Malaysian cinema in 2013: First-quarter report

APRIL 6 — March 2013 has ended and I almost didn’t realise that the year’s first quarter is already over. Unlike 2012, which I’d call the year of oversaturation of (bad) Malay films and which resulted in so many box-office failures, the first quarter of this year is looking quite encouraging in terms of box-office takings. 

Out of 18 films that went through the Skim Wajib Tayang from January to March, we already have one hit that almost touched the RM6 million mark (“Husin, Mon & Jin Pakai Toncit” aka “Hantu Kak Limah 2”) and three other hits that grossed more than RM4 million, two of which are Chinese-language films that almost reached RM5 million each (“The Wedding Diary 2” and “Once Upon A Time”) and the recent “Rock Oo.”

In addition to that, two films passed the RM2 million mark, with one of the better local films this year, “Juvana”, almost reaching RM3 million with its box-office taking of RM2.87 million, a rare instance of quality actually reaching out to the masses. 

And there’s actual variety to the 18 films already shown, with no prevailing trends to annoy the average moviegoer yet. True, the gangster film trend from 2011 and 2012 can still be felt in “Gangster Celop” and to a certain extent “Kerat 14”, but that’s only one or two films out of 18, so at least that’s a relief.

Horror is of course an ever present genre anytime and anywhere in the world, so the success of “Minyak Dagu” shouldn’t come as a surprise. In fact there’s an actual pattern in that the first or second horror film released every year usually does pretty good box office, even when it’s not that good a horror movie. 

Rempit movies, horror comedies and dumb comedies are also showing signs of slowing down, and if there’s a trend that seems to be on the up then it is in the form of romantic movies like “Pada Suatu Cinta Dahulu” and “Cerita Kita”, both courtesy of MIG Pictures Sdn Bhd, who’ve been pushing such movies since late last year, probably as a reaction to Malaysia’s current craze with everything Korean, especially K-Pop and their soaps.

Again, that’s only two out of 18 movies, so the lack of prevailing trends so far this year is quite refreshing and probably contributes to the surprising box-office success of quite a few films, especially compared to last year’s very dispiriting first quarter of the year. 

But even though in terms of box-office takings things have looked surprisingly more promising and encouraging, quality-wise things are more or less the same as last year, except that we don’t have anything approaching the quality of “Bunohan”, which opened in March last year.

To be truly honest, only two films have stood out so far this year — the aforementioned “Juvana” and “Rock Oo.” As I’ve written in this column before in January, “Juvana” is a continuation of a popular TV series about juvenile delinquents which probably took everyone by surprise. 

Mixing up the conventions of a prison movie with the “ex-con trying to go straight” story line, it’s a mainstream movie that doesn’t treat its viewers with contempt, and the fact that it collected almost RM3 million at the box office is probably proof that local audiences are not as stupid as a lot of local film producers think.

It’s a long-held belief in the local film industry that local audiences lack the ability to handle films that are not “light” or dumbed down, which explains why dumb comedies have always been the default setting for most local films. 

With “Songlap” and now “Juvana” showing that it’s possible to make films that are a little bit heavier and more adult yet still pull in good at the box office, let’s hope that more producers will be willing to change their mindset in the near future.

Talking of dumb comedies, it’s probably serendipity that in a space of just a few weeks, director Mamat Khalid has managed to demonstrate to everyone how not to do a dumb comedy (“Husin, Mon & Jin Pakai Toncit”) and how exactly it should be done (“Rock Oo”). 

While both films were box-office hits, the dreadful “Husin, Mon” probably became one courtesy of being a sequel to the 2010 smash “Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah” because if you actually do watch the sequel you’d struggle to find even a few laughs in it. 

I’ve nothing against dumb comedies, but to me the rule for comedy is a very simple one — it just has to be funny (no matter how dumb or intelligent the joke is). And “Husin, Mon” was quite simply not funny and painful to sit through.

But “Rock Oo”, now that is something else. If there’s something that Mamat Khalid has proven to be very good at, then it’s making hilariously silly comedies with more than a touch of the surreal and non-sequiturs sprinkled all over the jokes. 

His early TV movies like “Rombongan Cik Kiah Ke Sukan Komanwel” and “Pukul 2 Petang” continue to be remembered fondly by everyone who’s seen them.

That playful mood can also be seen in “Hantu Kak Limah” and especially his crowning glory, “Man Laksa”, which still holds the record for the most hilariously out-there ending in Malaysian movie history, which has a flying Datuk M. Daud Kilau firing laser rays using his hands (Ultraman style) at the bad guys. 

I’d like to see anyone try and top that! And I won’t hesitate to say that “Rock Oo” now belongs to that same magical bunch of silly comedies, which is a fact that almost makes me happier than I should be with this first quarter. Roll on the second quarter!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.



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