Monday, August 18, 2008
After probably 2 years of waiting, Susuk finally makes its way to our cinemas. At first I thought it'd already met with the same horrible fate that befell Dukun. But lucky for us, it's finally here! I've pretty high hopes for this film, since I'm quite fond of Amir Muhammad's debut film, Lips To Lips, and his docus like The Big Durian and Lelaki Komunis Terakhir.
One thing I must commend the film for is the slick visual style, and the script's very clever structure. No, make that especially the structure! It's very rare (in my case, it might even be the first time) to encounter a Malaysian film with that big "twist ending" ala The Crying Game, The Sixth Sense, The Game (just to name a few films). If you've been paying attention to the happenings in the story (and believe me, they do give you plenty of clues!), then it's even more enjoyable viewing, just to see the pieces fall into place. So I won't really try to provide a synopsis since it's one of those "don't reveal the ending" films.
What lets the film down though, is the shocking/scaring you part. Yes, it's very bloody and gory, and you do see some Dario Argento influence in the art direction and lighting (as pointed out by a lot of reviewers), but let's be honest here, when has ANY film by Dario Argento ever been scary? To me, the marvel in watching Argento's films is in watching the technique, the over the top colours in the art direction, the fancy camera movements and angles, and the hilariously horrible music used as cues to shock us. The acting and script in all the Argento films have always been serviceable at best, the acting even worse. And there's usually no suspense whatsoever, just shocks/surprise. Like Hitchcock once said: "A bomb explodes - that's surprise. Knowing that there's a bomb that may or may not explode - that's suspense." And for much of Susuk, what you always get are shocks/surprises, never suspense. And to me, what really makes a great horror film is the suspense. The shocks/surprises just make me laugh...
Another letdown is that I get really confused trying to figure out what Susuk wants to be. At times, you KNOW that it's sort of a satire on our celebrity obsessed culture, and things we do to even get close to fame. At other times, it seems more like the filmmakers are playing it absolutely straight and actually do want to make a straight horror film, and scare the bejeezuz out of us. By the end of the film, the impression I did make was that it was sort of a mess.
On one part the structure's quite brilliant, the acting mostly solid, with the exception of the boyfriend (sorry Gambit, still a bit kayu!), and the 2 divas played by Sofea Jane and Aleeza Kassim (but I forgive Aleeza already, for that priceless swimming pool scene, and the blink-and-you'll-miss-it verbal reference to her character's sexuality! Hehehe). Even Ida Nerina's kinda suspect behaviour/acting during the early to middle part of the film ultimately made sense by the time the film ends, such is the attention to detail about the film's structure. And don't even get me started about how kickass the scene transitions are in the film! Really, really well thought out in advance!
But it's the believability of the whole thing that bogs the film down. For all the talk about how great a diva Suzana and the 2 other divas are, the songs they sing are just plain bad, even for mainstream Malay music standards. One might try to make a case by saying that the badness of the songs is part of the satire, but if you ask me, that's just plain cheating. Even the Josie And The Pussycats movie have hilarious but absolutely believable and strong songs for the parodied boyband in the film. Let's not even get started about how great the 'satirical' or 'parody' songs are on films like A Mighty Wind, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, and of course This Is Spinal Tap. Unless, and this is a big unless, the bad songs here serve to show us the power of the susuk, that is that people will be fixated with you anyway, even if your songs are bad and your singing sucks. But I seriously don't get that impression when I was watching the film.
And so we get another half-half Malaysian film. Half of it's already well done, and close to brilliant, but the other half, by second-guessing themselves, or maybe even not thinking things up fully, end up making it a weaker film than it should've been. It could've been a real scorcher, a sort of brilliant kick up the ass of the Malaysian film industry like "Perempuan, Isteri dan ..." did back in the 90s, but I guess it's never meant to be...
