The lady ain't a tramp - she's just a shitty actress ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The lady ain't a tramp - she's just a shitty actress

My rating:

I heard this story from a friend once (and it's completely apocryphal and probably untrue, but I like telling it anyway): A local ad agency was trying to market a cologne targeted at rural Malay men. They conducted a focus group and showed them a foreign TV commercial - hunky hero guy puts on cologne, goes to work, walks into an elevator full of women, and when the elevator doors open again, his clothes are disheveled and there's lipstick all over him and the women all look coyly innocent. Typically cheesy cologne ad, but the focus group's response? They didn't get it. They don't know how he got that way. They don't understand what happened in the elevator; because a sexually aggressive female is a completely alien concept in Malay culture. They can't even imagine a woman like that.

So here's a Malay film that attempts to portray a woman like that. And it is as fail as you'd expect.

Maria (Yasmin Khanif) has no qualms about using her sex appeal to get ahead; she sleeps with her boss Tan Sri Jamaudi (Ridzuan Hashim), her co-worker Zul (Roslan Saleh), her client Dato' Nahu (Kuswadinata) and countless other men, but remains friends with Ben (Hairie Othman) who's in love with her. When Ikram (Helmi Husaini), an old boyfriend, returns to rekindle their romance, she seems to have found love and happiness - but it isn't long before he finds out about her lifestyle. Meanwhile, Tan Sri Jamaudi's wife (Maria Farida) has hired private investigator Ali Topan (Yang Kassim) to spy on Maria - and he begins to show signs of a dangerous obsession with her.

I normally only talk about the acting towards the end of my reviews, but I gotta mention it upfront here - Yasmin Khanif is awful. Her performance here is the single worst I have seen all year. Her idea of being sexy is to pout and leer and writhe like a drag queen in a burlesque show. She delivers every single line of dialogue in the same childish, nasal whine. When she tries to act serious, to call her wooden would be a compliment. If she were wooden it would be an improvement. I was fully expecting this movie to be sexist and misogynist, but honestly, I hated her myself. She single-handedly made this movie as shitty as it is.

But it's not like this movie isn't sexist and misogynist. It starts with, of all things, a text crawl - one which moved so fast that I could barely read it, but I caught references to the Roman Empire and other ancient civilisations, a Quranic verse, and it ends with JALANG!!! (Red font and exclamation marks reproduced as per.) Here's why I decry the shameful lack of online info on local films; I dearly want to reproduce the text here, because words (and my poor memory) cannot describe the amount of premium-grade WTFery it produces. So, a somewhat less than auspicious start to the film, then.

The plot is a no-surprises-here melodrama about a "fallen woman" who seeks redemption that can only come in the form of a man to "purify" her. (Maybe he can do something about her acting.) Thing is, it's not enough that she's a promiscuous opportunist sleeping her way to the top - she literally comes on to anything with a penis. There's one bit where Dato' Nahu persuades her to "entertain" four strange men, with the implication that they want to gangbang her. Oooh-kay. So as expected, Ikram goes apeshit when he finds out what a slut she is - in a hilarious scene where he is confronted with (another) four "uncle-uncle" who've all done the nasty with her, two of whom are even Chinese and Indian. Yay 1Malaysia!

There are two weird subplots that go nowhere. Maria has a college-age sister Mira (Amy Lateef) who's a druggie, leading to a cameo by Faizal Hussein playing the dealer and a (lame-ass) fight scene between him and Ben. The drugs are only ever referred to as "barang", so for all I know Mira could be buying black-market soya sauce. And after a tearful apology, Mira is never seen again - which is unfortunate, because Amy Lateef is very cute and much nicer to look at than Yasmin. (Also acts better, but then again, so does soya sauce.) Then there's Zul, whom Maria rejects after falling for Ikram, so out of spite he plots with Tan Sri Jamaudi's wife to expose Maria's affair with Tan Sri. And then he and the Puan Sri have sex - for no goddamn reason other than their mutual eeeevilness must've been such a turnon. And then they both disappear from the movie.

Something I've noticed in some Malay TV soaps I happened to catch, and it's here as well; most Malay scriptwriters must have never worked in an actual office before in their lives. Maria is an "international consultant", and it's never explained whaddahell that means. The characters throw around words like "proposal" and "projek" and "laporan" and strut around like they're high-flying business types, but it's all just tunjuk glamer. We never find out exactly what line of work Maria is in; the scriptwriters don't seem to have a clue, and director Nazir Jamaluddin doesn't seem to care. The film is set and filmed in Langkawi, so maybe they were too busy enjoying their free holiday.

Yasmin may be the worst actor in this, but regrettably she's not the only bad one. Yang Kassim is utterly ridiculous as the emotionally disturbed Ali Topan; he's clearly an adherent of the hold-head-in-hands-and-look-constipated school of acting. Maria Farida vamps it up shamelessly, and would've likely been just as annoying as Yasmin if she had as much screen time. Roslan Saleh is rather effective as the pathetically sleazy Zul - if the point of his performance was to make you want to punch him, it succeeds. Helmi Husaini isn't convincing for a second as Maria's knight in shining armour. And Hairie Othman does his best as Ben the "spare tyre", but his performance is often directionless.

But you know what? I liked Ben. Dude may be a chump for being the only man on the island she hasn't screwed, but unlike Ikram, he genuinely loves her and accepts her for who she is, even though he knows all about her affairs. I wasn't expecting there to be an actual decent person in this movie, and it almost made me reconsider condemning it as misogynist trash. But nope. Y'see, Maria ends up getting brutally assaulted and raped by Ali Topan - I wouldn't have mentioned this for fear of spoilers, if this scene wasn't already in the trailer - and he gets away scot-free. Because according to this film - a product of Malay culture - there's no greater crime than being a sexually aggressive female.

NEXT REVIEW: Love Happens
Expectations: not very high