Box-office storm brewing for Malaysian cinema?

MARCH 19 — It’s only been slightly over three months since a really dispiriting 2015 ended, a year which saw a Malaysian box-office total of RM52.2 million from 80 films, and a huge RM17.4 million of that came from only one film, Polis Evo. So that actually makes it RM34.8 million from 79 films, leaving a gross box-office average of only RM440,000 per film.

In my piece about Malaysian cinema in 2015, which concentrated on both the depressing general box-office figures and the dearth of quality mainstream films, I wondered at the end what all this would mean in 2016, which I hoped would be nothing since it could just be one of those really bad days at the office that all of us are bound to encounter at some point in our lives.

Plus there were films like Ola Bola and Boboiboy The Movie to look forward to in terms of box-office and films like Pekak and Interchange in terms of potential quality.

As hopeful and positive as I was back then when I wrote that piece and anticipating the sort of cinematic year that Malaysia is going to experience in 2016, nothing prepared me for the absolutely incredible numbers that we’re served up with even before we hit the middle of March. With not even a quarter of the year gone yet, we’ve already seen a box-office total of RM40.1 million from only 13 films. Yes, you read that right, that’s RM40.1 million, only RM12.1 million behind 2015’s RM52.2 box-office total, from less than a quarter of the period and less than a fifth of the number of films!

Of course, around RM38 million of that RM40.1 million came from just four films, which leaves RM2.1 million from the other 9 films, but to have four Malaysian films doing that kind of business in less than three months is almost surely a box-office miracle, especially after such a bad box-office year in 2015.

We’ve all heard and read enough about Ola Bola already at this stage, and after 39 days in cinemas and RM15.9 million in box-office takings (and still counting), it’s doing exactly what everyone was predicting it to be doing — pull in big bucks and maybe even break Polis Evo’s all time Malaysian box-office record of RM17.4 million — especially with such a widespread and hugely effective publicity campaign.

What makes these first three months of the year seem special is the little surprises, and Skop Productions is responsible for two of them. First came the surprise success of Mat Moto, which rang up RM4.4 million at the box-office, a pretty huge amount for a modestly marketed little film that wasn’t that big of a deal quality-wise. Heck, even in the entertainment department, there wasn’t much to shout about, but the fact that that many people turned up to watch a biker movie was an eye opener.

The real story of the first three months of 2016, however, is the horror flick Munafik, directed by Skop owner Datuk Yusof Haslam’s son Syamsul Yusof. I’ve always thought that Syamsul is a better horror director than he is a director of gangster and rempit films after I saw his RM8 million horror hit Khurafat, released the same year as previous Malaysian box-office champ KL Gangster, which brought in RM12 million, leading the press to dub him the RM20 million man that year.

And now he’s done it again as Munafik has managed to score RM13 million in its first 18 days in cinemas, and it’s still playing strongly everywhere as the buzz for the film continues to build. If it continues at this pace we might even see Munafik overtake Polis Evo instead of the much-hyped Ola Bola, and if that’s not a big surprise then I don’t know what is.

Being a horror nut, I can’t really say that Munafik is a great horror flick, but it is still a pretty good one, and much better than most of the dross that passes for horror in Malaysian cinema these days.

It relies a wee bit too much on jump scares and the use of loud sound effects to shock audiences, but there’s no denying that Syamsul has upped his game here, probably spurred on by the excellence of his younger brother Syafiq. For once there’s an actual, consistent look to the whole film, with long shadows reminiscent of film noir, and some pretty impressive art direction that looks and feels a lot more detailed than his previous films.

And then we have Boboiboy The Movie, a full length animated movie based on the hugely popular animated TV series Boboiboy that just opened about two weeks ago and has now raced to RM10 million in box-office takings in 16 days, according to the latest news. It contributed slightly more than RM5 million to the RM40.1 million figure I quoted earlier, based on the statistics then, so imagine the kind of pace that’s building up for the movie with numbers like this.

Again, it’s a number that the movie totally deserves as it’s a truly entertaining animated film, with jokes coming at you from left, right and centre, and almost all of them hitting their intended targets.

With crazy numbers like this, one might even be forgiven for thinking there might be something in the water, or a nice little storm brewing in terms of box-office for Malaysian films this year. Will this positive trend continue as the year progresses? Who knows? One thing’s for sure is that this is all rather exciting indeed. And I can’t wait to see how all this excitement develops.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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