Countryman (as himself) is a fisherman living the simple life on the island of Jamaica and tonight he goes out onto the sea to cast his nets, but something distracts him. An aeroplane in trouble, its engine sputtering, flies overhead, disappears into the jungle and an explosion follows; Countryman drops everything, returns to shore as quickly as possible and runs through the swamp to reach the wreckage. There he finds two survivors, Bobby Lloyd (Hiram Keller) and Beau Porter (Kristina St. Clair), a couple fleeing from her rich father. Countryman uses her shirt to fend off an alligator and hides them in the jungle nearby - but how safe are they from the corrupt authorities?
Jamaican cinema pretty much exists in the shadow of Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come, and Countryman was no different, with writer (with Michael Thomas) and director Dickie Jobson having watched that film be edited, which eventually inspired him to create a vehicle for a chap he had met and thought would be perfect to build a movie around. That man was known as Countryman and the way he lived was pretty much the way we saw him in the film: fishing, smoking, practising his religion and generally being the most spiritual and relaxed, yet athletic, fellow you could hope to meet.
And all this while wearing the same pair of black shorts throughout to cover his dignity - and nothing else, not even shoes, which is quite an achievement when you see him running over sharp rocks without a care in the world (no stuntman here, it was all him). As the hero had never acted before, you might have thought this was a risky proposition to carry a whole story, but he acquits himself as a thoroughly charismatic presence. Very few of the cast had ever acted before, with ex-model Keller having the most experience (St. Clair, who spends the first ten minutes topless, was his wife at the time), but this added to an authentic atmosphere.
Countryman is a kind of superhero here, with his own words of wisdom and a neat line in magic powers, not to mention his martial arts moves. His enemies are largely those in positions of authority, such as the Colonel (Basil Keane) heading the search for the couple so the government can discredit the opposition party who are gaining a political foothold. The Colonel's right hand man is Benchley (Carl Bradshaw, one of the few professionals acting in this), a curious character who goes cockfighting in his time off, and visits a local shaman for much-needed help in the search. They may be the bad guys, but there's a message that there's no need to fight them, as the wicked will receive their comeuppance in due time.
This message is offered by a holy man, Jahman (playing himself), who is arrested by the police and beaten, yet still resists giving a confession or any relevant information. Countryman is worried by this turn of events, but he has confidence in his own abilities and keeps his secrets, with the American couple laying low in the jungle, fed by him and supplied with ganja. Yes, perhaps one of the main reasons Countryman became such a cult hit is the superhuman amount of joints smoked, making it incredible anyone gets anything done at all. Fitting that to a tee is the mystical element, with much magic and faith in higher powers to sort things out going on. Another reason for the film's following must also be the combat sequence, which has Countryman finishing off ten baddies with his kung fu - there's something for every cult movie fan here, and if it doesn't reach the heights of The Harder They Come, it's entertaining and chilled in equal measure, with a great selection of reggae on the soundtrack courtesy of Island Records' Chris Blackwell, here the producer. It's even dedicated to Bob Marley.