memories of the ’80s – The Year of Living Dangerously

In 1982, a film about the 1960s in Indonesia broadened the career of actor Mel Gibson and became a fave of movie goers: The Year of Living Dangerously.

Based on the 1978 Christopher Koch book, which had been an award-winning novel in Australia, the film was successfully optioned by Peter Weir, and with David Williamson adapted for the big screen.

The first co-production between an Australian film company and a Hollywood studio, the film is set in Indonesia in 1965, when the possibility of the overthrow of President Sukarno could happen, thanks to the machinations of the PKI, the Communist Party of Indonesia.

Guy Hamilton (Gibson) is a neophyte Aussie journalist, sent to Jakarta to cover the politics, but left without resources from his predecessor. He becomes part of the journalist community, but struggles to get any stories until he becomes friends with Billy Kwan (Linda Hunt), a Chinese Australian camera man and informant.

Kwan helps Hamilton make the right contacts and eventually introduces him to British Embassy attache Jill Bryant (Sigourney Weaver). Hamilton and Bryant are soon in a relationship, as Hamilton and Kwan find out more information about the connection of the Communist Chinese and the PKI, the threesome are in conflict.

Bryant and Kwan abandon Hamilton to his dogged pursuit of information about the Communists, and as the overthrow of the Sukarno government occurs, the threesome all fight to survive and flee Indonesia.

Although initially to be film in Indonesia, permission was denied, so the film was mainly filmed in The Phillipines, but after numerous death threats against Weir and Gibson, the production was moved to Australia. When the film was released in December 1982, it was banned by Indonesia.

Made for AUD $6 million, the MGM film debuted at the Cannes Film Festival in 1983, and was praised for its unique story, and the acting of Linda Hunt and Mel Gibson.

The film was successful at the box office, making almost $3 million in Australia and $10 million plus in the United States. Hunt was nominated and won the Best Supporting Actress award at the Academy Awards for her role as Billy Kwan.

I remember seeing the film and loved the dangerous backdrop to the romance, as well as seeing the culture of Indonesia and its history.

After Gibson’s turn in Mad Max, this role firmly made Mel Gibson an international star.

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About Waheeda Harris

A pop culture junkie with a penchant for exploring our planet.
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