Monday, April 24, 2006
I've been a bit slack the last few months. Yes, I've seen a fair bit of Malaysian films, including Castello and Rock, both are, to be honest, very much hit and miss affairs and I don't feel like spending my already scarce free time writing bad things about films I'm disappointed with. I was going to review Gubra (but taking my own sweet time to do it... haha!!), but last night I saw a forum on RTM1 called Fenomena Seni in which Sepet & Gubra was discussed, the topic being "Sepet & Gubra, pencemar budaya?" (roughly translated: Sepet & Gubra, cultural pollution?).
For the film, I'll just say this: "It has noble, brave ideas that everyone should applaud. But I can't praise the execution, as personally I think it's clumsy in places, and are plagued with cliches that are thought to be 'fresh storytelling methods' that you can find in the worst of arthouse and/or independent pictures. But please go see it anyway, and make this beloved country of ours a better place to live in."
Back to Fenomena Seni. There were 3 panellists, Akmal Abdullah (I've no idea what this guy does), Hassan Muthalib (sounds familiar, but I still don't know what he does) and Raja Azmi (who wrote and produced Black Widow Wajah Ayu and Cinta 200 Ela). The forum was chaired by Rosyam Nor (hero #1 Malaysia!!). I've to admit that I only managed to catch the last 30 mins or so of the show, so I must've missed a hell of a lot more. But even the little I saw was enough to outrage me, and shame me. There were a few remarks that totally stood out for me:
1. Akmal Abdullah was outraged at the portayal in Sepet of a Muslim girl who entered and hung out in a Chinese restaurant that sells pork, calling it irresponsible and not reality.
2. David Teo (a movie producer for Metrowealth) calling in and going on and on about how the 'culture' depicted in movies will be a 'heritage' in the future and there are lines which should not be crossed (I presume he's referring to the pork restaurant scene), as it is irresponsible to do so.
3. Raja Azmi: "Isteri yang solehah akan duduk di rumah dan masak untuk suami."
4. Raja Azmi: "Sepet tidak Islamic dan memburukkan nama Islam."
5. Raja Azmi's incredible and soon to be immortal speech: "Semua orang tahu yang kita di sini unik dan adalah masyarakat majmuk, dan dah banyak kali senario masyarakat majmuk ni ditunjukkan dalam filem-filem kita. Jadi tak payahlah nak tunjuk lagi. Lagipun, kita kena ingat yang ini Tanah Melayu, dan kita orang Melayu-Islam memang, seperti dalam Quran kata : Aku jadikan kamu berbagai-bagai kaum supaya kamu dapat berkenalan dan menerima antara satu sama lain. Jadi kita orang Melayu, yang memang bersopan-santun memang baik menerima kaum-kaum lain di negara kita ni." I really don't want to translate this appalling statement, so if you don't understand Malay, please ask a friend to translate it for you. Besides, ini kan Tanah Melayu, so you should understand Malay, you dummy!! Ask Raja Azmi!!
