Potong Saga (by Ho Yuhang)
Hee hee. Pretty darn funny. And hey, it's great to see Namewee again. (Dude, Negarakuku rocked, don't let the bastards grind you down!) Guy's a pretty solid comic actor too, but it's Ho Yuhang's comedy chops that really shine. Not sure if it has any real point to make though, other than being a glimpse into some typical Chinese misconceptions about Islam that are no less silly for being typical. But as I mentioned in my Setem review, you don't need to make a point - you just need to tell an effective story that's honest about our unique cultural milieu.
Chocolate (by Yasmin Ahmad)
I didn't get the point of this at first, but then someone explained it to me - a potential connection across the races is nipped in the bud by the prejudices of the older generation. Ooh, profound. The dialogue is annoyingly on-the-nose, which makes the film simultaneously heavy-handed and obtuse. And the clumsy directing undercuts the humour. Nope, didn't like it.
The Tree (by Amir Muhammad)
Sorry folks, sorry Amir, I don't review documentaries. I don't know how. My idea of a film is a story skilfully told, not someone making a point. Although it does seem to me, from the last line, that the point is to make a subtle jab at BN and UMNO. I didn't always used to like Nik Aziz, but I've since come to think that he gets unfairly demonised in the mainstream press. The guy is very much his own man, and you gotta respect him for that at the very least.
House (by Linus Chung)
Wow. Pretty hard-hitting, even though the bullies tearing up Rama's little house is probably a bit much. And the fact that they're a Malay and Chinese kid bullying an Indian is really too much. But it's all effectively poignant and thought-provoking. Although the epilogue goes on a bit long, and I'm not sure what it's for other than Chung not wanting to make it a completely bleak ending. Still, this is powerful stuff.
Update: I get the epilogue now. After the heightened emotions of the scene just prior, it's a nicely understated way of bringing them back down. And I take back what I said about the bullies - the juxtaposed destruction of the model house and the real house is the whole point. My rating still stands - it looks like this is turning out to be my favourite of the fifteen.
Halal (by Liew Seng Tat)
Hee. That's right, only one 'hee' for this, and even that's being generous. It started out funny, then devolved into a lot of silliness-for-silliness'-sake, not to mention jokes that go on too long. (In a four-and-a-half-minute film, at that.) All this for a puff piece on halal slaughtering methods? And really, a guy in blackface to represent Indians? Aiyoo, Mr. Liew, what laa??
The Son (by Desmond Ng)
Oh dear. My first impression of this is that it's not a story, it's a mere snippet of one - I was awaiting a payoff that never came. Then I realised the payoff was spoiled, in the synopsis on the 15Malaysia site. So I'd advise you not to go there till you've watched it. There's a nice sense of suspense here, and the dialogue's also pretty good - but Leong Kuan Meng's (the son) delivery is off, and Zaid Ibrahim's cameo is just whacking us over the head with the message.
Lumpur (by Kamal Sabran)
Pretentious. The whole thing can be summed up in those supers at the end. Okay, you've got a decent metaphor here, punning on "tanah air" - but really, the only thing you can think of to bring it to life is a bunch of vox pops? If they were scripted, I'll accept that I just didn't get it - although I'll still think it's pretentious - but they all sound as if they were just asked something inane like "what does 'tanah' and 'air' mean to you?" And what's with the long-haired guy who talks funny?
One Future (by Tan Chui Mui)
Science fiction? That's what the 15Malaysia site describes it as. Well, I knows me some science fiction, and sorry to say this ain't a great example of it. The pacing is off, the ending is predictable, and the still shots don't always do a good job of dramatizing the action. But points for a reasonably daring and unique vision - ultimately, this film comes across as not quite living up to it. If Tan Chui Mui is interested in seeing how this kind of thing is done right, may I recommend The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, a short story by Ursula K. LeGuin - which this film most reminds me of.
Slovak Sling (by Woo Ming Jin)
Not as clever as it thinks it is, although good for a chuckle or two. The presence of Patrick Teoh and Harith Iskandar guarantee good acting, but it's Wong Chee Wai who's particularly impressive. Nicely shot and edited - nothing beats 35mm film - and that seedy alley is a great location. It seems like it's trying to make a point though - something about how politicians who jump ship for money are no better than DVD pirates who bribe cops? Tell us something we don't know.
