Three new Malaysian films examined

SEPTEMBER 19 ― It’s probably just a coincidence, since release dates for Malaysian films are partly decided by the mechanisms of FINAS’ Skim Wajib Tayang, but this year’s Merdeka/National Day month, or maybe month(s), since it covers both August and September, as Independence Day is on August 31 and Malaysia Day is on September 16 (during which patrons in the cinema are asked to stand up as our national anthem Negaraku is played before the start of every movie) has seen the release of three new Malaysian films with a focus on Malaysian security forces or history.

In fact, it would be four, if one were to include the re-release of the digitally restored HD version of the much-beloved classic Bukit Kepong.

Two of them, Bravo V (or BraVo as the poster catchily labels it) and Kapsul, are quite similar to each other in that both are more or less patriotic movies. The other one, Polis Evo, while focusing on police work, is an out and out popcorn buddy cop action movie.

All three are currently playing in Malaysian cinemas, with Kapsul and Polis Evo just released on September 17 and Bravo V released one week before. Having now seen all three of them, here is what I think:

Bravo V

Like a lot of promising-sounding Malaysian films out there, Bravo V is yet another case of missed opportunity. What could’ve been an exciting combat film, especially since it concentrates on a group of commandos on a rescue mission (in current times, with communists as villains!), is a letdown not only because of sloppy storytelling, but almost incomprehensible and badly staged action scenes and shootouts.

I dare you to make heads or tails out of most of the shootouts between the commandos and the communists; you’d barely be able to even figure out who got shot, who died, and who’s doing the shooting. Outside of the action scenes and shootouts, the work by cinematographer Mohd Noor Kassim is an early contender for Best Cinematography at next year’s Festival Filem Malaysia.

There are some very good moments here, especially in the beginning as director Yeop Hitler Zami sets up the back stories for each commando, with Mohd Noor Kassim running riot with lots of beautifully-framed shots that will give the viewers hope that this might just be a different kind of Malaysian film.

Pity it didn’t work out that way.

Kapsul

The biggest disappointment on this list, Kapsul is several notches worse than Bravo V. No wonder its whole publicity campaign (and even the premiere and press screening I attended) seems to be centred on the fact that it features a special appearance by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and that it’s the first and last film by its director, the late Martias Mohd Ali, who passed away during the movie’s post-production.

I can probably write a whole article on what’s wrong with this film, but I think it’s enough to say that it fails to pass even the most fundamental of tests ― story, script and acting. Despite its very promising time-travel premise, in which a sort of super thief steals one of the capsules planted by Tun M for his Vision 2020 project and is taken on a journey through Malaysian history, even reliable and reputable actors like Faizal Hussein and Datuk Rahim Razali were made to look worse than their reputations deserve thanks to plenty of cringe-worthy dialogue, cheap attempts at melodrama, very suspect "patriotic" speeches that I suspect would upset quite a few non-Malays, scarcely believable character motivations and barely Malaysian TV-level staging and blocking of scenes.

It almost has a so-bad-it’s-good quality that might even make it the second cult film of its kind here that stars Faizal Hussein, the first one being the still untouchable and wonderfully awful Abuya.

Polis Evo

After nine long and torturous months, finally we have a strong and irresistible candidate for Best Malaysian film of 2015. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s nothing fancy. In fact it’s just a humble genre movie ― a buddy cop action flick (a la Beverly Hills Cop and Lethal Weapon) ― but given a very Malaysian spin. The odd couple pairing here is made up of comedian Zizan Razak and respected actor Shaheizy Sam.

The plot involves KL supercop Khai (played by a quite buffed up Sam, talk about method acting!) being sent down to Kuala Terengganu to partner Inspector Sani (Zizan) to investigate a murder that seems to lead to a syndicate that’s producing a dangerous strain of red coloured crystal meth (or syabu as we call it on the streets here).

Aside from a few minor gaps in logic in terms of plotting, Polis Evo turned out to be exactly the kind of movie that Malaysia needs more of ― a formula movie that knows its formula, sticks to it, does all the things that it needs to do successfully, and is done with a level of craft that does not insult our eyes, ears and intelligence.

The jokes are funny, the emotions are believably earned, and the action scenes (despite clearly quoting from films like The Raid and Hard Boiled, to name but a few) are staged, shot and edited well enough to always excite and make sense.

In short, director Ghaz Abu Bakar has set a new standard for mainstream Malaysian films with this movie. Yes, it does nothing to rewrite, renew or even refresh the textbook, but it does what the textbook requires very well, which is more than I can say for most mainstream Malaysian films. And for that alone, it passes the test with flying colours!

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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