Chow Kit’s got soul
|Aidil Rusli loves rock 'n' roll, still believes in the words "indie" and "underground", and after all these years still sings in his band Couple myspace.com/couple. You can get in touch with Aidil by emailing: [email protected]|
MAY 12 — As a film enthusiast, there’s nothing I’d love more than to be able to recommend a Malaysian film to friends and strangers. Unfortunately trying to find something even a wee bit worthwhile to recommend is a task akin to trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. With the awful Malaysian movies being released so far this year, a report of which you can read in my column dating a few weeks back, this task is being made a lot harder this year.
And when you’re suffering from what can only be called extreme thirst, even a few drops of drinkable water is paradise. So forgive me if I start sounding over excited after this. First things first, I’ll need to make full disclosure and tell you that my band Couple has three songs featured in the movie I’m about to recommend to you. Rest assured though, that fact probably accounts for less than 10 per cent of why I want people to go and see this movie.
What is this movie that I’m talking about? It’s called “Chow Kit.” I’m quite sure you’ve read some tweets of blogs about it, but still, in the bigger scheme of things it really does seem strangely under-promoted compared to most Malaysian movies. It has some movie stars in it, but not really of the super crowd-pulling, Malaysian A-list type. It is rated 18, and refreshingly so because of its attitude and almost casual candour about everything from sex to violence.
It also means that the 18 rating works as both a marketing hook yet at the same time works to the film’s commercial disadvantage as kids under 18 will not be allowed to see it, thereby reducing the number of its potential audience by a huge margin as it’s mostly teenagers who’ll be spending money to go see films in the cinema these days.
But most importantly, it has a soul that we rarely encounter in Malaysian movies. When I was first approached about using my band’s songs in the movie, one of my biggest fears was that my songs will be used in a crappy movie. I’ve been lucky enough so far not to have that happen to my songs yet, as all four movies that have used my songs so far have turned out to be pretty admirable ones — the relatively mainstream and critically acclaimed “Kami The Movie” and “Songlap”, the indie “Malaysian Gods” and the American cult classic in the making “SUPER.”
When I entered the cinema last week to watch “Chow Kit”, knowing how awful the Malaysian movies have been so far this year and the usually ominous sign of the movie not having a premiere or press screening (just check out the painful “Uncle Usin” as an example), I can only pray and hope to God that this movie will turn out all right.
I’ll be the first to say that tech-wise the movie’s pretty shoddy in a lot of places, with shots going out of focus, inconsistent footage quality that sometimes go beyond raw and are just plain super-grainy and noisy, less than desirable audio quality in certain places and acting that’s a wee bit too understated that some people might be more than tempted to call stiff.
Yet despite all these technical drawbacks, the movie still works its magic emotionally, especially during the first part of the movie, which shows the lives of a few Chow Kit kids, children of prostitutes and drug addicts, in an episodic manner.
I’d even go so far as to say that this first part of the movie is more or less a neo-realist film in the vein of Italian neo-realist classics of the 1950s. Sure, there’s still some melodrama left in it, but then so were neo-realist landmarks like the similarly technically imperfect “Shoeshine” and “Rome, Open City”, but what makes them get lumped in as neo-realist is their blunt storytelling, and their commitment to using real locations and non-actors, something that this movie most definitely shares.
In fact, as I was watching it, memories of another Malaysian neo-realist movie about downtrodden street kids haunted me — the 1982 movie called “Kami”, starring the late Sudirman and directed by Patrick Yeoh. And I think that’s not such bad company to be with.
The second part of the movie will seem a bit jarring compared to the first part, as it’s more or less your archetypal gangster tale of a reformed gangster being sucked back in to do one last job that we’ve seen many, many times before. Due to the hugely affecting nature of the first part of the movie (this movie’s directed by two directors, hence the two different and only slightly connected parts), this second part will simply pale in comparison for most people.
But don’t let this discourage you. As imperfect as this movie might be, it still cries out to be seen, especially if you’re sick and tired of the typical Malay movie that only wants to make morons out of us. And I’m also proud to say that I’m not at all ashamed to have my songs featured in it. Five out of five movies now, not bad eh?
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.