In the past, there’s been a lot of complaints about how there aren’t many good female superhero movies. The Philippines have answered our prayers, and given us ZsaZsa Zaturnnah. It’s basically transgender Wonder Woman in the Philippines. And it is awesome.
As this article looks at the gender themes of ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, this article will have spoilers. Deal with it.
ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is about a male-to-female transgender named “Ada”. Ada’s father abused her because she was transgender, and she was recently dumped by a man who she was supporting through college. With this break-up, and her house getting destroyed by a storm, Ada moves back to her hometown. Once there, she accidentally summons a magic meteor which may also be an advertisement for a soap brand. Thanks to a genre-savvy character, they deduce that by eating the stone, Ada can transform into ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, a woman with various superpowers that range from super-strength to boob lasers. She fights a zombie outbreak, a giant frog from the local magic volcano, and a group of anti-male sexist women from Planet XXX. All in the form of a musical. A more detailed synopsis can be found here.
My Thoughts on This as a Superhero Movie
ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is my favorite superhero movie of all time. Yes, it’s silly, but it’s no more silly than any other superhero films. In many ways, it’s actually superior to other superhero movies.
ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is a film about gender relations, which means that it’s actually about something. This makes it superior to Iron Man 3, which is a 20 minute Viagra commercial followed by every “lost in bad territory” act followed by 30-something minutes of Michael Bay. It’s also superior to every Captain America movie, by having something other than blind patriotism. It’s also superior to the Hulk movies by not being one-note.
But ZsaZsa Zaturnnah has a lot more value than merely being a not-terrible superhero movie.
Now, yes the effects are terrible by the standards of most First World countries. However, ZsaZsa Zaturnnah was made in the Philippines, a country with a national GDP of less than $8,000 per person. The Philippines is a poor country. Yet they managed to make this movie, and I respect this for many reasons.
Also, as a superhero movie, ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is actually pretty good. Yes, the giant frog is kind of silly, but other parts are good. The villains of the second half of the movie actually have an interesting motive. Ada is like the Spider-Man of the first three movies, in that both have backstories of trauma and struggle prior to acquiring superpowers – poverty and family loss for Spider-Man, and an abusive father and being homosexual in a predominately Catholic country for Ada. The zombie act is culturally interesting with some very emotional scenes, and there’s some subtlety in this movie.
Some Background on Female Superheroes
ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is unusual because Ada is biologically male and identifies as a woman, and ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is a biological woman. This is justified emotional validation for transgender people, because even though Ada is biologically male, we treat this as a female superhero movie. That adds to ZsaZsa Zaturnnah‘s value.
As a female superhero movie, I think ZsaZsa Zaturnnah might be the best ever made. Unlike Supergirl, ZsaZsa Zaturnnah has something akin to a plot. The film lacks the trashy demographic drive of Catwoman – I mean, a cosmetics company? Do they honestly think women know nothing but cats and vanity? Most notably, ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is superior to the Wonder Woman movie because it actually exists.
95% of the time, superheroes are male characters, and the other 5% of the time is dominated by female rip-offs and secondary characters. I think the makeup of the Avengers demonstrates this issue at its core, in that there’s exactly one female member, and the rest are men. This is compounded by the fact that Black Widow is written as a smart mildly sexy snark character – aka a female ripoff of Tony Stark – rather than an independent character. She’s a token character. Furthermore, most superhero films with female leads are bad in general, with the only two good ones I can think of being Tank Girl and The Powerpuff Girls Movie. ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is fabulous because she is a superhero in her own right and has a distinct character.
ZsaZsa Zaturnnah has a lot of moments that give us a look at Ada’s mind. My favorite example of this is a dream-based musical number in which characters Krystal, Ada, and ZsaZsa sing about how they want to be in a relationship with Dodong, the romantic interest/designated fan-service character. Dodong is in love with ZsaZsa. ZsaZsa is the superhero form of Ada. Krystal is an annoying character who you spend the whole movie hating for inappropriately harassing Dodong. The weird aspect is that after they get rid of Krystal in the dream, ZsaZsa starts strangling Ada as if her persona is overpowering the person who she is. I think this is symbolic for LGBT+ people who have strong personas but calmer core personalities.
Later, there is an amazing scene where Ada and her roommates set up mosquito nets. Ada says “I ignore him as Ada because we’re not well-suited to each other. I ignore him as ZsaZsa because the one he loves isn’t real.” Later, she says “Deception is responsible for so many of our world’s ills. That’s why I don’t want to lie to people. I am Ada who becomes Zaturnnah, not Zaturnnah who becomes Ada.” This is a powerful scene. It shows that Ada’s confidence doesn’t stem from her superpowers, but her sense of morality. It shows that despite being born in the wrong sex, she has confidence in her identity. This graduates her from “comedy character” to “role model”. In a 30-second scene, they have more depth and character exploration than all of the Transformers movies combined.
