Category Archives: Movies

Bunohan the Second Serving

Watched Bunohan the second time with M (Malaysian, Raja Yoga Instructor and Practitioner), F (Iranian, PhD candidate in Literature), S (Iranian, Documentary director) and Fern (Portuguese, Architect). And of course, K, my wife.

It was a Sunday evening, at Mid Valley. The hall was about 70% full. The weather was a bit cloudy but was otherwise fine.

This time around, I paid more attention to the architecture of the movie. I spent more time looking at the screen instead of reading the subtitles.

This post might contain spoilers. Perhaps some really serious spoilers. Read on if you do not mind.

From the beginning, the story is supposed to be a folklore. What happened in the movie is just “hearsay”. No one really knew what happened. This was made clear at the beginning where the guys sat in the dark chatting and we hear the real names of the actors being mentioned. That is the real world, or is it?

We are challenged from the beginning itself on what is real, and what is not. An existential question. Some discussions followed after the movie between us.

Essentially, this is a Shakespearean drama. F mentioned King Lear. Cain and Abel. Fern said the movie is very “European” in feeling.

Ilham himself is interesting. A cold-blooded assassin. But engrossed, throughout the movie, to relocate graves and to find his mother’s grave. And at the end, asked for his life to be traded with his brother, which he knew will not happened (I conjectured this romantic side of him). He knew his request to have his brother spared will not be honored given his experience in that dark trade. But he still asked. This is a great transformation for this character. Or perhaps he never changed. He was forced into the trade but how and why? He mentioned far-away lands, Paris,┬áMarseilles. A romantic assassin who never left his mom and the memories with her. This is a painful man. A divided man. A romantic man. The magic realism moment with the talking bird is actually him talking to himself. His other half talking to the other half.

The use of local folklore, buaya jadian, hantu budak, etc. gave another layer to the movie, making the story-telling that much more interesting compared to a pure linear way of story-telling. It seems like the spirits knew everything. The spirits are themselves nature. I love the scene where Mek Yeh spoke to the hantu budak, on the songs, on love lost, on stories lost, etc. I read some critics saying the actress does not perform on par with the other actors who performed brilliantly but I beg to differ. I think the character suited her very much. She is the all yielding, earthy type of character and I think she played it well.

The cinematography is so beautiful, it is almost distracting the story and other more subtle elements.

This movie made me think of Yasmin Ahmad. I really miss her movies sometimes. Bunohan is of course not Sepet and Sepet is of course not Bunohan. Yasmin is like Ozu. Dain is like Kurosawa. But that’s just me.

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Bunohan, bunohen, bunoheh

It has been quite some time since I attended a movie screening, not to mention a premiere. Going to a movie premiere is like opening a letter from someone you have just sent a love declaration letter to. You do not know what is inside the reply. The girl might have rejected you and preferred to remain friends but the girl might also say yes and how long it was that she hoped you have written to her.

Hmmm… maybe that is a little dramatic but the point is that going to a premiere is very exciting. You have heard about the movie for some time, the hype is building up, etc. and now is the time for you to see it yourself.

This was what happened to me for BUNOHAN. The marketing and PR work was superbly executed, creating a lot of hype and anticipation. After months on end anticipating, the Malaysian premiere was last night and I was lucky to be able to watch it.

Not that many people cared about what I think about the movie but since this blog is a lot about what I do and what I think and since I do write quite a bit about movies, I just want to record down my thoughts on BUNOHAN.

Poetic. Complex. These are the two words that comes to mind immediately. The surface storyline does not sound extraordinary. In fact, if summarised to just a couple of sentences, it sounds just like any normal local movies. But as in all good movies, what is extraordinary lies with the execution of the movie itself.

At its core, it tells the story of a powerful conglomerate from Kuala Lumpur who wants to acquire a piece of inherited land and the things people do to protect that land and the things people do to acquire the land, by hook or by crook. Bla bla bli bla bla bla…..Yawn…..

But that is the McGuffin, nothing more. At the end of the movie, one wonders what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. As Lao Tzu said, what is beautiful is in fact ugly, what is ugly is in fact beautiful. The use of folk lore and myths, the supernatural, adds another layer to the movie in the Jungian sense. Myths and symbols, the collective unconscious.

BUNOHAN can be appreciated at many levels. At the most basic level, one enjoys the story, the fighting, the beautiful mise-en-scene. The deepest level, I don’t know what. I have not really fathom so deeply but it inspires one to think, if he or she is willing. It tells about the society, about our own inner demon, about what it means to be family, about what it means to have a tradition and such.

