‘Guang’ — the best Malaysian film of 2018?

DECEMBER 8 — With the way things have been going for Malaysian cinema in the last two to three years, I don’t think anyone expected 2018 to be any different, be it in terms of box-office collection or critical acclaim.

Yet here we are at the beginning of the last month of 2018, having witnessed an unthinkable amount of watershed moments for Malaysian cinema, from big to small, that are good enough to make us feel excited about what the future may hold in the next few years as the effects of these new benchmarks start to seep through the new films being produced now.

First and foremost is of course the astonishing (and back to back) record-breaking box-office numbers recorded by three (and very possibly four) films during the second half of this year, with first Hantu Kak Limah breaking the RM30 million threshold, before Munafik 2 swiftly speeding through that to then break the RM40 million barrier.

Then came Paskal, which again broke the RM30 million mark, along the way delivering some of the best military action set pieces ever seen in Malaysian film.

And now we are still smack in the middle of Polis Evo 2, one of the best Malaysian films of the year and a thunderous action thriller too, which has reportedly collected RM17 million in 11 days, so we’ll see how well it does in total in a few weeks’ time.

Of course an industry is not just defined by its box-office numbers, although it does help to get investors interested and excited, but more important is the quality side of things, and even for this we have seen promising signs in 2018, with One Two Jaga leading the way and even a blockbuster like Polis Evo 2 exhibiting an impressive amount of craftsmanship, giving enough care to its story to make it more than just a mindless action stomper.

And there’s even a critically acclaimed indie movie in Mencari Rahmat, an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest that very few people have had the privilege to see, simply because it never got a general/wide release in local cinemas.

Even Paskal, often criticised for its shaky dramatics, exhibited a very impressive amount of technical craftsmanship and expertise for its action scenes, which is a very far cry from the often lazy, non-choreographed and unrehearsed action often seen in local movies.

With audiences raving about it and voting for it with their wallets, maybe this will teach our film producers a thing or two about the value of proper planning, research, pre-production, rehearsals and training, and how all that investment can pay off in terms of box-office returns and word of mouth, making them think twice about going the usual cheap and haphazard way of making films that we’ve gotten used to.

But even all this probably didn’t prepare us for what arrived in local cinemas at the end of November, a Chinese language Malaysian film called Guang, which is a feature film expansion of a much loved and award-winning short of the same name from seven years ago.

I loved the short immensely when I first saw it in 2011, so naturally I wondered (and worried) about how well it would stretch into a feature length running time.

So even if you’ve seen (and loved) the short, let me just say this — this feature length expansion is nothing short of brilliant, and beautiful.

Writer-director Quek Shio Chuan and co-writers Ismail Kamarul and Al Kuan basically told the same story again, with similar plot beats too, and similar set-pieces, but the feature length running time has given them room to go deeper this time, making more space for backstory and giving the characters more time to show their chemistry with each other, resulting in a very satisfying, emotional and rousing viewing experience.

The story is, of course, very simple, as most short films’ stories are. It centres on the autistic Guang, who’s living with his younger brother, and the few friends they have in their orbit.

We’re fed, in bits and pieces, with memories from the brothers’ younger days when they were in primary school and their mum was still alive, but mostly Quek gives us the privilege to enter into the sights, sounds and sensations of Guang’s mind as he struggles to hold onto simple jobs, struggles even mightier with new job interviews and the ecstatic state he gets into when he hears the clink of glasses, which sounds like musical notes to him.

The whole film is about his mission to collect a specific number of glasses and bowls, each emitting a particular musical note, for a project that no one (not even the audience) knows about until the movie reveals it all in the end, and the struggle for understanding between him and his brother.

True to the word “expansion”, every single signature moment of the short film, from the “B” glass moment right up to the soaring musical end, is extravagantly expanded upon in scale and invention.

So if you’ve seen the short film, the feature film will impress you even more when you witness the amount of invention that went into “expanding” these moments.

But more importantly, despite all the expansion and invention, it remains a very personal and intimate story (it’s actually a loving tribute to the director’s brother, who has autism), and by the end of the movie I foresee a lot of teary eyes in the audience, because that’s exactly what happened with yours truly, even with me knowing its outcome (because of the short film).

It’s a simple movie that’s just so beautifully made, with such a big heart and soul, that the late, great Yasmin Ahmad would most definitely have approved.

In short, it’s real movie magic, and barring any miracle in the next few weeks, definitely the best Malaysian film of 2018. Go see it!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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