I've been trying to find out what, if any, connection there is between the makers of this movie and Red Films, the production company behind Gol & Gincu and last year's Pisau Cukur. I'm surprised there isn't; Hooperz is a girl-power comedy-drama that fits right in amongst those two. It's no surprise that Red Films - who also produces the women's-issues TV magazine programme 3R - makes movies with strong female empowerment messages, but the fact that there are other Malaysian filmmakers who do... wow. Considering how ridiculously sexist (and often downright misogynist) Malay movies can get, this is very good news indeed.
Especially since Hooperz, like Pisau Cukur, is leaps and bounds better than the average Malay movie.
The Hooperz are a college netball team with a major teamwork problem; namely, they don't have any. They comprise Atylia (Intan Nor Saina), whose deformed hand just happens to make her a great shooter; Wan Zulaikha (Melissa Maureen), the team captain whose straight-A grades still aren't good enough for her over-achieving family; Sue Lin (Dawn Jeremiah) the perpetual klutz; AJ (Zazleen Zulkafli), who makes up for her lack of good looks with sass; Azwar (Akma Abdullah), who is frequented by hallucinations of a dancing baby; Saidatul (Anita Baharom), the spoiled rich girl, who with her best friend Nino (Juliana Evans) are constantly feuding with the others on the team. Coach Q (Amy Mastura) is at wits end with these girls, so she brings in a new Coach D (Adibah Noor) to whip them into shape. But even as they finally start winning matches, the revelation of certain ugly secrets will test their friendships - particularly those revolving around Nik (Remy Ishak), Atylia's childhood crush, who is involved with more than one member of the Hooperz.
Wan Hasliza and Rosihan Zain, you guys are awesome. Together you wrote the wittiest, cleverest, and downright funniest screenplay for a Malay movie since Setem. This movie is funny in dozens of uniquely Malaysian ways; for instance, Wan Zulaikha's prim and proper family who speak in grammatically-perfect Bahasa Baku. I'm almost certain they're an extended (and much deserved) pisstake on Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and their moronic dictates on the Malay language. The flashbacks of all the Hooperz girls' backstories are hilarious - in particular, the one where Sue Wei's family takes her to three different medicine men, all played by Khir Rahman (who looked like he adlibbed his scenes - and if he did, dude, lu terer lah). Even the bit where Coach D scolds the team "Permainan kamu macam taik!" and Azwar mutters a scandalized "astaghfirullah" got a huge laugh out of the audience, whom I bet were starved of genuinely witty observations of Malay and Malaysian behaviour.
What's impressive also is how well-drawn the characters are. Each member of its ensemble has a distinct personality, and the aforementioned flashbacks do a great job of explaining their family backgrounds and how they turned out the way they are. This makes all of them a terrifically appealing bunch of girls; even Saidatul, who is the ostensible Libby of the story, is fun to watch without becoming a hissable villain. Of course, the trajectory of the story is that the Hooperz will band together in time to become both a formidable team and fast friends, because this is after all a "girls rock!" movie. Now, TMBF is an avowed sympathizer of the feminist cause, so perhaps I'm biased... actually, naah. It really is good. The storyline is quite daring in how it touches on issues such as teen pregnancy and sexual harassment; it's refreshingly aware, compared to how far the vast majority of Malay movies have their heads jammed up their asses, not just over gender issues but about reality as a whole.
Sadly, a few things hold it back from being truly great. One is that the netball scenes are pretty lackluster. Sports scenes are to a sports movie what action scenes are to an action movie - they provide tension, thrills, and plot momentum. A sports movie should make its sport exciting even to audience members unfamiliar with it, but co-directors Rosihan and Sheikh Munasar couldn't manage that - there's no ebb and flow and no tactics during the netball matches, even after an animated interlude of Coach D's lecture on the strategies of Hannibal of Carthage. (In a Malay movie! Sofistikated giler!!) And there's a distinct lack of technical polish to the whole film, particularly in the audio and editing departments. I'm normally quite harsh on local films that are technically deficient, since most of the time it indicates a half-assed attitude on the part of its makers - but Hooperz is clearly made with love and care, and I'm guessing it just fell victim to a rushed production schedule.
But its biggest weakness is that, for all that its clever and witty writing - and don't get me wrong, that's a pretty big achievement - it never develops any real comic momentum. A good comedy needs plenty of jokes to earn chuckles from the audience, but it also needs one or two big comic setpieces to draw the LOLs. The lack of any, plus the fact that the second half is more dramatic - and plus the dull netball scenes - means the movie gets progressively less funny. If the humour level had been kept up, it could've weathered any number of other flaws - occasional bad acting, weak conclusions to a few subplots, slack editing, and an ending that cried for a proper denouement. I could feel the audience's interest level flagging towards the end, and I just wanted to scream "No! Don't feel bored! This is a good movie! Appreciate it! Tell your friends!"
So it's far from perfect, but it's good in so many surprising ways that I really want it to do well at the box-office - and I really hope its cast gets some well-deserved attention too. The great thing about these girl-power films is that (like Pisau Cukur before it) everyone seems to be having a great time playing these characters; their performances are more enthusiastic than polished, but their enthusiasm is infectious. The film also features a number of cameos including Yasmin Yusoff, Mustapha Kamal, Rashidi Ishak and Othman Hafsham (remember him?), and they're all good in their bit parts; even the child actresses who play Young Atylia and Young Saidatul are impressive. Now, ahem, before going in I expected to drool over Juliana Evans, who, yes, is indeed drool-worthy, although her character Nino doesn't get much screentime - but good goddamn, I am now crushing big time over Dawn Jeremiah. Where has she been all my life?? Please make more movies Ms. Jeremiah squeeeee!!
Okay yes, it has plenty of cuci mata value, if my mentioning that will sell more tickets. (Yes, that's it. I'm not perving, I'm helping to promote the movie. Ya rly.) But seriously, go watch it if you have any interest at all in Malaysian films. Everyone involved deserves more chances to make more movies, especially Wan Hasliza, Rosihan Zain and Sheikh Munasar (and Dawn Jeremiah XDDDDD okay I'll stop now). Also, here's a shoutout to art director Ujang, who designed the enjoyably flamboyant netball players' costumes. Hooperz isn't actually a feminist film per se - it's just a film that respects, understands, and has boundless affection for its female characters. Does that have any connection to it also being so much sharper, smarter, wittier and more imaginative than the average Malay movie? I like to think so. I should think there is indeed a strong correlation between respecting women and having a brain.
NEXT REVIEW: Ip Man 2