A kid's crayon drawing is always earnest, but never very good ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Saturday, November 27, 2010

A kid's crayon drawing is always earnest, but never very good

My rating:

So the big deal about this movie is that it's the first Malaysian film released in the U.S. Sounds impressive, until you get to the caveats: it'll only be shown for 7 days in one tiny little cinema, part of a family-run chain that specialises in short films, documentaries and arthouse fare. So, bravo to ZiOSS Films for self-promotion, but don't try to kid us that this is a particularly impressive accomplishment. You're dealing with TMBF here - intrepid film critic, fearless penetrator of hype and propaganda, and uncoverer extraordinaire of what a movie is really all about.

No, it's not very good. But as the first local film shown in the States, we could do a lot worse.

Adam (Hon Kahoe) and Rafaat (Faisal Abdullah) are students in Singapore who volunteer for a social welfare program that places them with Rumahku, an isolated orphanage located in the east coast of Malaysia and run by Mak Engku (Adibah Noor). Adam is a cynic and Rafaat thinks little of the "ulu" life, but they soon discover a sense of purpose in caring for the orphans - especially Afiq (Joshry Adamme), whose exuberance quickly wins them over - and helping Mak Engku raise funds. But the orphanage sits on prime beachfront land that greedy developers have their eye on, and they've hired two thugs (Joey and Acong) to cause trouble.

It's not-very-goodness is evident from the start. The dialogue is terribly on-the-nose and the acting is embarrassingly stiff, and neither ever get much better throughout its running time. Its humour is of the cartoonish and overly-cute variety, except for a sudden and jarring tonal shift into tragedy later on. And for a film that claims to be "inspired by true events" - which is a pretty damn dissembling statement - its storyline smacks of contrivance and willful disregard of realism. I'm sure plenty of real-life charities find it hard to get funding, but I can't believe a big corporation like the GRDY Bank (cute, izznit?) would be so callous towards an orphanage, not to mention careless with its PR image. And then, Adam and Rafaat's brilliant idea to solve all of Mak Engku's money woes is to put on a show.

But you know what comes across? Its earnestness. It is oh so earnest in its humanist and humanitarian message, which it really really wants people to get - so much so that when Rafaat says "ala, budak ni" to Afiq, the subtitles helpfully inform us that it's a "[Colloquial Term of Endearment]". It does a lot with a relatively tiny RM500,000 budget, which occasionally shows - we never see an exterior shot of the orphanage house, for example. It's not afraid to take potshots at Chinese prejudices against Malays, or Singaporeans' preconceptions of Malaysia. Yet it is so much more genuine and big-hearted than the average Malay movie's "unsur-unsur moral" (which is often just sheer hypocrisy). And it's a much more "1Malaysia" film than Estet, seeing as it has English and Mandarin dialogue on top of BM and a non-Malay lead that doesn't play second fiddle to Farid Kamil.

Speaking of whom - Hon Kahoe is awful. Sorry dude, you really are. You are kayu as hell, and you have the uncanny ability to get nearly every line reading wrong. It's very likely because of poor direction from Dean Burhanuddin, whose screenplay puts you in the most emotionally taxing role and has you do a scene in which you curse the heavens in grief and anger - a scene that can challenge even the greatest of actors. I'm making apologies for you because dude, I like you. You got the looks that can get females of all races swooning, and that could make you one of the few bankable non-Malay lead actors in our local film industry. (Seriously, ladies. Budak Cina ni hensem giler babi.) Yasmin Ahmad gave you your big break in Talentime because she saw something in you, but if you're to live up to that potential, dude, you gotta start taking acting lessons.

Then again, it has Adibah Noor. She single-handedly saves every scene she appears in from Hon and Faisal and anyone else in the cast. She's got to be one of the most likable actors working in the local industry today, and one of very few who can earn a laugh just by being in the scene. (What I wouldn't give to see her together with Afdlin Shauki and Harun Salim Bachik.) She's far more charming than Joshry Adamme, who is nowhere near as adorable as the film wants you to think he is. Faisal Abdullah is alright, mostly because he doesn't have as much to do as Hon. Joey and Acong, rock band members-turned-first-time-actors, would actually be quite fun to watch - that is, if Dean hadn't stuck them with this schtick in which Acong bursts into tears every time Joey scolds him. That was pretty annoying.

But as a film that aspires to represent Malaysia on the world stage - or at least, Laemmle Theatres in West Hollywood, Los Angeles - Crayon is worthy. It does a nice job of portraying the unique little touches of our multi-cultural milieu, albeit in a sanitised, foreign-viewer-friendly manner - but as Yasmin Ahmad has shown, ain't nothing wrong with that. Like the spunky orphan kids who get people paying to watch them sing "Ibu Engkaulah Ratu Hatiku", you just can't help admiring its moxie. (And you can't help but decry how creatively bankrupt our film industry is, when a formulaic feel-good movie like this can be deemed "tidak komersial".) This, in a nutshell, is what it's really all about: not much to like, but quite a bit to admire, at least.

Expectations: oh, how bad can it be?


McGarmott said...

Eh, you can't really knock the Laemmle Theaters like that, it's quite a respectable indie cinema chain you know? I've been there a couple of times when I was in LA ... but yeah lah, trying to claim it as Malaysia's first US release without elaborating further is disingenuous. In that typical Malaysian "every tiny, insignificant advantage must be exaggerated and exploited" way.

And blimey, you're gonna take on the gutwrenching challenge that is '2 Alam'? Good man, have you made enough preparations? Signed your will yet?

TMBF said...

@McGarmott: If you can watch Killer Clown, I can handle 2 Alam. ;)

Adi said...

akhirnya.. review 2 alam akan kuar kat sini..

Ard Donivia said...


-don jaxx-