Tak seram tapi okey ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tak seram tapi okey

My rating:

So I've been musing about the subjectivity of film criticism, since my Top 10 of 2010 post a few days ago. And I've been thinking about local films... oh hell, let's call them Malay films, since non-Malay local films tend to be of a different standard entirely. I've talked about grading them on a curve - judging them on a different, and admittedly lower, benchmark than other films - and whether or not that's fair. Now I think it's pretty much impossible for me, or any other film critic to be 100% fair one way or the other. When a Malay movie is so bad it's a sufferance to sit through, I'm gonna give it a thorough thrashing. But when I finally watch one that's halfway decent, it's gonna seem like a godsend, and I'm going to be much more kind to it.

Such as this one. It's only halfway decent, but damn if it didn't seem like it was actually good there for a second.

Sutera (Eja) and Harun (Hairie Othman) are a husband and wife who live in a small fishing village. Harun has been unable to go to sea because his boat needs repairs, and thus the financial burden of raising their three children is causing friction in their marriage - moreso when their neighbour Munah (Sherry Merlis) starts accusing their eldest son of stealing from her. But there are greater troubles afoot in their village. Money and other valuables tend to go missing, and village elders Penghulu Ali (Ghazali Abu Noh), Pak Wan Atan (Zami Ismail) and Pak Long Mohid (Zulkifli Zain) are at a loss. It soon becomes apparent that they are being plagued by a toyol - a child-spirit tasked by a human master to steal for them. Even as they bring in Pak Jamal (Kuswadinata) to provide supernatural aid, the toyol's (Nur Allisyah Aqilah) visitations grow more dangerous and violent - but it seems to have a mysterious affinity for Sutera and her family.

Ah, Wan Hasliza. I saw her name credited as screenwriter here, and I thought it sounded familiar; turns out she wrote one of the better - and best-written - local films of last year, Hooperz. Now with this movie, I think it's safe to call her one of the best working writers in our film industry today. (The person/people who wrote Adnan Sempit and the last half of Cuti-Cuti Cinta could add to that number, if they ever step out from the anonymity of "Panel Skrip MIG".) Sweet Alhamdulillah, it's good to hear Malay dialogue that actually sounds like the things real people say - dialogue that drives the plot, that also reveals character, and takes care not to be on-the-nose. Even the acting is better than most Malay movies, since these actors are finally able to play actual characters. Eja is terrific; she has a big emotional scene at the end, and she pulls it off beautifully. (Unfortunately, it is also in this scene that Hairie Othman, who was pretty good up to that point, seemed to forget what character he's playing.)

It's interesting that this film comes out so soon after Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah; both are stories about simple kampung folk dealing with supernatural occurences. (And both feature Zami Ismail in what may be alternate-reality versions of the same character.) And coincidentially, there's also a scene here in which someone argues for rationalism and a rejection of kepercayaan tahyul - which is belied by the fact that there really is a toyol running around. Which led me to look for some kind of social commentary in this film, like Mamat Khalid clearly had in his. For a while there, it seemed like Wan Hasliza is making a point against materialism, against people who overvalue material possessions. Which would be an entirely appropriate theme to play out against the backdrop of a toyol movie.

Unfortunately, the brief glimmers of this don't add up to a point effectively made. Which brings us to the weaknesses of Wan Hasliza's screenplay, of which an unclear theme is only one. Janin has an ensemble cast similar to Hantu Kak Limah, but it doesn't have a story to support them; it's ultimately Sutera's and Harun's story, and all the other characters and subplots turn out to be irrelevant. There's no believable motivation for why the toyol's master is doing all this, which may point to the fact that toyols are really kinda quaint in modern times; there are far easier ways to make unscrupulous money than to get a zombie baby to steal from your neighbours. And as Tontonfilem has noted, it's also a very small story that struggles to stretch out to barely 90 minutes. Which would be okay if it were a simple, slow-paced indie film about rural kampung life - but it's not. It's a horror movie, in which pacing is everything.

