Namewee needs to work on his impulse control ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Monday, August 20, 2012

Namewee needs to work on his impulse control

Hantu Gangster
My rating:

My respect for Namewee took a plunge after his anti-Lynas music video. I have no wish for a potentially hazardous industrial plant with dodgy safety standards on our shores, but I thought that video was hateful. It was full of nothing but virulently racist invective against Australians, for no other reason than that Lynas is an Australian corporation. It clearly did not occur to Namewee that many Malaysians may have Australian friends, and his video would have utterly embarrassed both of them. Which is why I was eager to watch his latest movie. I liked his last, and I wanted to see what he does next. I've gone to bat for him before and defended him against those who think he's a vulgar and shameless opportunist. I would like to think he's more than that.

I think he is. But he is also, in many ways, his own worst enemy.

Te Sai (Namewee) is a petty criminal, ne'er-do-well and single father to his perpetually disappointed 12-year-old son Chee Meng (Tee Jing Chen). But he's the one whom the ghosts of three recently-murdered gangland bosses, Pak Nasir (Dato' Jalaluddin Hassan), Uncle Arulmugam (Dato' David Arumugam) and Uncle Ah Hua (Charlie Loke), seek out to avenge their murders. Their sons and new leaders of the gangs - weak-willed Parut (Taiyuddin Bakar), thuggish loan shark Seelan (Abu Bakar Siddiq) and debauched drug dealer Ah Bao (Fa Chai Bao) - have forgotten the bonds of brotherhood that their fathers forged decades ago, and are on the verge of a race war. Unbeknownst to all three is the fact that the devious Ewan (Farid Kamil), who ordered the hit on their fathers, is deliberately stoking racial tensions in his bid to take control of all three gangs. To stop Ewan and restore harmony, there could not be an unlikelier hero than Te Sai - although if he succeeds, he might win the heart of the lovely Jameela (Diana Danielle), his son's schoolteacher and also the daughter of Pak Nasir.

Dear Namewee. Here is a list of things in your movie that are not funny:

- Te Sai's expletive of choice, "Kuihkochi".
- Attempting Japanese dialogue when the extent of your knowledge of Japanese comes from JAV.
- The fact that Arulmugam is never without a bottle in his hand. Dude. Beh hao ar.
- The musical number that the three gangs suddenly launch into to hoodwink the police.
- "Guaaaaang Zhou." (Unless this is a reference to something I'm unfamiliar with.)
- Te Sai getting hamsap with Jameela.
- "Christopher".
- Anything to do with Ah Bao's four perpetually-shirtless henchmen.
- Especially the one with the killer penis. Yes.
- And the one who seems to really really enjoy anal stimulation.
- Seriously, any time you think of doing a dirty joke... don't. Just don't.

The majority of these are unfunny because they are, quite frankly, distasteful. Those that aren't are silly and lazy - which isn't to say that the distasteful jokes aren't also lazy attempts at getting laughs just by putting something stupid up on screen. Broad humour - which seems to be the only kind of humour that local films know how to employ - doesn't have to insult the audience's intelligence. One only has to look at the films of the Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker heyday (Airplane!, Top Secret!, The Naked Gun) for examples of jokes that are silly on the surface, but in fact rely a great deal on the audience being smart enough to get them. I mention this because I am greatly hoping that Namewee does a little homework and learns from his betters before making his next movie.

Because the fact is, he's got a lot going for him. Despite Certain Quarters trying to paint him as a Chinese chauvinist, he managed to rope several popular Malay actors into his film, aside from many of the same non-Malay celebrities who previously appeared in Nasi Lemak 2.0. He discovered a bona fide child prodigy in Tee Jing Chen; he even managed to score a cameo from Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir no less. He's done a canny job of getting investors for his films, which he repaid with quite shameless product placement shots. He's daring enough to poke fun at the Polis DiRaja Malaysia, in a joke that I couldn't believe he got past the censors. And of course, he has his fanbase in the Chinese-speaking segment of the population, who supported him through his last movie and will certainly make up the bulk of the box-office for this one. But there is also his deep, abiding - and thoroughly sincere - love of the multi-cultural mix that is unique to Malaysia and only Malaysia.

Oh, it's in this movie alright, and in spades. There are few tributes to 1Malaysia as effective as the flashback sequence chronicling how the three gang bosses (played in their youths by Noh Hujan, Reshmonu and Dennis Lau) met, became fast friends, and went on to become the most honourable, most fashionably-dressed, and overall awesomest gang leaders in Klang. (Well, except for how the Indian is always drinking.) We even see how they weather the events of May 1969, in a scene that has a lot to teach a certain other local production about how to depict that particular historical event. Beyond the annoyingly tasteless comedy, Namewee is a true patriot; the one message he wants to convey, above all else, is that Malaysia is only Malaysia if it's made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians. Love him or hate him, you can't deny him this - and you'd be ignorant and judgemental if you did.

So it's a shame that his most noble instincts are always brought low by his basest. I once called him less than circumspect, but I think I was far too kind; he's bloody reckless. Dude just doesn't think before he executes his ideas, whether it's in a viral video or a feature film. Hantu Gangster's screenplay bears the mark of having been hashed out in about a day, then never once being rewritten or revised or looked over to see if maybe this scene or that joke could be better played another way. (He's banking a lot on the audience's suspension of disbelief with his ridiculously romanticised portrayal of gangsters. And by movie's end, when everyone is one big happy family again, he seems to have forgotten that Seelan is still a violent criminal and Ah Bao is still a drug dealer.) Everything in here feels like a first thought, just as everything Namewee does seems like pure unguarded impulse without the benefit of a voice of discretion.

Which, again, is a shame, because his talents are also undeniable. As dumb as the jokes can be, there is at least one bit where I laughed out loud: a perfectly-timed rendition of "Negaraku." Contrast the hilarity of that moment to a later one, when our same national anthem is used as ironic counterpoint to a tense, ominous scene. Hantu Gangster is not a bad movie; there's some pretty good filmmaking in here, and it loses out to Nasi Lemak 2.0 only for being less of a purely feel-good experience. But if Namewee is gonna keep making films, he really really needs to work harder at it. Study other comedy filmmakers. (Hence, Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker.) Learn how to build something more than a paper-thin plot. Spend more time on effective storytelling rather than comic setpieces. And most of all, start asking yourself, "Does this work? Is this good? Or is there a better way?" In fact, as I mentioned earlier - when it comes to anything that could be gross or risqué, ignore your instincts. When it comes to your sense of social satire, or your vision of what Malaysia is and should be... those instincts, you can trust.

NEXT REVIEW: The Bourne Legacy
Expectations: no Paul Greengrass or Matt Damon - but hey, Tony Gilroy?...


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