'Langsuir', 'Sebelum Iblis Menjemput', 'Paskal' and a potential awakening?

SEPTEMBER 29 ― What is up with 2018? First, we got to witness the unlikely events of May 9 when an unlikely victory saw Pakatan Harapan end Barisan Nasional's 61-year reign as the government of Malaysia.

That alone was like an avalanche that broke a whole lot of barriers and practically guarantees a lot of firsts for our country this year and for the next five years.

Then we saw a new first when Hantu Kak Limah broke the RM30 million barrier for local films at the local box-office, only for Munafik 2 to then break the RM40 million barrier just about a week after that.

And just to reiterate what I wrote a few weeks back about these numbers, they usually belong to big Hollywood blockbusters like Jurassic World or the Fast And Furious and Transformers franchises, not to local movies with budgets that probably aren’t even enough to cover a Hollywood film’s catering budget.

Big numbers are always good, despite what people may say, because they drum up excitement into the investing of local films. Of course big numbers coupled with good quality is the dream, but to me, we've got to start somewhere, even if it means through big numbers first.

Speaking of starting somewhere, right after Munafik 2 came the very, very good One Two Jaga, a crime thriller with neo-realist undertones, also a first in terms of local movies for its very blunt depiction of police and political corruption. So far, so exciting.

When you're a pop culture observer like yours truly, you're bound to get overly excited when you start to see patterns forming, or potentially forming. And that's what happened when I saw the much hyped Paskal The Movie, which just opened in local cinemas and looks to have all the potential to be another local blockbuster.

Is 2018 going to be remembered not just for Malaysia Baharu, but also for an awakening (or re-awakening) of the local film industry, the likes of which we've never seen before?

I can't help but think of what may happen if things go the way they did in South Korea, whose own industry re-awakening came after the success of Shiri, which wasn't a very good film but whose monster success was enough to kickstart the slumbering industry into investing in higher production values and better craftsmanship.

I recently managed to catch three new local/regional films currently playing in Malaysian cinemas, so let's see if that excitement holds!

Langsuir

The numbers for Osman Ali's latest film are reportedly pretty healthy, having bagged RM1 million in its first four days, but that is not enough to save it from a being a pretty huge disappointment to me.

Having current TV heartthrobs Syafiq Kyle and Hannah Delisha as the leads probably helped a lot in boosting those numbers.

Langsuir does a competent enough job as a modern retelling of the “langsuir” (a female Malaysian version of the vampire) story, complete with forbidden love and inter-species (ghost and human, that is) conflict.

At this stage in his career, and after being known as the guy who made Ombak Rindu, it's probably a little hard for the director to shake off the “melodrama” tag, even when he's making a horror flick, and its this uneven mix of horror and melodrama, combined with some absolutely bewildering and frustrating character decisions, even when measured against dumb/bad decisions characters always make in horror movies, that really makes this one an infuriating watch.

Sebelum Iblis Menjemput

Hands down my favourite currently active Indonesian director, Timo Tjahjanto brings us a truly world class horror flick with Sebelum Iblis Menjemput.

The gulf in quality between this movie and Langsuir is glaringly obvious.

More or less a love letter to Sam Raimi and his Evil Dead movies (like the Mo Brothers’ debut effort Rumah Dara also a love letter, but to slasher movies), this is a movie about a few people encountering some sort of evil in a big old house isolated far away somewhere in the woods, so let’s not be a killjoy and expect an original story.

This movie’s all about the scares and, surprisingly, a lot of bloodletting gore. And in this department, Timo just totally excels, serving the audience one imaginatively staged scary set-piece after another, with some over the top gore effects as really sweet icing on the cake.

Every bit as fun, re-watchable and screamingly good a horror flick as Rumah Dara and his segment in V/H/S/2 was, this is a party horror movie of a pretty high order.

Paskal The Movie

After Langsuir brought my spirits crashing down to earth, especially when seeing it after the bloody excellence of Sebelum Iblis Menjemput, it was a good thing I saw Paskal The Movie just a few days after that, at a 10.45am show on a Thursday morning in a big cinema hall. And the hall was at least 1/3 full, if not more!!

For a local movie to be able to do that on a weekday morning is quite something, at least for someone who’s used to watching movies on weekday mornings and enjoying the privacy of an empty cinema hall for most of the time (even when watching Hollywood productions).

Of course to compare Paskal to Sebelum Iblis Menjemput would be unfair to both movies, as they are in totally different genres.

But what I can say is that finally, after various attempts throughout the years, we have a Malaysian film about the military (or any other local security force) that’s done right and done well.

Discounting some awkward acting in certain parts of the movie (especially during the very short control room/meeting scenes with generals and officers), that thankfully didn’t ruin the movie, Paskal is quite simply a damn good action movie.

In fact, I’d say it fares really well against the best of DTV action movies (and even some Hollywood ones!), with the military action staged, shot and edited well, and even the climactic hand-to-hand combat fight scene doing the movie proud against other films of the same ilk.

Will this be our Shiri? Only time will tell. But, like Polis Evo, this should serve as an example to other producers and film-makers about the importance of not skimping on craftsmanship and getting your legwork and research done before shooting a film, even if you’re just making an action flick.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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