The acting is superb, especially so from Faizal Hussein. The tempo at mid-way through is a bit slow and the story does not develop much midway through. The curiosity surrounding the story of Adil’s parenthood can be heightened. The fighting scenes can be made more exciting.

Let’s perhaps look at this compared to Farhadi’s A SEPARATION. It is also a story of a family and their struggles. It also has a Hitchcock-like mystery. The shooting style and mise-en-scene is very different of course. The tempo in A SEPARATION is much faster. But at the end of it, it is also about confronting our inner devil, about the society that we live in and how we, as a part of this society, fit into it or fight against it and try to make some sense out of it.

But the million dollar question is will it give OMBAK RINDU a run for its money? The answer is perhaps it does not need to. Malaysia needs talented people like Dain to lift it up another notch. We need good substantial movies. Others can go ahead and make a lot of money but at the end of the day, what remains and will be remembered of a civilization is its arts and culture.

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Confucius the Movie

Well, Chow Yun Fat plays Confucius? Hmmm… I am confused. He will play Leon most excellently but Confucius? I was skeptical at first but after watching the movie, well, he is not too bad although I still feel that he doesn’t look like it. But it’s not a bad performance.

Confucius the movie is supposedly about the life and teachings of Confucius and all the trials and tribulations that he had to face in a society so brutal and hostile as the Spring and Autumn period in China (the time of Sun Tzu) which immediately precede the Warring States era, one of the most hostile era in Chinese history, until Shih Huang Ti unified all the states and formed the Qin dynasty, the first Unified Chinese dynasty as they more or less appear today, albeit expanded later (and where the name China supposedly came – or is it supposed to be Qina? hmmm).

To now realize that a person as Confucius to be able to preach and practice the idea of a “Gentleman”, the “Superior Man”, based on the ethical theories of rites and rituals, empathy and reciprocity (do not do unto others what you do not want others to do unto you), righteousness, etc. in an era of barbaric conquest is indeed something great. To put order back to a society so barren in order, to preach for the respect for people and trust and righteousness in an era where everybody is doing the opposite, these are great teachings indeed.

Of course, Confucius is no idiot as we can see in the movie. He is really good in archery and military deployments, and as we can also hear from the dialogue, he is well versed with Sun Tzu’s Art of War too (although I am not sure if he is really so – but I think a person of his learning, he would have known) – e.g. quotes from the Nine Terrains chapter is obvious.

So did the movie live up to its expectations? To many people, the movie seems slow and it dragged on and on. At a certain time in the movie, I find myself looking at my watch, which is not a good sign and I do feel the same, the movie is a bit draggy, and unnecessarily so. One could easily think of the movie A BATTLE OF WITS (which I talked about here). In that movie, we see yet another philosophy, Mo Tzu’s Mohism, in action. Mo Tzu’s time is after Confucius, and the peace-loving nature of that philosophy is similar to Confucius although the similarity ends there. Mo Tzu disagreed with Confucius’ hierarchical society and over attachment to rites and rituals and instead preached a philosophy of universal love where everyone is equal.

The production quality of the movie is very good and given the big budget movies nowadays (there is so much money in China for production!), high production quality is a given nowadays. Anyways, I would think that this is a good movie to go to if you would like to know a bit about Confucius and his life but if you already know about him, there is nothing much that this movie can offer. Maybe you would just want to watch it because it is a movie about Conficius and that it is quite a good production. But beware of the yawns.

There is something missing from the movie, and I think that is a smooth narrative flow and purpose. After the movie, what I felt was the movie is like a pictorial slideshow just to showcase Confucius’ teachings, and for that, the movie felt artificial. So if you want to go and watch it, go only for four reasons, 1. You want to know something about Confucius and knows next to nothing about him, 2. You like historical movies and likes well produced movies, 3. You are a huge Chow Yun Fat fan, 4. You’ve got nothing better to do and got lots of cash.

Other than that, don’t.

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Some thoughts on Muallaf

I think I owe MUALLAF some comments.

Yasmin Ahmad’s films always have a higher purpose and what I find wonderful about her films is besides trying to “speak” to the audience about this higher purposes, she manages to put into them humour and lots and lots of culture.