I've commented on a few blogs already about this, so in response to all the above statements, I'm just gonna cut n paste my comments on other people's blogs, and add bits and pieces here and there. It's in Malay though. After all, this is Tanah Melayu!! Don't we all just LOVE Raja Azmi? Hehe:
"Bukan dangkal lagi dah. It's downright racist. Kepada Raja Azmi, negara kita ni bukan Tanah Melayu lagi, sekarang nama kita Malaysia. Kalau nak sangat hidup di Tanah Melayu, pergi panggil balik British suruh jajah kita balik. Dan agaknya Rashid Sidek tak pakai baju dan scene nyanyi2 ala Hindustan dalam Cinta 200 Ela tu memang 'Islamic' habis lah kan? Mesti tak hina Islam kalau macam tu. Tak tutup aurat pun takpe, bukannya menghina Islam. Scene yang menunjukkan orang Islam boleh terima budaya dan cara hidup orang lain tanpa mengkompromi budaya dia sendiri (macam masuk kedai ada jual babi, tapi TAK MAKAN babi) memang tak Islamic kan? Lagi bagus kalau scene tu tunjukkan orang Islam tu marah dan kutuk orang Cina bodoh sebab makan babi, sebab kotor. Orang Islam lagi pandai dan 'betul' sebab tak makan benda kotor macam babi. Agama kita kan betul, Tuhan dah bagitau awal2 dah tak boleh makan babi, sebab Tuhan dah tahu makan babi tak bagus. Kan ke babi ada cacing pita bermeter2 panjangnya?Tuhan orang lain mana tahu benda2 ni. Pasal tu lah agama kita betul. Kita Melayu/Islam kan lagi bagus, superior. Macam itulah baru Malaysia kita sekarang kan? Macam tu lah baru Malaysia di mata Raja Azmi, dan Akmal Abdullah. Cerita Melayu tunjuk orang Islam minum arak dan seks bebas takpe, tapi masuk kedai ada jual babi, tapi TAK MAKAN babi tak boleh, perosak budaya. Sebab tu lah Mat2 Rempit tak kisah minum arak dan main2 seks luar nikah dan rogol2 anak orang. Janji tak makan babi kan. Makan babi tu dosa besar habis!! Minum arak takpe, sebab makan babi jadi darah daging, minum arak jadi air kencing je. Jadi, agaknya takpelah kot kalau budaya orang Islam minum arak dan seks bebas, rogol2 anak orang jadi 'warisan' kita. Janji tak makan babi. Yay!! Raja Azmi for Prime Minister!! Yeah!! Hidup Malaysia!!"
Dear friends, I humbly apologise for all the hurtful things the panellists said. I'm terribly sad that after almost 50 years of independence, we're still stuck in this rut. If this is where our beloved country's going, maybe we should all just pack up and leave, but no, not without a fight we won't. Like the Alan Yun character said in Gubra, "It's like loving someone who doesn't love you back." If you do love that someone, will you fight for it? Tepuk dada, tanya selera my friends. Anyone who thinks otherwise and agrees with Raja Azmi, please don't call me anymore. I don't wanna know you.
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
I have seen the future... and it starts here. Ha ha, I know, what the hell am I saying huh? I'll elaborate on that 'future' thing at the end of this review. Let's start with the movie itself. I saw this movie twice. And I believe this movie will, despite all the dodgy acting and dialogue, hold a special place in Malaysian cinema. Why? Well, I told you I saw this twice, right?
The most fascinating thing about this movie is that it works on 2 levels - as a straightforward rom-com & as a parody of a straightforward rom-com and a kind of social commentary. Here's why, when I first saw it I really did think it was sweet, funny and romantic. But I also thought that the movie's kind of odd, cynical and disturbing, in both the way the characters are written and the way they're acted. Of course when I saw it the second time, everything makes perfect sense.
The story (spoilers ahead!!!): We follow 2 characters, Luna and Ezra, who live separate lives and don't know each other, but unknowingly bump into each other almost every day. Luna's getting married to Zyhan soon, but will soon let herself be sweet-talked into an affair by Danial (with a little encouragement from her HOTTTTTTT cousin played by Jojo Struys). Meanwhile, Ezra, who's been obsessing about his 100% perfect girl whom he once saw in a cafe (which he occasionally visits, in case the 100% perfect girl turns up again), embarked on his own adventure by asking Emma, a colleague, out. Guess what, he calls Emma his 99% perfect girl. Why? Because nobody's perfect, he said. Err, what about your 100% perfect girl? Haha. Anyway, fate does have its own funny way of bringing people together. In case of Luna and Ezra, it's through the fact that Luna will need to place a large and urgent order for bottles from the company where Ezra is working in.
