Examining the impact of ‘Hantu Kak Limah’ and ‘Pulang’

AUGUST 18 — Outside of Dukun (which reportedly made RM10 million at the local box-office) and KL Special Force (RM12.2 million), 2018 has been another slow and sobering year for Malaysian films. 

We’re now halfway through August and only 30 local films have been released in Malaysia so far, a pretty significant drop compared to 2015 and especially the last boom period which saw 50 films released by August 2014. 

Even what seemed like a heavily promoted release like Busker left Malaysian screens with a very disappointing RM96,925.75 from the local box-office.

Even the much-anticipated Lee Chong Wei film didn’t become the historic smash that many thought it could and would be.

Although it made a very respectable RM4.7 million, hopes were that it would at least cross the RM10 million mark seeing that its subject matter is a popular national sports hero.

All of this leaves what’s happening (and could happen) in August as quite the big surprise that all of us never expected. 

First, we’re treated to Pulang, an epic, big budget (for Malaysian films, that is) romantic drama from quality TV drama maestro Kabir Bhatia, which has so far made RM1.6 million — a very respectable amount these days for a film that doesn’t exactly scream commercial success seeing that it’s from a genre that traditionally doesn’t do so well in recent times.

Then came Mamat Khalid’s latest addition to his Kampung Pisang universe, Hantu Kak Limah which not only bagged the biggest opening day takings in Malaysian movie history (RM1.9 million on its opening day), but also an outrageously fast RM9 million in its first four days! 

And we’ve still got the much-awaited sequel Munafik 2 to come at the end of the month, which, judging by the trailers, has got all the potential to rake in as much cash as the original (which made a cool RM17 million). Maybe even more.

Now that’s a whole lot of action and excitement for just one month! Enough to make observers like yours truly even forget the depressing reality and torpor of the previous seven months when it comes to local films. 

With this much excitement among local moviegoers, how about the quality of the films themselves? Despite the daunting number of new films opening in Malaysian cinemas in the last few weeks, I still made it a point to go out and catch both Pulang and Hantu Kak Limah in cinemas just to see what all the fuss is about. 

Here’s my verdict:

‘Pulang’

Inspired by the true story of local entertainment giant Ahmad Izham Omar’s late grandfather and grandmother’s love story. 

Pulang is a pretty admirable attempt at making a Malaysian version of an awards-baiting romantic period drama. 

Telling the story of Othman, a young fisherman from a poor fishing village in Melaka, and his romance (and later marriage) to Thom, a new girl in the village, the film’s vast time frame starts from before the Japanese Occupation of Malaya up until the 2010s as it juggles two storylines; the story of their love and marriage and the attempt by their grandson Ahmad to locate the whereabouts of Othman to fulfill Thom’s deathbed request (which is the film’s framing device). 

It’s an emotionally involving story, beautifully decorated by some wonderfully poetic period dialogue, and anchored by the recurring metaphor of ships, boats and the sea to underline the deep emotional bond between the main characters, and the tragic consequences of the choices they made. 

All that beauty and grace is almost ruined by the often unfortunate CGI though, some so badly rendered that it’s almost cartoonish, but all that emotion fortunately saved it, and made it a memorable, if flawed, example of prestige Malaysian film-making.

‘Hantu Kak Limah’

I can totally see why this one’s become such a huge hit. The fact that it’s part of a much beloved franchise (Zombi Kampung Pisang,Hantu Kak Limah Balik Rumah etc), and is directed by the equally beloved Mamat Khalid of course helps. 

But most of all, this new entry is howlingly funny in a lot of places, especially in the first 30-40 minutes or so, when it takes its own sweet time to set out the film’s many lovable characters, with plenty of Mamat’s trademark comic digressions and visual trademarks from the previous films being put to very good use here. 

Ropie, playing the character Nayan, is a particular highlight and pretty much steals the movie, with almost every single thing coming out of his mouth making you slap your thighs with laughter. 

I can’t even remember the last time I laughed this hard watching a Malaysian film. But alas, like a frontloaded good album, the movie then gets caught in a lull during its middle section, still sporadically funny but nowhere near the glorious comic mayhem of its opening 30-40 minutes, before again picking up steam the last 20 or so minutes. 

An undeniable crowd pleaser then, but again a flawed one. Yet it might just be remembered and quoted by future generations just for that magical first 30-40 minutes. Ropie rules!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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