Namewee is angry no more ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Namewee is angry no more

Nasi Lemak 2.0
My rating:




Let's get one thing straight off the bat: Wee Meng Chee, a.k.a. Namewee, did not disrespect our national anthem. The sheer love he has for "Negaraku" is audible in every note he sings on his Negarakuku video, and if his lyrics are less than circumspect, it would still take a tin ear - or an agenda - to say he "menghina lagu kebangsaan". In any case, I respect the hell out of the guy; though I do think he could stand to be a bit more tactful, he speaks his mind and his heart - even when it is full of rage. An artist has no other obligation than to be honest with himself, and what Namewee has to say echoes a lot of the same things the average Malaysian Chinese thinks and feels. So yes, count me a fan, despite the fact that Chinese rap is nowhere near my favourite musical genre. And since music isn't my favourite artistic medium, I was majorly keen on catching his first directorial effort on film. I really, really wanted it to be good.

And it is. It's just not as good as it could've been.

A power struggle has broken out over ownership of a Chinese restaurant chain, between its disgraced owner Gong Xi Fa and his conniving sister Gong Xi Ni - who, with her Chinese-trained chef toyboy Lan Qiao (Dennis Lau), has wrested control. Gong Xi Fa's daughter Xiao K (Karen Kong) wants to help, and she seeks it in Chef Huang (Namewee), who has problems of his own. A hero to his neighbours, Huang aids them in everything from university placements to nude pictures on Facebook, but his restaurant isn't doing too well due to his refusal to adapt his Chinese cuisine to local tastes. But attempting to help Xiao K forces him to swallow his pride and ask the local nasi lemak stall owner Kak Noor (Adibah Noor) to teach him how to make her very popular nasi lemak. In turn, she sends him on an odyssey across the peninsula, where he will meet a Baba Nyonya couple (Kenny and Chee), an Indian curry master (David Arumugam) and his beauty queen-in-the-making daughter (Nadine Ann Thomas), and a Malay polygamist (Afdlin Shauki) - and learn from them how to make the perfect nasi lemak.

(Apologies for being unable to name a couple of cast members. The producers are doing that annoying thing of puffing up the most famous names at the expense of others who play far more prominent roles. Reshmonu gets mentioned everywhere despite having barely 2 minutes of screentime, yet I can't even find the names of Gong Xi Fa's and Gong Xi Ni's actors on the movie's official website.)

As a film that celebrates the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural diversity and plurality of Malaysia, it succeeds. As a wildly funny and cleverly satirical comedy, it succeeds. But it is as a debut of a first-time filmmaker, and a sticking-it to his many detractors, that Nasi Lemak 2.0 succeeds most handily. This is a pretty damn polished product for a local film, displaying production values that far exceed many Malay movies with a good deal more than its under-RM1 million budget. And it turns out Namewee is a pretty damn solid director, not only with stuff like song-and-dance sequences and CGI, but also with crack comic timing and a whole grab bag of visual gags. And yes, it's also a musical; the songs are a lot of fun, and he wrote them all himself. Rest assured you'll be getting quality entertainment for your cinema ticket here.

Most of its entertainment comes from the satire part. Namewee pokes fun at a lot of things, most of which you'd recognize if you've been reading the papers or are at least aware of what's been going on in our country in the past few years - or, for that matter, if you've been following his own viral videos, which he is self-aware enough to also make fun of. And he can be remarkably subtle with it; he likes to toss a joke in at the very end of a scene, almost as an afterthought. This is a movie that rewards multiple viewings, so as to get all its jokes (of which there are a lot), and I wonder if it was deliberately made so. But I hasten to mention that its satire isn't particularly sharp, seeing as it's only in the form of jokes and not weaved into the story itself. As a fan of Namewee's Angry Malaysian Chinese Everyman persona, I was a little disappointed.

Y'see, my fellow audience members - in a full-house cinema hall, no less - were already digging the movie. They were sold, they were having fun, and towards the ending they were noticeably waiting for a big crowd-pleasing climax that, unfortunately, never came. (And "Curry Neh" is a much more rousing musical number than "Rasa Sayang 2.0", the one on which the movie ends.) It's largely because the storytelling is kinda messy, and doesn't deliver on the necessary emotional resolutions. The romantic subplot between him and Xiao K comes out of nowhere, and the brother-sister relationship between Gong Xi Fa and Gong Xi Ni had some nice depth to it but doesn't resolve satisfyingly. More importantly, Huang's journey from a Chinese chauvinist to a true-blue pluralist Malaysian, conveyed via the metaphor of learning to make nasi lemak, skips a few vital steps and ultimately fails to convince. (Did he actually learn anything from Baba and Nyonya?)

