The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Malaysian cinema in 2012

JAN 5 — I’m a positive guy. So when it was announced last year that more than 70 Malaysian films will be shown in local cinemas through the Skim Wajib Tayang, I took the glass half-full position that the increase is quantity might bring about an increase in quality in local films. How wrong I was.

2012 was quite simply an awful year for Malaysian film. I missed only nine out of the 40-plus Malaysian films screened in 2011 but my diligence in trying to watch as many local films as possible has been sorely tested by the appalling quality of most of the films on offer in 2012. I must have missed at least 20 of the local films screened last year.

If before this I only gave up on films made by Assoc Prof Abd Razak Mohaideen, then this year has seen me add a few other names to that list — Ahmad Idham, MIG Films (I now pick and choose only the ones that might not be so bad just to preserve my sanity), Outloud Studios (clearly a pretender to the MIG Films throne) and Afdlin Shauki (on “sudden death probation” thanks to his double whammy of awful films for Ismail Holdings, Berani Punya Budak and Pontianak vs Orang Minyak).

But let’s talk about the Good first. Despite all the doom and gloom, the brightest ray of light for the local film industry this year was without a doubt Bunohan. Having secured home video distribution with Universal Pictures in several territories in Europe and Australasia, the film secured an even bigger coup by being picked up for US distribution by Oscilloscope Films, the company founded by the late Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, and distributor of last year’s Oscar contender We Need To Talk About Kevin and other high-profile indie/arthouse titles like The Messenger, Meek’s Cutoff, Exit Through The Gift Shop and more.

Other admirable local films his year include the indie Relationship Status, a Sundance-type movie ripe for a US remake. Then there’s the gritty grime of Chow Kit, the surprisingly sweet and honest 3 Temujanji from MIG Films, KRU Studio’s best film yet in 29 Februari, which is sort of a mash-up between Forrest Gump and The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, but told as a sad and operatic musical, and two romantic dramas that came out at the tail end of the year — the rom-com Istanbul Aku Datang from Red Films and Lagenda Budak Setan 2: Katerina, a melodrama that works much better than the first instalment.

The Bad comes in the form of the countless gangster movies, usually in the form straight up action movies or action comedies, all produced in the wake of the success of KL Gangster (when will we ever learn that repeating a successful formula is NOT a guarantee for success?) with titles that range from Bini-Biniku Gangster to Jiwa Taiko (more Jiwang Taiko if you ask me) to Hantu Gangster. Talking with people in the film industry, I was informed that we should brace ourselves for even more of these gangster movies in 2013, all already produced and waiting for screening slots under the Skim Wajib Tayang.

The remnants of the horror comedy trend, all produced in the wake of the success of Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah (and to some extent Ngangkung and Jangan Pandang Belakang Congkak), were still there, thanks to films like Hantu Dalam Botol Kicap, Satu Malam Kubur Berasap, Jangan Pandang-Pandang and Pontianak vs Orang Minyak (I felt like walking out of the cinema when I saw these, no mean feat considering I’ve never done that before in my life).

And there seems to be no end to “comedies” being made starring Angah and Along from Raja Lawak, none of which I’ve found even remotely funny so far. Still, I should just thank my lucky stars that “comedies” or “romantic comedies” starring the similarly unfunny Zalif Sidek have showed signs of slowing down or drying up.

Now comes the Ugly, an honour that last year belonged to films like Datin Ghairah and especially Abuya, a film so bad that it becomes great fun just to talk and think about it. Regretfully, it will only live in the minds of the few who managed to catch it during its run in local cinemas as a DVD release is still nowhere to be seen. If there’s a DVD distributor reading this, please do us all a favour and pick Abuya up for a home video release for this could be Malaysia’s very own so-bad-it’s-good cult favourite a la The Room.

This year that honour belongs to Leftwings, a film so amateurishly bad in almost every aspect that it becomes sort of fun thinking and talking about it afterwards. But a bigger stinker comes in the form of Adik Manja Returns, a movie that can only be described with one word — embarrassing. I can’t seem to think of any precedent, but just imagine that one hot male lecturer or teacher in college that all the girls seem to be in love with suddenly back from retirement to teach at the same college (hockey hair intact!) and still thinking that the young girls still fancy him. See it for yourself and cringe.

Never one to end things on a negative note, I’d like to point out two outstanding short films that I saw this year. One is called Eskep, a minimalist and mostly dialogue-free short film by Fasyali Fadzly that kind of reminds me of the pleasures that can be found in “slow cinema”.

But the undoubted highlight is a short film called Kasturi by Ridhwan Saidi, a prolific novelist in the Malay indie book publishing scene with titles like Amerika, Mautopia and Stereo Genmai (and whose short story I adapted for my debut short film), which displays astonishing confidence in his willingness to do a phantasmagoric film (a bit like The Red Shoes by Powell & Pressburger or the films of Emir Kusturica) and quite some talent to be able to pull it off very well indeed. Undoubtedly a name to look out for. Just remember, you heard it here first!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.



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