Budi the leap year <s>idiot</s> baby ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Budi the leap year idiot baby

29 Februari
My rating:

It isn't too often that I review a Malay film in English. This is because - and here's a glimpse behind the scenes here at TMBF - I get my highest number of hits whenever I do a local film review in BM. (Which really behooves me to do them more often, but with shit like Salam Cinta and Halim Munan in cinemas, I just can't be arsed.) But when I do write an English review of a Malay movie, it's for a variety of reasons; one of which is because I need the language I am most fluent in to express my extremely strong opinions of that movie. Or maybe I'm just feeling a little too lazy to take the extra effort to write in BM.

And in this case, it's because I have no idea how to say "twee" and "precious" in BM.

Budi (Remy Ishak) was born on the 29th of February in 1896, which gives him the magical ability to age only one year for every four years. In 1941, he is orphaned when the Japanese invade Malaya, and becomes a resident of an orphanage where he becomes best friends with Razak (Izzue Islam), who is blind. In 1957, just after the Merdeka declaration, he meets and falls for a Chinese girl named Lily (Jojo Goh) - but her father's (Chew Kin Wah) objections to their interracial relationship forces them apart. Though he spends the next decades searching for her, Budi will not see her again - until 2012, when he is living in Penang and runs a florist shop with two employees, Johan (Fizz Fairuz) and Arif (Muniff Isa).

It's right there on the poster - the first 3D Malaysian-made movie. Which... why? There's nothing about this film that seems to need 3D. It's not an action movie, nor does it have spectacular visuals or special effects. It doesn't even have shots of things flying at the screen, which is far from the best use of 3D but would at least justify having it. I saw it in good ol' 2D and didn't think it ever needed any 3D at all. (Which, to be fair, is how I feel about almost every 3D film anyway.) And I think this is symptomatic of what's wrong with 29 Februari - namely, it doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be.

It's clearly reminiscent of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Forrest Gump (there's even a scene where Remy Ishak is digitally inserted into footage of Tun Dr. Mahathir from 1985), although the premise is different enough to stand on its own. The thing is, both those films were made for adults. Both were rated PG-13, both dealt with adult subject matter, and both had an adult sensibility. 29 Februari is not and does not, on all counts. The characters, the dialogue, the humour, are all juvenile and shallow and one-dimensional. Characters like Razak and Lily's sister (whose actress' name I can't find) are positively annoying; the former does nothing but whine and complain about his blindness, the latter is downright evil in how she keeps sabotaging her sister's and Budi's relationship. Even that central romance does nothing to make us root for them. This is a couple whose conversations involve such deeply insightful topics as, "Kalau Budi jadi kelip-kelip, ke mana Budi nak terbang?"

And for a film that traverses 116 years, there's nothing epic about it; it hardly ever truly examines this grand sweep of Malaysian history. We see Budi's parents killed when the Japanese invade, but we don't know how he actually lived during the occupation; we see him at Stadium Merdeka during Tunku Abdul Rahman's declaration, but after that he never seems to care that he is now a citizen of an independent nation. There's also a scene that takes place during the May 13 riots in 1969, but again, it's more interested in talking about his lost love Lily than in what's happening to the country at the time. But what really sinks this story is the fact that Budi can live over a hundred years, yet still be so dumb.

Seriously, does he mentally age 4 times as slow as other people too? In 1941, physically he is 11 and he looks as such. But he's also been alive for 45 years, and he sure doesn't act like a 45-year-old. And in 1957 when he meets Lily, he is 61 years old but he should look 15 (which makes it a boo-boo that Remy plays him at this point), and yet he behaves just like a lovesick teenage boy. Worst of all is when he encounters Lily again in 2012, yet appears shocked that she is now an old woman. Dude! You did not know that you age slower than everyone else?? It took you 116 years to find that out?? This is a guy who should have accumulated over a century's worth of experience, maturity and wisdom - qualities that, incidentally, this very movie lacks utterly.

Oh, and it's also a musical. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but is 6 song sequences - and only 4 songs, since one is repeated twice - a little, well, little for a musical film? I'm not too fond of musicals, and this movie is just the reason why: because musicals always have this artificiality about it, hence why people tend to break out into song and dance. 29 Februari has that artificial, contrived feel in spades; it tries so hard to be sweet and romantic and epic but just turns out far too twee and precious. Like it thinks a pretty tune set to some grand orchestral arrangement is all it takes to evoke soaring emotion. Oh, did I say song and dance? No - there are song sequences but no song-and-dance sequences. There is no dancing in this musical film. See what I mean about not knowing what kind of movie it wants to be?

I'll give it credit for being ambitious. I'll give KRU Studios credit just for attempting a magical-realist-fantasy-historical-drama-musical-romance. I'll give Remy props for an effective, impressively nuanced performance, and Jojo Goh for a charming presence; I'll even admit they both had some nice chemistry despite their dumb-as-rocks dialogue. (Although I'm sick of seeing Chew Kin Wah as the Designated Chinese Villain in Malay Movies.) But I don't think Edry Abdul Halim, who directed Magika, is a good director yet - nor Amir Hafizi, who wrote Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, a good writer. Aside from Remy and Goh, everything good about this movie is in what it tried to be. Maybe Edry's and Amir's problem isn't that they don't know what kind of movie they're trying to make. Maybe their problem is that they're just not good enough to make it.

NEXT REVIEW: Kepong Gangster
Expectations: ohhh boy - no idea how this one's gonna turn out


hazirah said...

Thanks for being honest about it. As always.

son of the land said...

Finally, an in-depth review. Thank you.
So glad I didn't go catch this one in the cinemas. Like you, I find the premise interesting, but felt that the makers doesn't have the right capabilities to make it good.

Mr Lonely said...

walking here with a smile. take care.. have a nice day ~ =)

http://www.lonelyreload.com (A Growing Teenager Diary) ..

fadz said...

huhu, love the title!