Tuesday, 10 March 2020

TV review: The Protector, season 1, Netflix (2018)

This diverting supernatural drama displays the best parts of Istanbul, parts that visitors will be familiar with, such as the Golden Horn and Ayasofya – there are multiple aerial shots taken from a helicopter flying above the city – but the show also features contemporary pop music. Most people will not have heard much Turkish rap music, so this show gives you a chance to sample cultural products you will not be familiar with: a change from the everyday.

Istanbul relies on tourism for a good deal of its income, and the reliable stream of Western tourists, looking for relics to view, is very visible on the streets of the city, especially those near the main landmarks and on Istiklal Street (which makes an appearance in some scenes of the movie), but the past, for Turks, means more than Roman rule. There is also the little matter of the Ottomans.

I wasn’t blown away by the acting some of which is hackneyed and relies on dramatic conventions substantially different from those used in the West. So, this production is vastly different from what you are normally served up as entertainment on Netflix. At points of heightened drama the protagonist, Hakan Demir (Çağatay Ulusoy, see image below), starts yelling uncontrollably in a way that a normal person would not do.

But the way historical Istanbul is woven into the tale is enjoyable though there is a good deal of predictable directing. Shots from the air showing a large commercial building owned by a wealthy businessman named Faysal Erdem (Okan Yalabık) with police sirens wailing in the distance, are an example of the kinds common cinematic trope the filmmakers use to narrow the distance between their product and comparable ones from the West. 

They try to show a modern, developed Turkey and so, for example, their actors are constantly pouring whiskey out of cut-glass decanters and sipping red wine from elaborate glasses as they sit in modern apartments. 

The story centres on the exploits of Hakan, the adoptive son of a vendor in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar. One day, a woman comes into the man’s shop looking for a shirt. The old man tells her he doesn’t have it but it turns out he does and it turns out to be a talismanic garment that, when Hakan puts it on, makes him invincible. He is the “protector” of the show’s title, a man fated to defend the city from the “immortals”, only one of whom is still alive. With the “loyal ones”, the protector must use certain talismanic objects – a ring with a magical stone, an ornate dagger – to find and kill the last immortal, and so save the city from a dark fate.

Hakan is employed by Faysal through the good offices of Leyla Sancak (Ayça Ayşin Turan), one of Faysal’s employees. Hakan’s new job is to work in security and there are some unconvincing attempts on the industrialist’s life, while Hakan in his time off works with the loyal ones to retrieve the talismanic objects so that they can identify and kill the last immortal. 

The action in this show, which will have a third season (as noted in the tweet in the image shown above), is a bit too highly-flavoured, involving fights and shootouts, hidden lairs, and overwrought verbal exchanges but the stagey drama is leavened by romance and Hakan appears to have a choice between two options. It’s good fun.

A final note: please watch this movie using subtitles. You are going to lose a lot of signification if you rely on dubbing. The actors’ voices convey meaning, especially when they say each other’s names, so subtitles allow you to enjoy this aspect of the drama. I saw one strange caption, however, where the sound of birds in a hedge was communicated as “crickets chirping”, which was silly as the scene this happened in was shot during the daytime.

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