The Wogboy Review

Steve Karamitsis’s father came off the boat from Greece with just one shoe. His mother brought the other one along with her. Called “wog boy” at school, now Steve (Nick Giannopoulos)’s ambition is to be the biggest, best wog of all. He also has an eye for Celia (Lucy Bell) and one day hopes to ask her out. One day, Steve clashes with politician Raelene Beagle-Thorpe (Geraldine Turner), who is Celia’s boss. Raelene is Minister for Employment with a get-tough agenda. The next thing he knows, Steve finds himself on national TV labelled the biggest dole bludger in Australia. But they reckoned without the Wogboy…

If anything is not liable to travel well, it’s comedy. The Wogboy topped the Australian box office charts, but hasn’t had a commercial release in the UK and the USA. It’s not hard to see why. It’s a mildly amusing, certainly watchable comedy, but I suspect it’s much, much funnier if you happen to be an Australian – even more to the point, an Australian wog. The title alone would be too un-PC to be contemplated for a British film, but you should note that “wog” means something different Down Under to what it would mean here. It’s used for an Australian of Mediterranean descent, Greek in this film.

Nick Giannopoulos devised the character of Steve the Wogboy in a successful series of stage shows with titles like Wogs Out of Work and Wog-a-Rama. He wrote the script, with regular writing partner Chris Anastassiades, for this big-screen vehicle for the character. They surround Steve with several colourful minor characters, notably Frank (Vince Colosimo), Steve’s best friend and the local stud, two Vietnamese guys (Hung Le and Trent Yuen) who desperately want to be like Frank, Theo (Tony Nikolakopoulos), forever willing to inflict injury on himself in the hope of a big insurance payout…and Tony the Yugoslav (Costas Kilias), a man given to saying “fuck” in every other sentence. He gets one of the better lines: “I’m half Serb and half Croat…I wake up every morning wanting to kill myself!” Charles (Bud) Tingwell turns up as a rich businessman at a posh dinner and veteran Greek actress Irene Papas can be seen during the bingo scene. Australian TV personality Derryn Hinch appears as himself. Giannopoulos also plays both of Steve’s parents in the opening scene.

You could, if you wanted to, unpick a few prevailing themes in this determinedly light comedy. There’s the one about nationalism, and what makes someone an Australian. At one point Steve is explicitly described as that favourite antipodean self-image, the “Aussie battler”. You could argue that a comedy so intent on celebrating ethnic pride should trot out so many stereotypes. And gender stereotypes too: how often have you seen the one where a middle-aged unattractive woman coming on to our hero is the ultimate horror? Aleksi Vellis’s direction is competent but nothing more, and DP Roger Lanser obeys Rule #1 of photographing comedy: flood the set with light and keep everything looking bright and sharp. The Wogboy may improve with a few friends and several tinnies, but it’s really rather too mild to get excited about otherwise.

Released in late 2000, The Wogboy became Fox’s first Region 4-only disc, and one of the earliest local productions to come out on DVD in Australia. It’s billed as a “special edition”, but I wouldn’t use those words to describe it now, and probably wouldn’t have done then either.

First of all, the DVD transfer is full-frame, open-matte from an intended ratio of (estimated by eye) 1.85:1. The only exception to this is the sequence during the opening credits showing Steve’s parents coming off the boat, which are in black and white and letterboxed into 1.85:1. This is presumably due to hardmatting on the original print itself, otherwise it’s hard to see why just this sequence would be in the correct ratio while the rest of the film is not. Needless to say, anamorphic enhancement doesn’t apply, though owners of widescreen TVs may prefer to zoom the picture to 16:9. This is a pity, as otherwise it’s a very good transfer, sharp and colourful with strong blacks and no artefacting that I could spot. Too many Australian DVDs are still being released in full-frame transfers, so this early release set a bad example. Granted, this isn’t a film you watch for its visual qualities, but that isn’t the point.

There’s only the one soundtrack option, and that’s in Dolby Digital 5.1. For the opening few minutes, it’s monophonic until we get to the shot of Steve’s car starting up, at which point Cezary Skubiszewski’s score occupies all five speakers and the subwoofer kicks in. The dialogue sounds a little flat, possibly due to being entirely looped in postproduction. Several examples of bad lipsynch add to this impression. Otherwise, there’s quite a lot of surround usage, mostly music or ambience, and the subwoofer fills in the low end of the score when it needs to.

There are sixteen chapter stops but no subtitles, which is regrettable given several strong accents on the soundtrack.

The main extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette called “A Wog’s Life: The Making of The Wogboy”. This is full-frame (shot on video) and runs 10:28. It’s topped and tailed by Giannapoulos speaking to camera and covers a little more ground than the usual promotional puff-piece, even including extracts from the original stage shows. Clips from the film are shown letterboxed, making you wonder why the feature itself couldn’t be. The rest of the extras consist of promotional material: the theatrical trailer (2:29), two TV ads (“Dole Bludger” and “Schoolyard”, both 0:29) and two radio ads (both 0:26). There are also two music videos from the film soundtrack: Deni Hines performing “Pull Up to the Bumper” (3:23) and Ilanda featuring Joanne, with a song I couldn’t identify (3:58). Giannapoulos appears in both. Deni Hines’s surname is misspelled “Heinz” on the menu.

Finally, there’s “languages”, which isn’t what you might expect. You’re given a choice of Greek, English or Serbo-Croat, but all the links do is take you to the same sequence of Steve saying that in Australia it’s all “same”.

It’s clear from the success of this film that “wogs” are big business Down Under. Needless to say it’s a phenomenon that hasn’t travelled far: apart from Oz and New Zealand, the only countries to give this film a cinema release (according to the IMDB) are Greece and Germany. In the UK it bypassed video release, let alone the big screen, and premiered on television on the day this review was posted to DVD Times. This R4-only disc is the only version available on DVD that I know of, and as it’s already an alleged “special edition” it’s likely to remain so. For Aussies, wogs and completists only; everyone else approach with caution.

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