'Polis Evo 2' changes the game again

NOVEMBER 24 ― Who would have thought, back in 2015, that a mainstream Malay movie starring Shaheizy Sam and comedian Zizan Razak, with the unpromising title Polis Evo (seriously, why is that “evo” in there, is it because of the car, or is there some sort of “evolution” involved?) would be as influential and impactful to the history of modern day Malaysian cinema as it turned out to be?

Not only did it become the highest grossing Malaysian film ever at the time (taking over from the previous year’s The Journey) with a RM17.8 million haul at the box-office, but reviews were also generally very good.

Even I was surprised at how good the film turned out to be, and wrote here that it was a “strong and irresistible candidate for best Malaysian film of 2015,” adding that it’s “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.”

With that kind of box-office and critical reception to live up to, making a sequel must have been quite a daunting task for everyone involved. That’s probably part of the reason why it took almost three full years for a sequel to finally arrive in Malaysian cinemas this week.

Still written by mostly the same team of writers ― Joel Soh, Kyle Goonting and Anwari Ashraf ― with help from a few other extra pairs of hands (just check out the writing credits at the end to see how many!), and armed with a bigger budget (reportedly RM8 million), surely the biggest question on everyone’s mind is this ― how do you top a game changer?

The easiest way to sidestep all that expectation is to simply make something totally different from the much loved first film, which is what the film-makers have cleverly chosen to do here.

If the first film was a buddy cop movie a la the Lethal Weapon and 48 Hours films, which by nature means that there will be a lot of comedy sprinkled in between the action, this sequel is more or less a siege action thriller, sort of like a combination of Die Hard (and therefore all its knock-offs afterwards like Under Siege, Passenger 57 etc) and Assault On Precinct 13.

Or to make it even shorter, as the geekier parts of movie fandom might label it, it’s more or less Die Hard on an island.

And like what I wrote about the first film, Polis Evo 2 is also a film that knows its formula very well, sticks to it, does all the things that it needs to do successfully, and it’s also done with a level of craft that does not insult our eyes, ears and intelligence. The added value here is, of course, in the way the film-makers localised the formula.

In this case, we’re back in the company of inspectors Khai (Shaheizy Sam) and Sani (Zizan Razak), and they’re joined by rookie Mat Dan (Syafie Naswip) in a mission to capture the highly wanted drug lord Riky.

That quest leads them to a remote island, where Riky seems to have some sort of dealings with what looks like an extremist religious cult. Things escalate when said religious cult takes everyone by surprise by taking the island, which has about 200 villagers, hostage.

Also in the midst of all this is Indonesian undercover cop Rian (a fetchingly badass performance by Raline Shah), who’s also in pursuit of Riky, and of course, the movie’s biggest trump card, the main villain Hafsyam (a truly outstanding Hasnul Rahmat).

People sometimes say that a movie’s only as good as its villain, and in Hafsyam, Polis Evo 2 possesses what is clearly one of the greatest villains in recent Malaysian movie history.

Here is a man who really believes in his cause, and thanks to Hasnul’s marvellous performance, we believe why he and his followers believe as well, which goes a long way to putting the fear into not only our film’s heroes, but also the audience as well.

In short, this man has faith, however misguided, and the script, despite all the action mayhem that takes up probably 85 per cent of the film’s running time, is actually a pretty excellent rumination on what it means to have faith in what you believe in, and how far you are willing to go for it.

The villains have their own faith, but the good guys too (from the police right to the Special Forces soldiers) believe in the oaths they took to protect lives, and it’s in that basic contrast between two extremes that the film gains much of its heart and soul (and soul searching) from.

Before you start worrying that this is starting to sound like a heavy-going film, worry not, for as I mentioned above, almost 85 per cent of the movie is wall to wall action, and well-executed action too!

In fact, the grand finale is an epic shoot-out so breathless and so long (remember the grand finale to Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins?) that you might even find yourself gasping for air as the film’s general air of despondency and hopelessness wraps itself around you, especially when things start to look bleak for our heroes and the hostages, which will make you thank the film-makers for one brilliant jolt of fresh air right smack in the middle of all that even more (you’ll know what I mean when you see it).

Changing tack from the more comedy-oriented buddy cop formula to the much darker and tense-filled siege movie may have been a way to sidestep expectations, but in not trying to top a game changer, it really does look like the film-makers have changed the game yet again.

A strong and irresistible candidate for best Malaysian film of 2018 then? You betcha!!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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