But messy storytelling aside, this points to a much kinder and gentler Namewee than, say, the guy who wrote and performed an angry, obscenity-laden song about the headmistress who called her students racist epithets. (An apt response to that bitch, IMNSHO.) He depicts the Malay, Indian and Baba Nyonya characters in glowing terms, and many of them are a lot more 1Malaysia than his protagonist; Kak Noor is a Tai Chi expert, and one of the polygamist's wives recites classical Chinese poetry. It seemed for a moment that he'd saved his sharpest barbs for the Chinese cultural purists that Huang seems to represent, since most of the time Huang is a pretty unlikable character; not just a racial zealot, but also self-pitying, dense and boorish. But no, Namewee pulls his punches there too. Maybe he didn't want to bite the hand of the Chinese fanbase that feeds him, but I'd've admired his courage if he did.

Still, my admiration for him is undimmed. He's come a long way from controversial and (undeservedly!) hated figure to having his directorial debut on local cinema screens nationwide, and if he had to dial down on the anger and vitriol to get there, I can hardly blame him. He has a ways to go before his message of love and inclusiveness gets out to the whole nation, particularly the Malays whom he had earlier offended - I am particularly saddened by this insanely jealous and self-absorbed screed by a fellow filmmaker - but Nasi Lemak 2.0 is a good start. And as a first effort by a first-time filmmaker, Nasi Lemak 2.0 is a damn good start.

NEXT REVIEW: Raya Tak Jadi
Expectations: bilalaaaa Razak Mohaideen ni nak bersara

9 comments:

Kamarul Adli Bachek said...

I haven't watched his controversial video, but if it's true he makes fun of the muslim call to prayer then I can understand why that director wrote what he wrote. As you say, Namawee represents what the average Chinese Malaysian thinks and feels. Meanwhile Mamat Khalid represent what the average Malay thinks and feels. They both share one common trait. Fear.
http://ideas.org.my/?p=1911

TMBF said...

@Kamarul Adli Bachek: Great article you linked to there, and it definitely made me think. In Namewee's defense, this movie seems to indicate that he's grown mellower and wiser. Meanwhile, I cannot find it in me yet to say anything in Mamat Khalid's defense.

Kamarul Adli Bachek said...

@TMBF: Thanks for replying. Yes, I can see that he definitely has matured, from reading the synopsis of the movie and all.

As for Mamat Khalid, from what I understand, reading his blog, I can feel that he also loves this country, like how you said that Namawee loves this country. That's why he couldn't understand how someone who "makes fun" of the national anthem & his religion would suddenly be idolized.

I think he just does not like somebody or anybody making fun of the national anthem and someone else's religion & culture, and cursing while you're at it. 'Kurang ajar', what the Malays would say.

The only mistake he made I believe was to let his rant to take on a racial line.

Hon said...

I think Namewee is self serving ahbeng, who was courting controversy as an easy way to get his name out there.
Nothing inherently wrong with that really.
But let's recognise that he did what he did for himself firstly. And not because he 'cares' or as you put it 'loves'.
Ok i know this rant has nothing to do with his movie. (Which would not have the opportunity to get made if his name was not there in the 1st place.)
I just dont like that ahbeng rapper and his goatee.

TMBF said...

@Hon: I disagree. Courting controversy did him a lot more bad than good, and he certainly didn't chicken out when the going got tough. And I don't think he could've made the movie he made if he were a self-serving glory hound. Nasi Lemak 2.0 just isn't that kind of movie.

@Kamarul Adli Bachek: It's not too late for you to catch the movie. :)

Kamarul Adli Bachek said...

@TMBF After reading some of the comments on Mamat Khalid's blog, I fear that they will call me 'Melayu pengkhianat' as soon as I walked out of the theater! =P

oh, and I'm not on anybody's side. Just trying to understand both their POVs.

son of the land said...

I always felt that this movie is a way for Namewee to make amends, somehow. But, I can't understand why some people still can't forgive him. If I remember correctly, he did apologize, right?

I liked this movie a lot. It was fun, despite the messy storyline like you mentioned and I find some of the acting a little over the top. The end was rather lukewarm because of the lack of emotional build-up, but it was still fun. The songs were amazing, IMHO =)

AcikTanpaNama said...

Kamarul, I watched this movie with my chinese friends, I know, the hall almost packed with chinese, but its normal because most film I watched ..my malay friends just dont get it why they have to watch. But when I read your comment..about pengkhianat...now...I feel lucky i am safe,lol.

this movie actually not really good as I expected, the rumours..and review from other blog make me thought this film must have something special. But no, its not make me laugh..much. and the scene about the 'bangala' guard annoyed me, he and his baton...

banyak scene berbaur seks...pisang...comel..and its rate as U.

TMBF said...

@AcikTanpaNama: Yes, I forgot to mention its generous amount of dirty jokes. But I don't think it shouldn't be rated U. Those aren't adult jokes, they're 13-year-old-boy jokes, and they're not important towards understanding the story. Compared to, f'rinstance, Hantu Bonceng.

Oh by the way, it seems I spoke too soon. Namewee is still angry - and still less than circumspect.