Three Malaysian films on Malaysia Day weekend

SEPTEMBER 21 ― I'm not sure if many people have noticed, but there's a been a huge drop in the number of Malaysian films released this year compared to the very prolific nature of the industry for most of this decade.

When the decade began, the average number of local films released under the Wajib Tayang Scheme by Finas was around 30, before it shot up to 42 in 2011 and then almost doubled to 73 in 2012, maintaining that pace with 70 to 80 films every year up until 2015.

Things slowed down a bit after that with an average of around 50 to 60 films per year up until last year.

But this year we might see a vastly different story. Up until July 2019, there has been only 20 films released under the Wajib Tayang Scheme, and at this pace we might even finish this year with less than 40 films, maybe even around 30 films, matching the pre-boom numbers from before this decade began.

In a way, I'm kind of glad because this means that it's a bit easier for me to catch up with our homegrown efforts, as opposed to having to really pick and choose which films I want to see during the 80 films per year era.

So the recent Malaysia Day long weekend was a bit of a throwback, because it saw three new Malaysian films released in local cinemas, in addition to those that were already playing like Wangi and Boboiboy The Movie 2, and I loved how it made me plan my weekend around trying to catch all three of them before they disappeared.

This is not as easy as it sounds because out of the three, only one had a wide release while the other two were released in limited cinemas and one had very limited screenings.

M For Malaysia

Hands down, in my humble opinion, the pick of the bunch last weekend, even if it's actually a documentary and not a fiction film.

Quite possibly the first (if not, then most definitely one of the very few) Malaysian documentaries to get a big screen release here in proper cinemas (and not part of a film festival, which is usually the place for documentaries here), M For Malaysia recounts the events leading up to the hugely unexpected results of the 14th general election last year, which saw our former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad return as our 8th prime minister, after leading Pakatan Harapan to victory.

Co-directed by his grandchild Ineza Roussille and Datin Dian Lee, this is a story that all of us are very familiar with, and there's really nothing new here in terms of revelations, but what the documentary may lack in fresh content, it more than makes up for with storytelling gusto, playing like a dramatic thriller, but sprinkled with just enough charming and touching private moments between Tun M and his beloved wife Tun Dr Siti Hasmah (which probably won't be possible to capture if not for the fact that it was their grandchild who was there to immortalise them on camera), that the whole thing simply becomes irresistible.

We've had loads of Malaysian documentaries making waves internationally, some (especially those by Amir Muhammad) were bold formal experiments, but if there's one Malaysian documentary that deserves the populist label that Michael Moore's box office hits wear proudly on their sleeves, it's this one.

Even if you're not a fan of documentaries, this one will expertly leave you emotional, cheering and maybe even tearing up a little.

Dendam Pontianak

With Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam still very fresh in our memories, this new pontianak film has got a lot to live up to.

While superficially there are very similar things happening in both films, Glen Goei and Gavin Yap's film has something slightly different up its sleeve.

While it still adheres to the standard pontianak legend/myth that a pontianak is born out of the death of a woman who died during childbirth, it's in the point of view taken by the film that it diverges from the usual pontianak films.

The story is still the same: a woman (Mina, played by Nur Fazura) dies at childbirth and is now back seeking revenge.

How she died and who's responsible, the movie pieces out that information bit by bit through flashbacks, and as the story begins to take full shape, so will our sympathies begin to take fuller shape, in directions that some might not expect.

Remember that film Dark Water? Well that's the only hint that I can give you when it comes to the film's point of view and sympathies.

It's definitely not a perfect film, as the acting is sometimes not that great, probably not helped by the fact that the dialogue sounds like it's translated from English to Malay (with the subtitles conveying the meaning much better and in a more poetic manner), but it has a huge trump card that not many Malaysian films this year will be able to top ― it's shot and lit gorgeously, and even the mise en scene is damn strong in places.

A mixed bag, but still worth your time.

Suatu Ketika

The trailer made me think that this one might be a Malaysian version of the Aamir Khan hit Lagaan, but with football as the sport in question instead of cricket, and with schoolkids instead of adults as the protagonists.

Set in 1952, it's definitely a Malaysia Day movie, as it shows a united and muhibbah bunch of kids representing their school, playing in a football tournament dominated by British schools, which means they're Malayan kids playing against British kids.

It's a very competently told underdog sports movie, with a very nice message of unity, and more than enough melodramatic booby traps laid around to make the viewers cry.

It just about ticks all the boxes that films like these are expected to tick ― from the last minute goal by a team misfit to personal family problems leading to a crucial member leaving the team, to a hotheaded rebel learning to be responsible and so much more; all these archetypes are in place at all the right times.

It's just a wee bit predictable and cheesy, is all, with endless shots of people either smiling or nodding at each other (in an admirable effort to “show, not tell”) and me just waiting for the expected narrative beats to come and deliver their intended effect.

It's exactly the movie it wants to be, it's just that I've seen its kind one too many times to probably wrongly expect it to be something a little different.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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