Maybe I can elaborate. By higher purpose, her themes are always about Malaysia, or 1Malaysia as is popular now. It is about how different races can live together, can love each other, can help each other out. In short, come to think about it, maybe I am wrong. Yasmin’s film is not only about Malaysia. It is about humanity as a whole, take away all the race, creed and class.

Yasmin’s films is also about God in it’s ultimate sense, one God. Not only a Christian God, or Chinese God or Muslim God. And it is so apparent in Yasmin’s film that she cannot stand people who just appear to be religious but in fact is a total farce, someone that just has a religious facade but do not live up to it’s true principles.

Yasmin’s films is also about people, especially about family. Family is very important, as Confucius would have totally agree. According to Confucius, family is the ultimate nucleus in the prosperity of a nation. I don’t know if Yasmin is aware of this or not although I know that she loves the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu very much but never mention anything about the Analects by Confucius.

And of course, Yasmin’s films is, for a lack of a better expression, very cultured. From the tasteful selection of music, from Thai and Cantonese pop song right up to operatic arias, and the selection of poems that peppered her movies, one feels the substance of the filmmaker herself and her love for life, people and culture. It is a wonderful experience watching a Yasmin Ahmad movie.

Of course, not everything is sweet and nice and her films are not without flaws but just the heart and vision that she put into her films, one can easily overlook those flaws and take the whole thing as part of a “package”, just like her message in the funeral commercial and Cikgu Adibah’s comment that “pitching Nina Simone pun tak adalah always perfect” (Nina Simone’s pitching is also not always perfect).

So what about MUALLAF. Well, the first feeling that one gets after watching the movie is that it is preaching a lot. And that the movie is not about conversion into Islam. And it is not a Malay language movie. Haha.

The preaching a lot part is quite true, with quotations from the Quran, St. Augustine, the Tao Te Ching being peppered throughout the movie and one almost feel like getting a crash course in comparative religion. It is, however, quite interesting the quotes that Yasmin chose, where a lot of them tries to clear up a lot of misconceptions about Islam. As with some of her other movies (e.g. GUBRA), she tries to tell what Islam is truly about and what Islam is not about. Perhaps this subject is really too deep to explain in the course of a movie, however, it is like a seed planted in one’s mind and prompts one to search further and deeper for the truth.

Of course, the hypocrites are also shown, for example, when the Datuk refuses to shake the Chinese hands after he touched a dog, but then requested for a refill for the glass of beer in front of him. Yasmin’s films is always like this. What is in the surface may not be true, what is true may not be easily seen (reminds one of the Tao Te Ching?). For example, the bar girl who secretly gave some money to the sisters after she herself caused the the girl to be fired. One sees the two sides of her, the bad side but also the good side. It co-exist. No one is really all bad. And no one is really all Angel.

And yes, the story was changed and it is not really about the conversion to Islam as the movie title seems to indicate. It is more like a conversion from bad to good, which I find a really good choice. And of course, perhaps 90% of the dialogue is in English and this is classified as a Malay movie. Again, this is typical of Yasmin. No pigeon-holing.

So all in all, it is generally a good movie but in my personal ranking of Yasmin’s movie, the following is my sentiment right now and may change:

1. Mukhsin
2. Sepet
3. Talentime
4. Rabun
5. Gubra
6. Muallaf

I really like TALENTIME. I don’t know why.

My Blackberry Nights?

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NTV7 Brings Some Joy

Oh my, and it’s finally happening. The Malaysian audience at large can finally see on their TV screen movies form the Cathay Classic Library that includes such great classics such as MAMBO GIRL, WILD WILD ROSE, OUR SISTER HEDY, JUNE BRIDE, SISTER LONG LEGS, THE GREATEST WEDDING ON EARTH, DEATH TRAP, SUN MOON AND STAR, etc. as they are becoming available via the NTV7 Friday 1.30pm slot (named Friday Classics: My Film Noir). At this point in time, I am unsure of the whole library that they have acquired but they have advertised, as their maiden month’s offering, MAMBO GIRL, HER TENDER HEART, CINDERELLA AND HER LITTLE ANGELS and OUR SISTER HEDY.

A couple of years ago, Variety View, a distributor, signed a deal to distribute those movies including distribution in Malaysia for theatrical, TV, DVD rights etc. but up to now, no sign of those DVDs are in sight in the video stores that I visit and I have to rely on my geeky friend to loan me or to buy for me in Hong Kong, or I buy them myself when I am in Hong Kong or via YesAsia.

