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Oris Aigbokhaevbolo: Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys is a Flawed But Ambitious Nollywood Epic



King of Boys” opens at a party thrown by Eniola Salami (Sola Sobowale). The governor is in attendance, as is the venerated Fuji maestro KWAM 1. This gives the impression that whoever this lady is she is in cahoots with the high and mighty.

But the camera shifts to a discussion taking place away from the celebrant. One of the chatting women thinks the lady is despicable but that is no reason to not eat her jollof rice. The other one just wants to dance. This is not the film’s most elegant scene, but it establishes that both ideas of this woman might be true: she is both jolly and dangerous.

At the same party, Eniola, now in what looks like a backroom, uses a hammer on the head of a bloodied man whose real crime we never really learn. As he convulses to death, Eniola wipes her bloodied hand on what must be an expensive wrapper. She then asks her henchmen what they’d eat. You know, because out there in the open, it is a party. The men pretty much shudder at what they have just seen. The viewer might shudder as well, but that would be partly because director Kemi Adetiba is not a subtle director of scenes or a subdued creator of character. Then again, if Lagos is famously not subtle, Adetiba might be its representative director. We later learn that Eniola is the eponymous King of Boys. She sits at the head of a table of gang-lords, and whatever deal any of the other men on the table make, they are obligated to give her a percentage.

Recently, she has started to seek power and prominence of a different kind. She wants to be a minister. In a sense, her ambition matches Adetiba: the director made a living from music videos and a vacuous comedy, and now she wants to be taken seriously as a filmmaker.

Unfortunately for Eniola, the barriers to crossing from the underworld to mainstream politics are higher than what obtains in Nollywood. The movie’s kingmaker, Aare Akinwande (Akin Lewis), who has needed her money and street muscle in the past, is reluctant to help her switch. The trouble, as she is told, comes down to appearances: Nobody wants to associate with someone in the light if the person has proven useful only in the dark.

As Eniola tries to find respect, one of the other men on the table, a guy nicknamed Makanaki, wants to become the King of Boys. A recent heist has given him money and with it he wants to buy power. He openly insults her; she vows to kill him. They go to both spiritual and physical lengths to fight each other. In the process, Eniola becomes entangled with these two linked tussles: on the one hand, she wants to be respectable; on the other, she is demanding respect. Her respectability problem extends to her family, where her daughter (Adesua Etomi) is appropriately reverential, but her son (Demola Adedoyin) doesn’t think highly of her.

Along with showing us how Eniola goes about solving her respect problem, King of Boys also shows how she got to the head of that table of gangsters through flashbacks. There is a lot of scheming, as you can imagine. Some of these scenes taking place in the past should be cut, but there is one pearl of a scene showing a young Eniola (Toni Tones) holding on to her dying husband (Jide Kosoko) as they are ushered into matrimony. He is well into an illness he can’t survive, but at that moment, he realizes just what trouble this young woman has become, and he also knows he’s too sick to stop her. His realization and resignation are telegraphed by the tiniest of gestures from Kosoko.

The model for this non-linear telling of a gangster’s rise is Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather II. The 1974 film showed the rise of Vito Corleone as well as his son Michael’s moves decades later. If Corleone was an Italian immigrant in the US, Eniola is a female immigrant of sorts in the land of violent men: they are both outsiders with ambition. This comparison shows the extent of Adetiba’s praiseworthy ambition but also offers a look into two of her film’s major problems.

First: Adetiba, a former music video maker, doesn’t quite have (or has not developed) the right sensibility for a character study, which to my mind is King of Boys’ true destiny. (It is why she shows sleeping crew members during the credits, a decidedly wrong move.) Because she is invested in pop and pulp, Adetiba thinks her subject is political intrigue, but that is only partly the case; her material’s true focus should be character: how one woman acquires power and how an obsession with it leads to her unraveling. Yet this doesn’t spoil the film because her central character is compelling and adequately played by Sobowale sans her usual histrionics. Even so, I left the film convinced the story would be better relayed as a linear exposition of the life and times of Eniola.

Second: Adetiba’s own obsession (and maybe identification) with her strong female character is so significant that when, towards the end, her story has to make a choice between making a feminist point and a moral one, it goes for the former, a decision that needlessly extends and mars the film’s third act. What should be a crime and punishment story or a classic rise and fall tale of this fictional overlord becomes an avenue for the dubious showcasing of female power.

