed my Jewish aunt the movie and she loved it. Everyone in Ghana loves it. I’m from Germany originally and growing up, parents and teachers constantly tell you not to joke about Hitler and the Nazis, and it’s become a taboo. On the other hand, if you look at the Brits, they take the piss out of it! They make movies mocking Hitler and they’re hilarious. I think that’s the right way to deal with it. If you make something taboo and mysterious you give it a lot of power. But if you crap on it, then the mysticism is gone. Especially if you have African guys with swastikas and whiteface, they completely strip the power out of those symbols, because we break down everything those symbols stand for. We’re laughing at it and using it in the exact opposite way that those ideas were intended to be used.
Was there ever a doubt about who was the right choice to play Hitler and Tojo? Or did you always want to play a fascist ruler?I’m sorry, it had to be me man! When I was a kid they’d constantly show us World War II documentaries, nearly every day, to reinforce how bad it was and how we did all these horrible things. I remember the first time I saw Hitler I thought to myself, “That’s a comedian, how could anybody follow him or take him seriously, he’s a comedian”. I’d always make fun of him, but people around me were always telling me not to make jokes. I just think that making fun of him is the best way to fight against him and those ideas. I used to think anybody that takes that guy seriously, can’t be in their right mind.
World War II, Hitler, Nazism, whiteface. These are all extremely heavy topics. Did you ever have trouble manoeuvring around these potential faux pas' and the nuance that comes with satirically portraying these characters?I think people in Africa see things completely differently. As long as they know it’s satire, they’re on board, and they start mocking it too. I felt what they liked most is that, usually, when you have a film team coming to Africa, they only hire local Africans to be assistants and things like that. But with AKFN we used an all-African cast and crew so it’s a real African production. Everyone was African, from the main cast to the director and producer. The last thing they want is to be patronised. Everyone was on the same level; If anything, Ninja-Man told me what to do. They hate that Western media portrays Africa as a place of starving kids and wars. They were really happy that something like African Kung Fu Nazis came along. They used it as an opportunity to show the good side of Africa and its movie scene. I think everyone enjoyed that a lot and I hope we can make a part two at some point.
Who are your inspirations and how did their influence have an effect on the way you approached this project?I put a lot of different things together for this project. The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage the pro wrestler, Bud Spencer movies, Jackie Chan, I put it all in a blender and mixed it all together and out came African Kung Fu Nazi.
I love the soundtrack and the theme song has been stuck in my head ever since I heard it. Were there any musical influences you turned to?The whole movie was made by them (Producer-Man, Ninja-Man), they took care of everything. The cast was decided by them, the music was done by them, I didn’t even know they were making a song. The lyrics they wrote themselves and they did such a brilliant job with it.If there's one thing you want people to take away from this film what would it be?I want them to think for themselves, especially people who think they’ll be outraged by the title. Just watch it and see, there’s more behind it than just the title and actually, this has nothing to do with racism. What I really wanted to do most is support African filmmakers who have really been struggling and help put a spotlight on them. Hopefully, we can get more projects together and other people will emulate that and go to Africa because you can make a good movie there for cheap. One more shout for Danny Boy the producer man. He’s only 23 years old but he’s miles further than I was at 23. If it wasn’t for him, this movie would not have happened.If you’re looking for seamless special effects and tear-jerking dialogue, well, you won’t find it here, because - and you can tell - that’s not what these filmmakers are after. What African Kung Fu Nazis does deliver, is a truckload of personality and what the film lacks in storytelling prowess it more than makes up for with superb fighting sequences and impressive choreography. The movie can be a lot of fun if you give it that chance but watching it as a piss-take is, unfortunately, the only way to get through this movie. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, and so, neither should you.
African Kung Fu Nazis is distributed worldwide by Busch Media Group, along with a documentary feature about the journey of the production of the movie all the way to the Premiere. You can find out more about the movie on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.