These movies from the Cathay Classic Libraries are really gems and to a certain extent and in general, in my opinion, is better than those Shaw Brothers classic movies (although I also love many of the Shaw movies). I don’t know but perhaps I am not much of a fan of action movies which I somehow relate to the Shaw library (although this is not true, e.g. HOUSE OF 72 TENANTS) and prefer the more family types of movie that I somehow relate to the Cathay Classic movies.

But all in all, kudos to the NTV7 crew for making this happen (Cheah Yee, Mey Leng and gang, great job!)

A small note, just by the way, is in regards to the naming of the slot My Film Noir which is, I feel, not quite appropriate as when I read it, I was expecting movies like DOUBLE INDEMNITY, SUNSET BOULEVARD, THE BIG SLEEP and such which characterizes that genre. I do understand, however, as “noir”, they would really want to mean black and white movies but somehow, maybe I am too pedantic, I relate Film Noir to movies of that genre and not black and white movies. But it doesn’t really matter so long as we can watch those Cathay Classics!

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Bolly Bolly Bollywood

Suspecting readers would have guessed by now that I am going to write something about Bollywood after posting two superb music video recently, one from FANAA and the other from DIL SE. Well, yes, I am getting more and more back into movies nowadays and lesser on Go because the fact that I still suck at Go despite many efforts to improve makes me quite depressed. Anyways, as always, I found refuge in movies.

The title of this post, i.e. BOLLY BOLLY BOLLYWOOD is a term coined by my superb ex-colleague and good friend Abid when we were thinking of the names for a movie slot for Bollywood movies. As creative as he is and multiple award winning at that, this name stuck as it is at the same time catchy and sticky.

When I started to work at the movie channel, I realised that with its vast library from movies from all over the world, there is a need to create platforms to showcase the movie so that there is a structured way to schedule the movies according to themes and it will be much easier to sell to both the viewers as well as sponsors. Scheduling is a very interesting area in television and is both science and art, although I would say perhaps 90% science and 10% art.

The key to good scheduling lies with good and reliable information. By studying the demographic and more importantly the psychographic attributes of the viewers, together with months of viewership data, and with a good knowledge of the movies in the library, one can create a really good schedule and attract as many of the targeted viewers as possible, especially so with a package of good promos and marketing support.

Talking about scheduling, there are many more little tricks to it rather than just the formal study of the data (of course, without studying the data, there is no need to proceed). Some of the tricks like tent-pole scheduling and step-scheduling is common but by far, my favourite scheduling trick is what I call predatory/pre-emptive scheduling. This is achieved, broadly speaking, by studying the schedule of your competitor that is competing for the same audience and you schedule your way and promote your program in a way that takes viewership away from them or prevent them from taking away your audience. This is actually quite tricky and it is beyond this post to discuss more of the details.

Okay, I think I got carried away. This post is about Bollywood movies. I realised that I have not updated my Notes section of this blog, where I may file this, for a very long time and looking at the statistics provided by this blog, there is still a significant number of reader that reads those notes and a lot of them landed on the notes via a search engine. One of the most often read notes is the one on the Malaysian New Wave and is also much quoted in this post on Gubra in the Asian Film History wiki site. However, I wrote that note back in May 2008 and a lot have changed since then and an update is due. But I am now out of that industry and my knowledge is that much more limited, compared to that time where I have unblocked access to the movies as well as their makers.

Bollywood, as most people know, comes from the word Bombay/Hollywood. Often, Bollywood movies is mentioned synonymously with Hindi movies. Since the Indian economic reform in the early 1990s, there has been a boom in the Indian film industry and big producers such as Yash Copra who founded the Yash Raj Films took advantage of that boom. In fact, Indian cinema goes way back to directors such as Guru Dutt and Raj Kapoor and also includes an alternative cinema with such directors as the great Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak up to NRI directors such as Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta. However, for this post, let’s talk about popular Bollywood cinema from 1995 onwards.

The first movie one may want to watch is DILWALE DULHANIA LE JAYENGE (1995) starring the then still relatively young Sharukh Khan and Kajol and directed by Aditya Chopra (son of Yash Chopra). This movie made the earth (or Indian cinema) shake for a while and some swear by it as still the best of Sharukh Khan ever. This movie is also the longest running movie in India and even today, it is still playing in Mumbai. Believe it or not. So if you can get your hands on this movie, please jump on it if you are interested.