And that brings us to the fact that as a horror movie, Janin simply doesn't work. Director M. Hitler Zami (dude, apahal dengan nama tu?) is good at bringing Wan Hasliza's characters to life, but he just can't make it scary. Which, as Tontonfilem has again mentioned, may be our Lembaga Penapisan Filem at work, reducing a scene in which the toyol viciously murders two people into a fade-out. Or it may be the film's poor production values - the sound quality is pretty shoddy too, although I really want to commend them for attempting to record on-location dialogue and sound. (Unlike certain movies from a certain big local movie studio. Called Metrowealth.) Which makes this my second Wan Hasliza movie in a row that's spoiled by poor technical quality. Girl just can't catch a break.

And that's what makes it hard for me to objectively review this movie. There's so much here that I liked, but so much that I have to admit simply doesn't work. Early on, there's a scene featuring a Chinese storekeeper in which he speaks in honest-to-goodness Cantonese - I liked this simply because the vast majority of Malay films prefer to depict a Malaysia that is seemingly populated entirely by Malays. (Which is a sad state of affairs, and reflective of bigger problems within our society, frankly.) Yes, this is a pretty low standard to hold a film to, and does not at all make up for a messy storyline, ineffective scares, and bad sound quality. But it still makes me think kindly of it.

(Oh, and now I would like to rant: why is it so goddamn hard to find accurate, reliable information about local films? The synopsis that's on Sinema Malaysia - and cut-and-pasted onto every other news source about the movie - is misleading and outright wrong. Hairie's character is named Harun, not Hisham! And not only is Dato' Rahim Razali not in this film, I can't even find a full cast list - not even on its supposed official Facebook fan page. Which is a problem I've faced time and time again with local films. Come on, producers! Can you please start treating your films as significant?)

NEXT REVIEW: The Tourist
Expectations: from all the reviews it's been getting, meh


TMBF said...

Yes, it's been a while since I wrote a review of a Malay film in English. I'm just going to mix it up for a while; you may notice that my last BM review was for an utterly crappy movie, whereas I switched to English for this much better one. But I'm not going to stick to the "BM for bad movies, English for good ones" standard, since that'd mean saya hanya menggunakan bahasa kebangsaan untuk mencaci dan memaki. That'd be uncool.

Unknown said...

Hitler??? WTF? His parents were either very ignorant, or Nazis (which would also mean they were ignorant). Unless hitler means something in Malay or Arabic.

TMBF said...

@Rashdan: A little digging reveals that his real name is Mohd. Latiff Zami, so Hitler is probably his nama glemer... which, yeah, I'd still like to know WTF is up with that.

Unknown said...

Googling his name I found this:
Hitler is his actual name and he changed it to Latiff. His dad (Kami Ismail)gave him the name because he was an admirer of Hitler. FTWhaaaat?. I don't think I'll be able to watch "Pi Mai Pi Mai Tang Tu" ever again, and I'm from Aloq Staq.

Unknown said...

I can't wait to watch this film just for the nazi subtext. The toyol representing the Jewish people. The broken boat representing Germany.

Poklah Sc said...

Wow! I siriusly can't believe what I saw with my eyes...which is somebody misunderstanding, then misusing the FTW abbreviation. With confidence pulak tu..
Finally I can rest my soul bwahahaa FTWhaaaaat!!
( http://onlineslangdictionary.com/meaning-definition-of/ftw )

And now to the real issues:

Meh! Bashing 'Pak Uda' for naming his son Hitler? Do you really know the event/reasons that leads him to name his son 'Hitler'? Who are you to questions his decision, without knowing the full story at that?
And what for, the comment about nazi subtext in this film? Does insulting other people's name makes you a better man?

Seriously laa Rashdan dude, nobody cares where you're from. But don't expose your narrow mindedness to the world, just for the reason that you want to look cool.

I like the way TMBF writes this blog, because he's fair in his criticism and never does personal insult. But for you Rashdan, sadly it's a different story.

Pardon me Mr.TMBF, I dont mean to sermon..it's just my 2 cents. Just delete my comment if you find it distasteful. Thanks.