Cüneyt Arkın, the prolific Turkish actor who gained an international cult following following for the wacky 1982 no-budget / high-camp epic "Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam" – "The Man Who Saves the World," but better known as "The Turkish Star Wars" – died Tuesday at 85 from a cardiac arrest.
An Unlikely Star: Arkın was born Fahrettin Cüreklibatır on Sept. 8, 1937, and after completing Turkey’s compulsory military service he initially planned for a career in medicine. But a chance encounter with filmmaker Halit Refiğ set him on a different career path as an actor.
Changing his name to Cüneyt Arkın, he studied acrobatics in order to perform his own stunts and fight sequences. He achieved overnight stardom from his exhilirating fight scene in the 1964 film "Gurbet Kuşları" and became one of the most popular stars in Turkey’s entertainment industry, appearing in more than 300 films and television series.
An Unlikely Cult Favorite: Despite his considerable filmography, relatively few of Arkın’s films were theatrically released outside of Turkey. Many film scholars cited his work in “The Adam Trilogy,” a mid-1970s series of political thrillers, as being among his best performances.
Global audiences came to appreciate Arkın’s screen presence in the early 2000s when bootleg videos of “Dünyayı Kurtaran Adam” began circulating under the title “The Turkish Star Wars.”
The film’s poverty-level rip-off of George Lucas’ “Star Wars” created unintentional laughs: there was no money for a spaceship, so Arkın and co-star Ayetkin Akkaya were filmed in very tight close-up and then were abruptly seen wandering the terrain of a hostile planet talking about the supposed crash of their phantom spaceship.
With an incoherent screenplay — at one point, a battalion of mummies inexplicably crash through a cave wall — and hefty slices of bootlegged Hollywood soundtrack music dropped like confetti, “The Turkish Star Wars” was from a cinematic galaxy far, far away. But Arkın’s full-throttle performance, complete with high-kicking martial arts sequences with bizarre furry creatures, elevated the film beyond the mere so-bad-it’s-good realm into a purely Dadaist experience.
A restored version based on a rare 35mm print was released last October on Blu-ray.
Photo: A scene from "The Turkish Star Wars," courtesy of Cinema Crazed
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