When Bollywood movies are mentioned, one will always think of dance and songs, and of course that 3 hour time commitment. However, there is of course a lot more to just dance and songs which I enjoy a lot but one has to look at the social aspect of it. In many ways, it is a way for the mass to escape to another world. With movie tickets very much affordable, India has one of the lowest ticket prices in the world, the common people who have worked so hard can find a means to escape to another world, a dream world which they will never be capable of living.

While I was staying in India for some time, I went to watch movies in the cinema too, although without subtitles. I remember watching KABHI ALVIDA NAA KEHNA (KANK) there and lining up in queue for the ticket. It was an almost full house show and one can feel the atmosphere inside the theatre hall. Imagine a movie like KANK which is a very modern movie set in New York getting that kind of response, just imagine other movies that speaks closer to their hearts. It is a rather enjoyable experience watching a Bollywood movie in an Indian cinema. One almost wants to stand up and dance in tune with the music.

Okay, so, other good Bollywood movies that I can recommend are as follows (in no particular order, just from memory):

1. LAGAAN (2001)
2. KAL HO NA HO (2003)
3. KABHI KHUSHI KABHIE GHAM (2001)
4. RANG DE BASANTI (2006)
5. DIL SE (1998)
6. FANAA (2006)
8. DEVDAS (2002)
9. LAGE RAHO MUNNA BHAI (2006)
10. HUM AAPKE HAIN KOUN..! (1994)
11. KUCH KUCH HOTA HAI (1998)
12. MOHABBATIEN (2000)

And of course, DILWALE DULHANIA LE JAYENGE (1995).

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Two Dark Movies

[Warning, this post contains some spoilers]

Nope. Not NEW MOON (which I have not seen, I didn’t watch TWILIGHT too). But two recent Hong Kong/China movies that has a very dark tone.

The first is STORM RIDERS 2. I attended the launch of the movie in Hong Kong in 2008 and was looking forward very much to watch this movie. So while in Brunei with nothing much to do, Xinwen, my wife and I watched it in one of the cinemas there and yes, thank goodness, it is presented in the Cantonese language and not dubbed!

In general, it is quite a good entertainment with some good CGI work but the predictability of the story solicited some yawns. Since I have never read the comic book series, I do not know how true the interpretation is but for most of the part, I did not feel too good about the movie. And I almost burst out laughing when Charlene Choi called out to the master, “Master, I am Second Dream”. “Second Dream”?? Hahahahaha. What a name.

And of course, the movie is dark with Wind turning to the evil ways and started killing innocents while Cloud tries to save the world and sacrifices himself along the way. Of course, there is going to be Storm Riders 3, no?

The next movie just watched is BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, a story about the protection of Dr. Sun Yat Sen during his trip to Hong Kong in 1906 to get the leaders of the revolution together and topple the Qing dynasty, which eventually happened in 1911. In this fictional account, it tells how the idealistic students tries to save China from itself and how the kungfu masters protects Dr. Sun during his trip, a true depiction that the pen is as powerful as the sword.

With Donnie Yen being featured so prominently in all the marketing stuffs, one naturally expects some big time kung fu but in general, the tone of the movie is dramatic with endless streams of tears from man, which we also see in STORM RIDERS 2 (for potential movie makers out there, note that it is a trend now to make man cry shamelessly on screen, not that it is bad but this is a new trend! hahaha).

All in all, the production quality in BODYGUARD AND ASSASSINS is top grade and it has a very good story backdrop, and the message it drives through is that mankind need to sacrifice for the better good of the future. But what is the eventual meaning of this? Did the Chinese really live a better life after the revolution? Maybe not but somehow, Dr. Sun and his gang thought that China needed to change.

We can get started and talk about China post 1911 and what a mess it became right after that up to the huge mess that Mao did after coming into power in 1949, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution just to name two of the most hideous. And post Mao, Tienanmen and such. But did the Chinese live a better life post 1911? Well, I don’t know and I don’t really think so, until perhaps recently with the economic reform.

So what is the real point of the revolution leaving so many good people dead? One of the good thing that BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS did was to show us the story of the heroes that sacrificed their life, that their life has meaning, and they actually did sacrifice their life thinking that there is a better future. Say for example Ah Si (character played by Nicolas Tse). He is about to be married. He has a really good heart. And he is going to have quite a good life if he didn’t die. So did he die in vain and his widow suffering through her life in vain?

So at the end, what was in my mind is not that I am disappointed that it is not a kung fu flick and I was cheated my money but it makes me reflect on the true meaning of a revolution and in this, I think the film succeed tremendously.

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