Joseph Lando: the return of a Puerto Rican superhero

Speak to me, oh Muse, of that man who exhibited his art to the world, was rejected, and who, after being wounded, walked a long pilgrimage, saw the towns and learned the customs of many men, and returned to tell his story to a new generation in your contry.

It is a Sunday night and the final batches of the day begin to be shown in an almost empty cinema. But in front of room 14, the story is different; a group of people wait patiently, almost in faith, for the promised paladin.

They discuss in advance what their eyes are about to witness.

“Joseph’s secret is that he makes you have an experience when you watch his movies,” a short, bearded man explains to a group of young people.

Guys pay careful attention to her every word. When the speaker finishes their turn, everyone nods in agreement, shares their expectations of the play they’ve come to see, and discusses the mastermind behind it all. They talk about a man who has become a myth.

In his most recognizable image, he wears a suit full of holes, painted orange, yellow and blue, from which his sinewy muscles stand out. He poses with a samurai sword in one hand and the other extended out in front. Her gaze is intense, furious. In the background, several monstrous and evil faces levitate, threatening. The bottom of her poster reads, in letters that simulate Chinese calligraphy, “The Power of Shakti”. The story is simple, a Puerto Rican-style recreation of the typical monomyth, the journeys of a hero to eradicate evil.

“He comes and stays until the end, right?” asks an individual in an anxious voice.

“He stays until the end and accompanies you to your house after it’s over,” answers another, generating a couple of laughs.

The function is about to start and the people are located in their places. After the announcements, the final result of a vision that took almost 30 years to restore begins to be projected on the screen. The audience celebrates with applause and sounds of jubilation.

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In the middle of the movie, a tall, stealthy figure walks into the room unnoticed. He sits quietly in the back and watches, with his audience, the project that changed his life forever: the story that undid his career and today has given him a second chance on this earth.

Joseph Lando He always wanted to change the world. His willpower is his superpower. He doesn’t believe in limitations and shows it with examples from his own life. He wanted to learn karate when he was just a kid and would run away to take classes, against his father’s wishes. He did not have the resources to study, so he played several sports in college to receive a scholarship while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and instrumentation. Seeking to deepen his knowledge of martial arts, he went to the United States where he survived on one meal a day, bathed in a sink and slept in the same place where he trained. He studied film and returned with the dream of making a movie in Puerto Rico, thus being born “El poder del Shakti”, his greatest pride and, perhaps, his greatest disappointment.

His figure remains intact. Seeing him in person is like seeing the hero of the poster with a few gray hairs and wrinkles left by his battles in life since. He is tall, slender and soft-spoken. His face is outlined and his gaze is still intense.

He has come to Puerto Rico for the revival of his first film after an arduous restoration task.

“The Shakti appears to me in a dream. It was incredible. I went to bed very calmly and suddenly he turns on like a light in my room and I see an Egyptian sarcophagus that rolls and falls in front of my bed. He opens the lid and stands up on Shakti. I wake up from shock. It’s like this superhero has a life of his own and he’s telling me “hey, I’m the one you have to redo and fix”, he narrates.

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Motivated by this dream, which may well have been a prophetic vision, Lando decided to try to do something that until then he had thought almost impossible. All the original material of the film had been lost due to the passage of Hurricane Maria. But a friend and fan of his hit a lucky break. Looking for information in General Archive of Puerto Rico he noticed some cans that were labeled with the name of the tape, so he called Lando to inform him of the discovery.

After a long process, they managed to receive a digital copy to start a complex restoration. The film was in poor condition, but it could be saved, and with the help of a young editor named Ángel Ricardo Nieves, they shaped a new version of El Shakti, with better effects and visuals.

“It was a huge job. They were seven months of work. Reediting and rethinking. I wrote a little new script that gave me the direction of what I wanted to do and we started painting and cleaning up frame by frame, she explains.

Joseph Lando had retired from making movies. In his time, (it premiered on the island in 1996) “El poder del Shakti” was not well received and criticism and ridicule affected him. With the insistence of some friends he decided to venture many years later in another film adventure that resulted in “Zack: Death Match”. When it premiered in 2021, the reception of a new generation of moviegoers was immediate. From there, he began an intense campaign for the restoration of his first film.

Interview with actor and filmmaker Joseph Lando, who visited the island for a series of special screenings of his 1996 film
Interview with actor and filmmaker Joseph Lando, who visited the island for a series of special screenings of his 1996 film “The Power of Shakti”. Lando presented the film “Zack: Deadly Showdown” in 2021, which, like Shakti They have become cult movies. January 27, 2023. Caguas, PR. Flash END At the Four Points hotel in Caguas. Photo by [email protected] (Alexis Cedeno)

“I’m not from this generation, but Zack became this generation. And I said, ‘they love Zack, so let’s give them what they’re asking for.’ But we are going to remaster it, respecting them and putting it at the level that they deserve”.

When The Shakti was set to open again in theaters across the country after nearly three decades, Lando didn’t know what to expect. His surprise was enormous when he arrived at the Plaza Las Américas cinema and was told that the theater was full to capacity.

“It was instant madness. I stood in front of all those guys and they gave me a standing ovation. For more than a minute and a half without stopping, my hair stood on end. I did not know what to say. I had to hold back the tears when all of them, in unison, 102 people in the room, began to say ‘he’s Puerto Rican so you know’”…

His voice cracks. For a moment, the figure of martial artist, filmmaker and hero disappears to make way for a vulnerable and grateful Joseph Lando. It takes him a few minutes to find his voice, he wipes away a few tears and continues the conversation with a swear in his throat.

Why do you think your film was not successful at the time?

“Because Puerto Ricans, at that time, no one felt like a superhero. Puerto Ricans at that time felt like second-class citizens. Superheroes were those who came from abroad, who had blonde hair and blue eyes. So I came in at that time with a wall-breaking mentality and the filmmakers crushed me. When the Shakti appears, they tore it to pieces, killed it, and created a great wound on me.

And why now?

“This generation loves Shakti, they made it theirs because they are Comic Con. Now they don’t have mental limitations like before. Now they can do it and see a Puerto Rican superhero up to the task, not up to the budget, but up to the point that he can fight, defend himself, have a flaming sword and do all these things just like Thor or Captain America can do. That’s unique.”

Having gone through that experience, what would you say to that Joseph Lando of almost 30 years ago?

“You were not wrong.”

It is almost midnight when the screening of “The Power of Shakti” ends in room 14. Joseph Lando stands up and addresses his audience. He proceeds to thank them for their support and offers a detailed explanation of how the film’s restoration process went. Cinema staff interrupt and ask those present to leave so they can clean up.

The man escorts his fans outside, where he takes photos with everyone and answers their questions. They stay there until almost two in the morning, but the filmmaker doesn’t mind. Getting to this point has taken nearly half of his life. Such is the path of heroes, full of trials and challenges to overcome, and Joseph Lando’s latest adventure is just beginning.

The actor and filmmaker announced that he is working on the script for a sequel to “The Power of Shakti”, while also planning a new adventure for “Zack”.

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