Gerhana (by James Lee)
Sigh. Another two-and-a-half-starrer. Interesting premise, but ultimately unconvincing and too heavy-handed. There's some clever dialogue with the inane "sebatang/sepohon/sepucuk" debate and the guy's bullshit reason for how Swine Flu became A(H1N1), but "bila agaknya kita boleh hidup aman, damai, dan sejahtera" is just facepalm-worthy. Daphne Iking is always nice to look at (especially in that dress), but what's with her performance? She seems stoned or something. And once again, the synopsis tells us something the film should've done on its own - they could've been husband and wife laa. If this is an illicit tryst, why aren't they trysting? Why does she just go to sleep fully clothed while he leaves the room?
Meter (by Benji & Bahir)
Hee hee. Finally another good one. Khairy Jamaluddin plays an alternate-history version of himself who became a cab driver instead of a politician, and acquits himself pretty damn well too (he deserves kudos just for delivering the "eat wind wash eye" line without cracking up). And the bit about language is just flat-out hilarious. The part with the cab-hopping passenger is a bit of a lazy joke - and there's no way in hell you can expect us to believe there's a female cab driver who looks like Amber Chia. Also, I don't get the last segment about the keris, unless it's a jab at a certain other political figure. But it's a clever concept executed well, and Baki Zainal's performance alone makes up for everything.
Duit Kecil (by Johan John)
Pointless. Contrived. Not funny. And anyone who's been to Singapore before knows the food there is not better and not cheaper. Also, I totally don't buy this depiction of prostitutes as sassy sistahs doin' it for themselves, without a pimp or handler in sight - strikes me as overly romanticised and unrealistic. The only good things I can say about it are the acting and the cinematography.
Healthy Paranoia (by Khairil M. Bahar)
Hey, Baki Zainal's back - unfortunately, he doesn't fare as well here. In fact, he's a little over-the-top. Dato' Sri Liow is more impressive, even though all he does is play himself (which, by the way, isn't easy to do in front of the camera). It's funny, but not really funny enough, and the fact that the PR guy keeps repeating "the rakyat needs to know" towards the end is a clear sign that it's run out of ideas. And the whole thing is kinda pointless. I wonder if Khairil is actually a smoker with an axe to grind.
Lollipop (by Nam Ron)
WTF? What does pedophilia have to do with the Perak constitutional crisis? I have my own strong opinions about the whole fiasco, but it's pretty goddamn inflammatory to compare it to goddamn child molestation. Bront Palare is effectively creepy, and the direction is genuinely chilling, although that last shot of the Twin Towers is somewhat heavy-handed. It's certainly the most daring of all the 15Malaysia films. But employing such powerful subject matter in service of nothing more than a political statement is just goddamn tasteless.
Rojak! (by Suleiman Brothers)
That was fun. The rotoscoped animation gives the film an appropriately hyper-real feel, considering how many visual gags are packed into these 4-and-a-half minutes (I wouldn't have caught the flying cat at 3:36 if someone didn't mention it in the comments). I didn't catch all the jokes - and frankly, some of them aren't all that clever - but the overall effect is a witty and enjoyably good-natured exhortation for us all to just get along. The Americans can have their "melting pot"; we've got our own national culinary metaphor in rojak, with which I am totally down.
Well, looks like 15Malaysia started and ended strong. Here's how I rank them in order of preference:
3. Potong Saga
5. The Son
6. Slovak Sling
7. Healthy Paranoia
8. One Future
11. Duit Kecil
(not rated: The Tree)
House is my clear favourite, but the rest weren't easy to place. Meter gets second place for its cleverness, although I thought Potong Saga was more consistently funny. I think The Son could really have been a three-starrer if its ending wasn't spoiled. One Future could've almost earned a spot or two higher. I'm feeling a little forgiving of Halal now, so I placed it the highest among the two-starrers. The bottom two are almost interchangeable; Lollipop just about gets the higher spot for its effective directing.
I wish there were more three-star (i.e. genuinely decent) entries, but I can't say I expected better - or worse, for that matter. All fifteen are a highly eclectic bunch - some took on hard-hitting social issues, others simply provided a slice of Malaysiana, and a few were even overtly political. Most of them aimed for humour, and those that did were marginally more successful than the serious-minded ones. It's probably for the best that they were released gradually; I wouldn't recommend viewing them all in one sitting.
In any case, despite the varying quality, I think 15Malaysia is a definite success. Aside from the fans and publicity they garnered, the fifteen films make up a nice little snapshot of the Malaysian zeitgeist circa 2009, which is where their true worth lies. I certainly enjoyed reviewing them all, and Pete Teo can be rightly proud of himself for it. Forget about another "Here In My Home", Pete - do this again next year, and every year.
Update: All ratings revised to reflect my new five-star rating scale.