So, the 2 main characters meet. Of course they'll hate each other at first.And you'll know from the very first time you see Ezra and Luna bump into each other unknowingly early on in the movie that they'll be together in the end, and that the 100% perfect girl in the cafe is Luna. And you'll also know where things are going way before it happens. It's a formula. It's a tried and tested one. And if correctly followed, will fill your heart with joy. And the writers followed it to a T, correctly I must say. Why? Because I've yet to see a Malaysian film that faithfully, perfectly and correctly follow any sort of formula. We've had local action films before, but they can't even follow the correct formula, maybe even unaware of the correct formula, which ultimately makes them what they are - rubbish action movies. We've had rom-coms before, yes, but they still failed to adhere to any sort of formula. And no, they're not and have never been in any way attempts to be original, they're just lazy and incompetent. So imagine my delight to finally see a formulaic script done right. The dialogue can be pretty dodgy at times, the acting even more so, but I will not take away the fact that this is a carefully structured script. And also the fact that, despite the occasional bad dialogue, the 2 main characters are still endearing and the happiness they feel at the end of the movie, which by proxy is also ours for living 2 hours of our life with them, is legitimately, respectfully and honorably earned. The soundtrack, filled with soaring, and some beautifully written Indo-Pop knock off songs, helps matters considerably. All I can say is, as a straightforward rom-com, to be experienced by leaving any kind of cynicism totally out the door, this movie will make your heart fly. It's as simple as that.
Now, if you have a cynical soul, you'll take a lot of pleasure in the fact that, as I said before, this movie can also work as a kind of parody of a straightforward rom-com and a kind of social commentary. Am I kidding, you ask? Well, read my plot synopsis above, get yourself familiar with the characters' names and the basic plot, and now consider the facts I'm presenting to you now. Luna is an innocent enough girl, who's absolutely aware of the fact that she's engaged. Yet, she allows Danial to convince her to go out on a date. You'll have to see Danial for yourself, brilliantly played by Zach Ubu (formerly of the boyband X-Factor), who I think is the best character you'll ever see in a local movie this year. You see, Danial is a singer-songwriter in a band. And, being in the same position myself, I can personally tell you that girls just love to ask guys like him (and me) to write songs for them and serenade them. Danial, maybe foolishly, maybe consciously (because he knows what the girls want), proceeded to do exactly that with Luna. He's either full of himself, or is just another one of those honest, artistic sensitive souls. Either way, he's funny as hell to watch!! Just wait for the scene where he serenades Luna and tells her about the 10 songs he wrote for her for the 10 days they've been together. It's a gem!!! And Luna, surprise surprise, fell for it. And don't even get me started about the lines that Danial delivered. I laughed so hard the second time I saw the movie, I had tears in my eyes!!
I saw the movie for the second time with 3 girlfriends, all of whom complained about Danial's creepiness and Luna's stupidity to fall for Danial's sweet talking. You know the oft-quoted phrase (usually by dorky guys with a crush on a beautiful girl) that says: "Why is it that all these perfect and beautiful girls always have assholes for a boyfriend?". My 3 girlfriends said that the movie is unrealistic because in real life a girl like Luna will never fall for the lines that a guy like Danial spouts in the movie. But you know what, I KNOW people like Danial and Luna. And they're real. I know guys who think they're so good looking and cool, and are so confident of themselves that they think they can say and do anything to a girl and she'd still fall for them. I also know girls who easily fall for the kind of things that Danial says or does. I've also encountered girls who practically asked me outright to write songs for them or sing songs to them, even if they are not, by any stretch of the imagination, my girlfriend. So I totally understand why Danial did what he did and why Luna fell for it.
Speaking of laughs, wait till you see Zyhan, Luna's fiance. My 3 girlfriends practically cringed in unison and marvelled at how ugly they think he was (my sincere apologies to the guy playing Zyhan). Again, they said it's not realistic, because Luna is so young, rich and beautiful. Lest we all forget, Zyhan is rich. And how many beautiful, successful and rich young girls have we seen marry relatively older, ugly but rich men?
