Category Archives: Movies (Malaysia)

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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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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SEPI Comments

Sepi, 2008

dir: Kabir Bhatia

[There may be spoilers, so read on if you don’t mind]

I don’t know Kabir Bhatia personally but I have a feeling that he is a Wong Kar Wai fan. From his first movie CINTA to now this brand new movie SEPI, I cannot but feel the Wong Kar Wai in his movies. I may be over sensitive but dialogs like “expiry date of love”, running it off when one is down on love and the BLUEBERRY NIGHT shot between Baizura Kahar and Pierre Andre just jumps out. Anyways, Wong Kar Wai is a master when it comes to the theme of love and loneliness, so if this is taken as a tribute to him, then is is well justified.

SEPI, like CINTA, is made up of several different stories linked up by one event (sounds very WKW huh?). Okay, okay, enough of WKW references. Unlike CINTA that is made up of 5 seperate stories, SEPI is made up of only three. I thought quite highly of CINTA and naturally I have quite a high expectations of SEPI. Both movies are about love but the producer made it very clear upfront that the two movies are not related in any ways.

The stories in SEPI deal with lost and loneliness, but then it is also about love found and second chances in love. To me, it is also about love at first sight which I also believe to be the most impactful and strongest type of love there is, whether it is puppy love or not. By strongest, I do not necessarily mean strongest in terms of bonds or love to eternity type but more on the strongest assault on one’s heart there is. All three stories involve a love triangle, which again, to me, is the most real type of situation many people faces in real life, and is the most complicated of all.

The first story is about finding your true love and sticking to your heart. The second story is about love lost and found and the third story is about knowing what love means.

Afdlin Shauki plays Adam in the first story and his delivery is always on the dot. Unable to find his true love, he remained single until one day, the scent of a flower brings him to meet this woman, Ilyana played by the ever so beautiful Vanida Imran. To complicate things, Ilyana is already engaged before she met Adam and Adam has a very fierce admirer, Suzie – played by Nasha Aziz, whom he eventually promised to marry after knowing that Ilyana is already no longer available since she must honour her promise. This brings us to a very delicate scene where we see Afdlin in his very emotional self and a subtle scene where he looks at a sympathetic little girl with tears welling in his eyes. That is just a superb moment in the movie. With this, Adam is back to square one, a lonely person all over again. All sepi again.

Eja plays Marya in the second story, the story which I think is the strongest of all three and has the best conclusion to it. Sufi, played by Tony Eusoff, just lost his beloved wife in an accident and could not let go of his sense of guilt. He runs and runs so that he can run away from reality until one day he met Marya at the park. Love at first sight, sparks everywhere, but unfortunately, Marya is already a married woman. She craves for a child but so far, God has not given the couple any yet. Marya’s husband, Zain played by Riezman Khuzaimi, sells fish and is having financial difficulties. In a moment of losing his sense, Sufi tried to buy Marya from him but later, after knowing that Marya is pregnant, Sufi got to his senses and secretly helped out the family financially. Although Marya’s heart is with Sufi, she has to stick with Zain for the good of their child and after many, many years, we see Marya in her old age, and looked for Sufi in the park where they first met but is met by Sufi’s only child who told her that Sufi has passed away. Before he died, he told him to return something to Marya, and this something is the memento of their first love. A beautiful story.

The third story is set in a college where a young, brash and confident kid, Ean played by Syed Hussein, falls at first sight for Imaan, played by Baizura Kahar. Ean is good looking and is thrilled by the strong character of Imaan who didn’t fall on her feet like other girls do. In fact, she criticized him for lacking in the sense of artistic appreciation and said that he is a horrible stage actor. Challenged, Ean begin to want to know Imaan more and to also want to learn how to act. Through a series of encounters, Ean begin to truly fall in love with Imaan and Imaan begin to have strong feelings for Ean too. However, Imaan already has a boyfriend, Khalif played by Piere Andre, for whom she can do anything for, let alone getting rid of Ean. She proceeded to ignore Ean and in times of loneliness, Ean begin to understand what love is, what loneliness is and acted it out in the stage with this understanding. Imaan went to a celebration party after the show but saw Khalif outside. Afraid that Khalif will misunderstand, she rushes out but is met with an event that will change her life forever and bring her back to reality. There is a twist at the end which I will not divulge here.

Overall, although I would prefer that the director actually leave the stories as they are instead of showing us the candy eye endings, they are pretty good stories themselves. In real life, things are not as sweet as the ending of the stories in this movie and many people have gone through days of extremely loneliness and still not being able to find their love, let alone true love. Things are a lot more complicated and the final outcome of a relationship is most often not the one that is the sweetest. This is one reason why ASHES OF TIME is so great. Like in a lyrics of one Chinese song, “If this is the best conclusion, why are you still always in my mind?”.

Sepi will be in the cinemas on the 26th of June nationwide.

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Flowers Out

FLOWER IN THE POCKET is now in cinemas! Go watch! Go Watch!!

Here are some teasers (which I have seen about one month back for playing on the channel and got me laughing and rolling on the floor). Seng Tat is one hell of a talent.

Teasers: http://www.dahuangpictures.com/blogs/hana.php

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Truly Flower(s) in the Pocket

Seng Tat’s debut film, FLOWER IN THE POCKET just won two awards in Pusan: the New Currents Award and the KNN Audience Award. Heartfelt congratulations and felt so happy for that film to win, but much more so, the success and recognition of Malaysia’s own homegrown films in the international arena.

FLOWER IN THE POCKET is truly a very charming and well made film and it will definitely be worth your time to catch it in GSC’s International Screens. My bet is you will be charmed. By the way, the makingof, trailers and some clips will find its way on Astro Kirana before the cinema premiere.

Again, congratulations to Seng Tat, Chui Mui and team.

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Tan Chui Mui Shorts

Following many of Chui Mui’s successes with LOVE CONQUERS ALL at the festivals, her reputation as an up and coming Malaysia filmaker is hard to deny. Not many people likes LOVE CONQUERS ALL but I do find it an admirable effort.

I know I am a bit slow but I finally managed to watch three of her shorts, SOUTH OF SOUTH, A TREE IN TANJUNG MALIM and COMPANY OF MUSHROOMS.

I must say that I am completely 100% bowled over by COMPANY OF MUSHROOMS! What really could happen when four guys sit down and start drinking and talking nonsense, from porn movies to prostitutes to their wives, girlfriends? Well, apparently a lot can happen and how the conversation became more and more serious, where old histories and messed up personal lives surfaces into the conversation, sometimes even threatening their friendship, is really a joy to watch, especially Yuhang’s character which is especially pathetic but of which we watch with much pity.

I strongly recommend this short even if you didn’t like LOVE CONQUERS ALL. It’s a gem.

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