Religion and Dogma
ZsaZsa Zaturnnah also looks at religion and dogma. The most obvious instance is at the end of the final fight scene between the feministas of Planet XXX and ZsaZsa.
The feministas of Planet XXX have a tragic backstory that they reveal in an emotional musical number. They are a species where all the men look like extras from 300, and all the women look like drag queens in leather. This is weird because ZsaZsa Zaturnnah came out before 300.
The men of the planet subjugated the women, brutalizing them into being baby-factory-slaves. The abuse eventually grew to the point that the women rose up and killed the men. After that, the feministas universally viewed men as the enemy and oppressor of women and went off to destroy all men in the universe. In the film, they arrive to either kill the men of earth or turn them into women. ZsaZsa fights the feministas but is unable to defeat them. In the last minute, she gives up the stone that gives her her powers and puts it into the leader of the feministas, turning her into a man. The other feministas see their leader as a man, triggering their bigotry, and go off to then kill their leader.
There’s some powerful symbolism about dogma in this scene. In the battle between ZsaZsa and the feministas, the character who symbolizes both ethics and the rights of gender minorities is ultimately unable to defeat the oppressive and dogmatic villains. Ultimately, it is not ethics that wins, but rather the villain’s internal dogma that destroys them from within.
Zombies and God
There’s commentary on dogma in ZsaZsa Zaturnnah during the act with the zombie breakout. Most of the surviving village members go to the local church, lock themselves in, and pray for the removal of the zombies. This does nothing, as the zombies advance closer. But ZsaZsa convinces the villagers to fight the zombies. They do this by spraying the zombies with holy water. This works somewhat, but they aren’t able to defeat the zombies, just hold them back. So the villagers form a cross and spray the holy water at once, destroying the zombies in a hilarious purple beam. The only way this could be any campier is if “Thriller” was playing during the fight scene.
When the village is praying for the removal of the zombies, nothing happens, and they advance further. But when the villagers start fighting the zombies, they’re able to slow the zombies’ advance to a crawl. Then they form a cross to destroy what remains of the zombies. There’s some commentary in this. First, ultimately, the prayer does nothing, and the zombies are only truly held back when they stop praying and work to solve their own problems. But then, only in unification are the zombies truly destroyed.
I think this is saying that just sitting there and asking for your problems to be solved while you do nothing is not a solution and that people must act for themselves to solve their problems. This stands in sharp contrast to most superhero movies, where it’s the superheroes who do everything, and everyone else merely asks for help. But then, the cross formation is what destroys the corpse army. ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is saying “Don’t follow religion blindly, be the change you want in life. But don’t reject the Church blindly, as it can encourage community and cooperation, which are needed for society to function.” This is a very strong statement from a film with a superhero, especially considering that superheroes are basically modern decaf gods of pop culture. It’s also remarkably realistic for a film whose main protagonist can fire boob lasers.
Protesting Societal Abuses
ZsaZsa Zaturnnah also looks at abuses in modern society.
In a scene that makes no sense, the zombies start stripping Dodong. Didi, a secondary protagonist, defeats the zombies, yelling “SHAME ON YOU! YOU CAN’T DO THAT TO HIM! ONLY ONE PERSON CAN DO THAT! AND IT’S NOT YOU!”
This scene is clichéd, but it has a point. The concept of a scene where a character rises up to save another character from a perverted assault and gender-reversed scenes have both been done to death. However, Even though those are both clichéd, this is still important. Not many films acknowledge the existence of men being victims of sexual assault, so ZsaZsa Zaturnnah gets points for admitting to a taboo social problem. More shockingly, a feminist movie admitting to men being abused? “You Go Girl” just got a whole new meaning.
Next is the relationship between Ada and Ada’s father. Ada’s father abused Ada because Ada identifies as a woman. Some time after this, Ada’s father dies. Later, in a musical number with flying zombie background singers, ZsaZsa meets her father, who is now a zombie. She tries to reconcile with her father, only for her father to continue rejecting her. Her father – in zombie form – kills himself.
I think this says something about how we treat the dead. This man was horrible to Ada while she was alive, and all Ada wanted was to be accepted by her father. He is dead, and Ada still wants his acceptance. When Ada encounters her father in zombie form, her first action is to ask for reconciliation. Her father still rejects her. There are many cases in modern society where a person was a terrible person when they were alive, and we paint a rosier picture when they’re dead, ignoring their flaws. Furthermore, unlike many films that have reconciliation between terrible parents and their children, ZsaZsa Zaturnnah gives people with abusive parents a much more realistic message: if your parent was abusive, you don’t have to reconcile with them. You’re better off without people who hurt you.
In summary, ZsaZsa Zaturnnah is an extremely campy movie from the Philippines. It has mediocre effects, good storytelling, and a general sense of fun. But, unlike all other superhero films, it actually has some deeper value to appreciate too.