Add to that the fact that the movie constantly slip in reminders about reality. Lines like, "This is reality Ezra, you know that it can't always be okay", or "Life is sad, isn't it?", constantly crop up to interrupt the sweet, fairy-tale like tone of the movie. Also the touching and sad sub-plot involving Emma being "the other woman" in her boss' life. Also consider the fact that this movie is the maiden project for Alternate Studio, a division of Grand Brilliance Sdn Bhd, which is kind of like the Classics division of major Hollywood studios, like Sony Pictures Classics, Paramount Classics and Warner Independent Pictures, whose purpose is to release indie-minded features with some sort of commercial appeal. In the case of Alternate Studio, I read that the budget is capped at RM500,000.00, to minimise risk of losses (I presume). So, what do you do when you want to launch something that aspires to be different yet at the same time keep the money men happy? You make sure your first picture has a sure-fire commercial appeal, of course. So we have Salon, a teen rom-com, with an Indo-Pop knock off soundtrack to pull in the kids who can't get enough of Indonesian teen movies, and you're basically set.
But, how to make it different? Or give it your personal touch? Now that's where my theory of this movie being a kind of parody of a rom-com and some sort of social commentary suddenly doesn't seem so far fetched. And the beauty is that it works both ways. You can be the most primitive country bumpkin (with a sweet heart, of course) and like it. And you can be a postmodern cynical I've-seen-it-all moviegoer, and still like it.
Yes, it's not perfect. But what a way to start! So, to close this review, let me say this again. I have seen the future. And it's called Alternate Studio. And it starts here...
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
My first thought when I sat down to write this review is this: "I'm confused". The set-up is typical of teen rom-coms made anywhere: Girly-girl's in love with boy. Boy breaks up with girl because he's into Futsal (indoor football/soccer) and wants a girl who's a "striker" and not just a "cheerleader", which is practically what our girly-girl is. Girly-girl learns futsal to win back boy. Boy found a new girl who's a striker-girl. Girly-girl is determined to win back boy and beat striker-girl at her own game. Girly-girl learns a thing or two about life along the way. The end.
Directed by Bernard Chauly and written by Rafidah of 3R fame, this movie is touted to be the movie that can bridge the gap between the Malaysian mainstream and the Malaysian indie movie frat. Quite how they think typical Hollywood cheese coupled with beautiful cinematography can bridge that gap, I don't know.
I know I can easily dismiss this as just another piece of unoriginal mindless entertainment and not many will disagree with me. But, having seen the movie, I definitely can't do that. I just can't. I know it's as contrived (plot-wise & in terms of the characters and their lives) as contrived can be. But, credit where credit's due, the movie's got soul. That I'm sure of and is clear for all to see, if you decide to give this movie a look. Despite all the contrivances, the emotions you feel are real. And as much as you loathe the characters for being so 'fake', you still feel for them.
So now you know why I'm confused. There are parts of the movie which I absolutely loathe, but there are also parts which I simply can't help but love. And the culprit is clearly the script. I cannot fault the direction here at all. The director not only has a keen visual sense, but is also humble enough to step back and let the story tell itself at the approppriate moments. We might have here a wonderful new directorial voice who's unafraid to show his love for the characters and who's totally unconcerned with making things look 'cool' or 'different' but instead is concerned with how a camera angle, or stroke of light, or an edit or cut will affect the emotions in a certain scene and the storytelling as a whole. For a young first-time feature filmmaker, that's rare indeed.
As for the script, I think it's a classic case of trying to do too much. Sometimes, in our eagerness to succeed, we inevitably fail. Why? Because we can easily forget what can be done, and what shouldn't be done, regardless of our ambition. It's Rafidah's first script anyway, so I'll cut her some slack. You can't blame her for lack of ambition, that's for sure.
So there it is. Confused yet?
Sunday, September 18, 2005
What a perfect way to start this review blog. I didn't expect much when I walked in to see this picture. I saw the original KL Menjerit and thought it was just alright and very mixed at best, just like Bade's other 'good' pictures like Berlari Ke Langit and Gangster, all of which fell victim to that most dreaded disease that plague most good/well made local films - films of 2 halves - one half great, the other so misjudged or incompetent that it pretty much nullified the great part.