Fortunately, Adetiba understands power even if she doesn’t quite understand her material. And part of her film’s lesson is that the superior group of gangsters in the modern setting is in charge of the law and its enforcement—politicians in this case. True power, King of Boys tells us, is more Putin than Tyson. Eniola’s street muscle can only go so far, and one of the film’s best scenes sees her argue, threaten, and then capitulate upon the realization that she is holding an inferior hand when it comes to state politics. This places King of Boys squarely in its time as, after the recent Tinubu-coloured primaries in Lagos and ahead of the 2019 general elections, it shows a plausible working of Nigerian politics.

Yet, the viewer who is yet to see the film is likely to want to know if she would have a good time sitting at a near 3-hour film, the greatness of Godfather II be damned. The answer to this question is yes, mostly. The story also has some genuinely interesting twists. And although the editing between scenes is choppy and the cinematography fails to conjure into existence a needed noir atmosphere, the acting is almost evenly good, with Remilekun ‘Reminisce’ Safaru and Sobowale at the great-to-exceptional end and Etomi at the passable-to-good end. First timer Reminisce plays Makanaki so well that his portrayal will inevitably become the gold standard for Nigerian rappers dreaming of the big screen.

Still, the best thing about King of Boys is off-screen. It is immensely gratifying to see a Nollywood director take on a project as ambitious as this, in duration, in scope, and at some depth. If, ultimately, Adetiba has failed to make a classic movie out of a material with that potential, she has at the minimum made a very rewarding one out of a near three-hour narrative. In Nollywood, dear reader, that is an epic achievement.


  1. Umar

    November 14, 2018 at 12:00 am

    I totally disagree with the write up .. this is my best nollywood movie yet

    • Ajala & Foodie

      November 14, 2018 at 5:29 pm

      What exactly do you disagree with about the opinion of the author. I get that it is your favorite but what points of the author do you exactly disagree with. I am yet to see the movie. May never see it sef but if you are going to disagree at least give your “whys”.

  2. newbie

    November 14, 2018 at 12:57 am

    Fantastic review. I’m looking forward to watching the movie already!

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      November 14, 2018 at 1:25 pm

      It’s actually a really apt review. And I’ve been amazed at all the overenthusiastic gushing I’ve been seeing from social media influencers…. leading me to wonder if they truly didn’t see the obvious plot/character weaknesses which this critic has firmly pointed out…. or if they did and it’s simply the case that we’re too afraid to give constructive criticism to certain people.

      But this is Nigeria so I’m leaning towards the latter. Kemi had a strong start and some really stellar acting talent (Sola Sobowale, Reminisce, Jide Kosoko, and the totally unexpected Toni Tones, please take a bow), but that movie really didn’t need to be as long as it was (number 1) and could have done with more attention to certain areas of the plot (number 2). Too many stories trying to happen, I see why she wanted to throw light here and there but it got distracting and unnecessary. Plus, without giving too much spoilers, the representative for Kannywood was one of her weakest points of the story. Argggghhhh.

      This is a groundbreaker for Nollywood, regardless and it’s good see us going in this direction. And please, movie directors, learn from Kemi and stop with the all-star ensembles of the same faces – try and give room to unexpected fresh talent like we found in Reminisce.

    • Nkechi

      November 14, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      The representative of kannywood was one of the best act in the movie. I totally disagree with you

    • Tincan

      November 14, 2018 at 6:04 pm

      Hey MsA, were you visiting the Naij or is there a way to watch in the UK?

      Kemi, Netflix?

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      November 18, 2018 at 2:16 am

      @Nkechi, I respectfully disagree – he had a unique knack for drawwwinnggg scenes out longer than they needed to be. My viewing committee agreed that at least 45mins of all that additional screen time was solely his fault. No offence to his fan base. 🙂

      @Tincan, watched it in Nigeria but I trust Kemi to already be on the case re having it listed on Netflix.

  3. Damola

    November 14, 2018 at 2:18 am

    Sounds contrary to what I have heard. Will be back after seeing the movie.

  4. Sweets

    November 14, 2018 at 7:47 am

    Hmmm anyways i hope ill enjoy it though cos all these reviews are messing with my desire to watch

  5. Uberhaute Looks

    November 14, 2018 at 9:39 am

    Please review it and let’s see your POV. Thanks.

