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From Knott’s Berry Farm cowboy to Indonesian movie star

From Knott’s Berry Farm cowboy to Indonesian movie star
In Mike Wiluan’s action-western “Buffalo Boys,” Yoshi Sudarso (right) and Ario Bayu play brothers who travel from America’s Wild West to their homeland of Indonesia to avenge the death of their father. (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films/Infinite Studios)

Power Rangers fans know Yoshi Sudarso as Koda, the Blue Ranger in “Power Rangers Dino Charge,” which ran from 2015 to 2016 on Nickelodeon.

But Sudarso’s first acting gig was playing a cowboy in Knott’s Berry Farm’s “Wild West Stunt Show” in the early 2010s.

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“It’s a comedy show, so we did the whole schtick, including the Southern accent,” he says. “Eventually I played all five characters on the show, but I started with the one who talks the least. I didn’t know how to act … so I did the high falls.”

Yoshi Sudarso’s first professional gig as an actor was at Knott’s Berry Farm’s “Wild West Stunts Show.” He played Dan, the cowboy who did the high falls.
Yoshi Sudarso’s first professional gig as an actor was at Knott’s Berry Farm’s “Wild West Stunts Show.” He played Dan, the cowboy who did the high falls. (Photo courtesy of Yoshi Sudarso)

Whenever he and his co-stars had free time, they would practice gunslinging.

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At the time, they were just messing around, but it was a skill that would come in handy for Sudarso five years later, when he was cast as Suwo in “Buffalo Boys,” a 19th century-set action-western film that premiered in Indonesia last July and was selected as Singapore’s submission for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2019 Oscars.

On Jan. 11, “Buffalo Boys” will have a limited release in U.S. theaters and be available to watch on video on demand.

Sudarso and Ario Bayu play brothers Suwo and Jamar who fled the island of Java as kids after their Sultan father was murdered by Dutch colonists. After growing up as cowboys in California’s Wild West, they must return to Indonesia to avenge his death.

“Since I was really young, I had been a big fan of Clint Eastwood and all his movies,” says director Mike Wiluan. “Especially the Sergei Leone spaghetti westerns because they were so full of attitude and over-the-top characters … There was a period of time in the 70s when filmmakers in Indonesia were making westerns, but they were parodies and slapstick comedies. I wanted to do something straight out of the spaghetti movement. So we dubbed it the ‘fried rice’ western.”

Wiluan was looking for a fresh face to inject into the Indonesian film industry, someone who had the swagger and youthful charm to pull off the Suwo character. He came across videos of Sudarso doing acrobatics online and cast him after one Skype conversation.

“He was better looking than I expected and taller,” Wiluan jokes, of the moment he finally met Sudarso in person. “I hated him the moment I saw him.”

Sudarso was born in Jakarta, but he and his family immigrated to Tustin when he was 9 years old.

He and his brother Peter Sudarso — also an actor and a Blue Ranger (he played Preston in 2017’s “Power Rangers Ninja Steel”) — attended ESL classes at Beswick Elementary School.

“I was bullied because I didn’t speak any English, so I refused to speak Indonesian anymore,” says Yoshi Sudarso. “Peter and I really pushed ourselves to learn English.”

Sudarso originally studied math at Cal State Long Beach, but he eventually switched his major to theater and began eyeing the entertainment industry as a potential career path.

After the “Wild West Stunt Show” at Knott’s Berry Farm, Sudarso did the “WaterWorld” show at Universal Studios, where he would get lit on fire and fall 45 feet into the water. Before he got cast in the “Power Rangers” TV show, he did stunts as a “suit actor” for the “Power Rangers” live-action stage shows for three years.

“Stunts was just something that I fell into,” he says, “There just weren’t enough roles out there for Asian men, but if I was behind a mask and I had good movement, then it didn’t matter … It wasn’t until I did stunts for ‘Power Rangers’ and met the actors, that I started to try auditioning for acting again.”

Ironically, it was his Indonesian language skills (however stunted) that landed him his first leading role in a film. “Buffalo Boys” is his first film in Indonesia.

Wiluan had no idea Sudarso had prior experience playing a cowboy.

“I had this plan of training him up on the pistol spins and holster play but he had that down already,” he says. “So it was a totally pleasant surprise — and destiny, I guess.”

“The language ended up being a bigger challenge,” says Sudarso. “I had a language coach. Sometimes we did 12-hour session in a day. It was a lot of work, but enjoyable work.”

Pevita Pearce, Yoshi Sudarso, Tio Pakusadewo and Ario Bayu (from left) play 19th century Indonesians under Dutch colonial rule in Mike Wiluan's “Buffalo Boys,” which premieres in the US and on VOD Jan. 11.
Pevita Pearce, Yoshi Sudarso, Tio Pakusadewo and Ario Bayu (from left) play 19th century Indonesians under Dutch colonial rule in Mike Wiluan's “Buffalo Boys,” which premieres in the US and on VOD Jan. 11. (Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films/Infinite Studios)

After “Buffalo Boys,” Sudarso was cast in the comedy “Milly and Mamet,” which premiered in Indonesia on Dec. 20.

He’s hoping to be able to cowboy again soon, whether it’s in a potential sequel for “Buffalo Boys” or in an appearance in Wiluan’s current TV project “Grisse,” an eight-part English-language HBO Asia series that takes place in the same time period and world as “Buffalo Boys.”

“To be honest, I was incredibly nervous about North American audiences,” says Wiluan, of the “Buffalo Boys” international release. “Asian audiences had less affinity to the genre. But an Asian Western? I wasn’t sure. But after seeing the film five times at North American festivals with audiences reacting far more positively [than I expected], I’m hoping that more mash-ups between East and West can do well on both sides of the world.”

For more information, visit samuelgoldwynfilms.com/buffalo-boys.

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