Nothing of that sort here. Although there are one or two awkward moments, this is, IMHO, a beautiful, unpretentious film about young love and broken dreams reclaimed, made with its head high up in the clouds and its feet firmly on the ground, and with just the right amount of pretensions thrown in. It's beautifully and tenderly acted by its 2 young leads (Que Haidar and Sheera), the awkwardness of their line readings perfectly encapsulate that magical moment in time that we call the early stages of courtship. It has beautiful lyrical passages that does not feel like they're thrown in just to act as some sort of picture-postcard to help the Malaysian Tourism Board run its campaign, but feels absolutely necessary, and go a long way in helping the director tell his story.
It will no doubt do well at the box-office, as it targets the suburban and rural crowd, and of course, the Mat Rempits. And it will no doubt be dismissed by local film critics and 'serious' movie fans exactly for this same reason. But unlike other 'serious' local films that mostly cater to the more 'sophisticated' urban audience, this film - clearly and proudly made for the 'people' - has real people in it. The Mat Rempits have not only got a 'face', they have also found their humanity, thanks to this wonderful film. Of course, not all Mat Rempits will behave like the characters of Ku (Que Haidar) or Shahrul (Rosyam Noor) in this film. But at least now, even for Mat Rempits, as Jean Renoir often said - everyone has their reasons.
I love this film for the way it shows how you should or shouldn't behave towards other people. It shows you, with much delicacy, how to be decent towards your fellow human beings. It shows you, without being preachy or patronising, that a person can still be a decent human being despite being burdened with an unhealthy passion for illegal racing. I know I sound kind of ironic there, but believe me, Ku knows it's unhealthy to race illegally, but he loves to do it anyway, and you know that he'll always discourage you from doing it - such is the depth of the characterisation here.
As I pointed out earlier, the film is not without its flaws. Most films are anyway. It does have a clever (but unnecessary) twist in the end which fills up previous plot holes but at the same time digs up new different ones, and which also interfered with the flow in the last 3rd of the story. However, to again quote Jean Renoir, "If a film is perfect, the public has nothing to add... The audience should always be trying to finish a picture, ... fill in the holes which we didn't fill."
So obviously this is a film that I would seriously defend and champion. Why? Because I love the people in it, and I think the reason why people go to the movies in the first place is to see the people in it. And, like John Cassavetes once said, if the people are great in the picture, then suddenly the cinematography will also look great. If the people are bad, great technique counts for nothing. And you know what, even the technique here is great. They played fith the focus, they played with the film speed, they played with the lighting, they played with many things and the film looks gorgeous. But the reason why I love this film is that it 'feels' gorgeous.
I know that by now you're probably asking why I haven't given any synopsis of the film. Well, I think it's actually better if I don't give you that. I probably shouldn't have even told you that there's a twist in the movie. But I'll say this - Please go see the movie. I love it, and I think you will too.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Why do I always hear people scoff whenever I hear the words "Malaysian film" mentioned? Why do these people scoff when they can proudly advertise on myspace or friendster that their favourite film is Sorority Boys or The Lizzie McGuire Movie or My Boss's Daughter? Why do people tolerate foreign rubbish but have no tolerance whatsoever for local (i.e. Malaysian) rubbish?
It is really sad that there's practically no serious literature on Malaysian cinema that you can find in local bookstores at all, except for one book which was not even written by a Malaysian, therefore making it liable to miss a hell of a lot valuable or worthy filmmakers worth championing.
My mission is to try to address that problem, even if only a little bit, as I will mostly be writing about Malaysian films that are currently playing in the cinemas. Of course I will also be writing about older Malaysian films that I see on home video, but probably not that much. Keep in mind that everything I say is strictly my personal opinion only. You can take it, or leave it. At the very least something's being said about our beloved cinema. Hidup cinema kita!!!