15Reviews ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, August 31, 2009


No, I haven't overlooked 15Malaysia, nor am I deliberately ignoring it. I've just been trying to figure out how to review it, seeing as there are 15 short films being released three a week, and at the time of posting (Monday, 31 August - Happy Merdeka everyone!) only seven are available. So I'm gonna do it this way - this entry will be updated as and when new segments are released, up till 16 September when the last short comes out. I am interested in this project, I think it's a cool idea, I think Pete Teo - whose brainchild this is - deserves kudos, and I have reasonably high hopes for the final product(s).

Potong Saga (by Ho Yuhang)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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)
My rating:

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:

1. House
2. Meter
3. Potong Saga
4. Rojak!
5. The Son
6. Slovak Sling
7. Healthy Paranoia
8. One Future
9. Gerhana
10. Halal
11. Duit Kecil
12. Chocolate
13. Lollipop
14. Lumpur

(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.


Unknown said...

a good short movie...from our talented director...visit and smile

McGarmott said...

Eh, I liked Halal. Funny what ... In fact I was quite annoyed to read that people actually got slightly offended over the 'Cina sepet, India muka hitam' joke. Thought that was hilarious.

I also liked Chui Mui's short. Agree that pacing was a bit off here and there, but somehow the technique of telling the story entirely via stills and narration worked.

The funny thing is, I've never liked any of the past work of these guys. This is literally the first time I've defended the work of Seng Tat, Mui, and also Yuhang and Ming Jin.

On another note, I was involved in one of the shorts. Don't want to tell you which one until you've reviewed all of them. For obvious reasons.

McGarmott said...

... Oh wait ... unless you've visited my blog, where I did reveal which one it is. So please don't if you haven't. Whoops.

TMBF said...

I already know which which one you helped out on. :)

Are you gonna review them? I'd like to read it.

McGarmott said...

Bugger it ...

Btw, what gave you the impression that Slovak Sling was shot on 35?

Nah, doubt I will review them. Though I was thinking I'd rank them according to my preference once all are out.

chicnchomel said...

Is Chua Soi Lek submitting his work?

Anyway, I am waiting for the one with Liow Tiong Lai and KJ.

TMBF said...

Isn't it 35? Coulda fooled me.

McGarmott said...

Aiyah, James Lee's characters all like that one mah ...

By golly, I don't think I can go to sleep tonight. (!!!)

McGarmott said...

Aiyah, only three stars ... I feel a little disappointed.

What do you mean you didn't get the ending?! We were slightly worried that the general public might terpesong with their interpretation (as they so often do, sigh) so we tried to make it less ambiguous; but we didn't want to be too obvious either. Think Occam's Razor, go for the simplest explanation - start with the fact that obviously our intentions were pure.

TMBF said...

Oh c'mon, 3 stars means I liked it. :)

I really don't get the ending. So it wasn't a jab at Hishamuddin and his keris-waving? And I don't know if it's intended or it's just me, but KJ's "apa susah, ada lagi" sounded kinda sinister.

McGarmott said...

Yeah, but it's still lower than 'House'! (Which I thought was promising but didn't like as much as you did.)

Khairy's 'apa susah, ada lagi ...' was damn cute what ... that's why I left it in. Besides, it also happens to echo the final message of the short. Basically, it's about de-poisoning the symbol which the keris has become. So that it is no longer something political, not something that belongs to just one race, but, indeed, something to be shared. The '400 Blows' style freeze-frame on the word Malaysia is meant to leave a certain impression on the viewer. (NOT "1Malaysia".) And of course, the choice of actors for that final scene was not accidental.

TMBF said...

Ahh, I suspected it was something like that.

Okay, here's why it didn't work for me: firstly, your choice of actor to play avatar of that message. KJ is not Hishamuddin, but he's still associated with the people who poisoned the symbol in the first place.

Secondly, the acting itself. Namewee seemed downright perplexed as to why the driver was giving away so many kerises. There's a tension in that scene, and that's why I ascribed sinister motives to the driver's last line. Did you consider making their interaction a lot more jovial and friendly? Might've made a nice coda to the whole film, since the driver had been pretty antagonistic to all his previous passengers.

McGarmott said...

'Downright perplexed' is probably reading it too far, in my opinion. Namewee's just surprised that the taxi driver handed him so many kerises at one go - after all, it's not something that happens every day. Or are you seeing something that I didn't see that seems to add more tension to the shot? And Khairy is already very much jovial and friendly with Namewee, in contrast with other passengers, right?

As for KJ, well, you're assuming viewers will continue to see him in the same light. Which - as it turns out, and it's something almost accidental I might add - isn't true; according to the comments, many people seemed to have changed their minds about KJ after watching the short. (Not necessarily that they will vote for him in the next GE. Just a changing of perception about the guy.)

Even if you don't buy that, then it's simply the fact that, originally, we thought casting KJ as a common taxi driver is so totally against type (opposite ends of the spectrum) that, provided KJ pulls it off - and pulls it off he does - the jokes will work.

Anonymous said...

hoo haah.. so we learn that politicians can be good actors too...
hmmm.. if anwar ibrahim was in, for sure he win best actor award.. lol :p

Edmund Yeo said...

No, Slovak Sling was shot on HD, but cinematographer Chun has a really cool 35mm converter for his camera, hence the aesthetics of the film. (I was the producer of a feature film Ming Jin directed earlier this year, where we had mostly the same team members from Slovak Sling, especially Chun)

Tan Chui Mui's short was a homage of sorts to Chris Marker's landmark 1962 scifi short film, La Jetee (which would later be remade as 12 Monkeys).

If you're interested in watching La Jetee, you check it out here http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8796749344506734237# (English version)

Or here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClvTYd4XnEc (original French with Eng subs)