  6. mizcynic

    November 14, 2018 at 10:03 am

    well im not a movie expert but thrs a part of your review i want to address.I think we can move from the simplistic thinking that the movie has to teach us something is so 1910.the fact that she was not portrayed as having changed from her gangster ways for me was delicious and so unexpected for a nigerian movie that i absolutely loved it and didnt think of it has being feminist rather realistic and entertaining

  7. Grace

    November 14, 2018 at 10:15 am

    King of Boys was an exceptionally wonderful movie. I saw it, told my siblings to see it and I’m going to see it again with my mum and a 3rd time with the boo when he returns

  8. lollly

    November 14, 2018 at 10:40 am

    I wonder why this review fails to mention Ill Bliss and Toni Tones roles, they were my favorite characters after “Eniola”. I still wonder where Sola Sobowale gets her energy from.
    every minute of the movie was worth it

    • Mz Socially Awkward....

      November 14, 2018 at 1:27 pm

      I think Ill Bliss still had some issues melding into his role in some scenes (especially the opening one, where Reminisce was more natural)… but Toni Tones? Star! She did that!

  9. Top Shop

    November 14, 2018 at 10:56 am

    I think you can still write a fantastic review without giving away the entire movie.


  10. Billionaire in grace

    November 14, 2018 at 5:31 pm

    From all the comment I read you guys are encore me to watch the movie.hope we will have outside Nigeria

  11. Anonymous

    November 14, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Toni tones was everything!!!

  12. africhic

    November 15, 2018 at 10:56 am

    Saw this movie yesterday and the reviews are apt in my opinion except about the Kannywood actor. That story could have been told in 2 hours 10 minutes, there were quite a number of long winding scenes and a few desperate attempts to tie-up loose ends. Exceptional performance by Toni Tones and Reminiscence in my opinion, IT was a good movie but I don’t think it was great.

  13. yes maam

    November 15, 2018 at 8:56 pm

    It can still be edited down. Not perfect by any means but kudos for the bravery to try something new. But it is better than Wedding Party 1 which means she is growing with each film. Next one will be better. Go Kem!

  14. yes maam

    November 15, 2018 at 8:57 pm

    moderator its that time of the day. I post a comment. You release it.

  15. Star

    November 18, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    Like he said, it was ambitious and groundbreaking but it still needs some editing. Too many stories in on big story. Fresh faces like Reminisce and Toni Tones were a good idea. Too long for no reason and even though it doesn’t necessarily have to reach any moral lesson, the attempt to turn the audience to pity Eniola instead of seeing her as what she was, was not a very good way to end the story.
    Kemi is brilliant but there’s always room for improvement.

  16. Ephi

    December 29, 2018 at 1:19 am

    Just saw this tonight and it was worth every minute. Very intriguing movie that reflects so many layers of the Nigerian society. Kemi outdid herself, big kudos.
    Toni Tones, Reminisce and Ill bliss – absolutely delivered.
    Sola Sobowale is a legend, finish.
    Great movie.

  17. Ayokunle

    March 24, 2019 at 6:59 pm

    Whoever wrote this article to critique the movie is unbearably a formulaic non-creative film observer who wants to just have a say to feel elitist; and knows not so much about storytelling.
    A true film aficionado knows it’s a parallel story style not non linear as u wrote (even though technically it is for greens like u). If it was linear like u suggested which shows ur level of apprenticeship, how will the back story pan out revealing the character for development?
    Its too long? But ur reference GF2 wasn’t long? Was the rise of Vito Corleone particularly neccesary for the plot? Was a subplot to thicken the material. Was any idle scene left untied in KOB? Nonsense!
    Lastly and and insult a quite sexist talking about her being a music video director, do people attend the prestigious NY film academy to study music videos? Its a FILM academy. Doing music videos was a trend at that point in time and was generating revenue. So if Clarence Peters shoots a movie he doest qualify after going to film school. Ignorance!
    And must a film be a crime and punishment tale? Ure narrow minded. Even ur GF2 was not crime and punishment, Michael Corleone the antihero always won the movie supported gangsterism intelligence.
    As a a critic or reviewer u don’t have to give us the whole story. Thank you rookie

  18. Oma

    September 22, 2019 at 2:21 pm

    So, I read this review before watching the movie and I totally agree with the writer. Of course, Kemi did something spectacular and I want to believe that she is growing. So far, Kunle Afolayan still remains my best Nigerian movie director

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