Three films in Malaysian cinemas to cure your post-Oscars blues

FEBRUARY 15 ― Despite the predictable results in some categories, the very much hoped for (but not so realistically expected) sweep by Korean international smash Parasite, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best International Feature Film has suddenly made the 2020 Oscars one of the most historic and potentially groundbreaking Oscars ever, probably comparable to the one in 1969 (which was actually held in 1970), when Midnight Cowboy became the first-ever and so far only X-rated film to win Best Picture, signalling a more permissive and less conservative Hollywood and paving the way for the more challenging and adult films of the new golden age of 70s American cinema.

We'll only see the effect of Parasite's win over the next decade, but one thing's for sure, a non-English language film finally breaking the Best Picture barrier to win it is really something big.

But enough of the Oscars, we can now get down to watching other types of films, as a whole bunch of them have been opening here since last week, and even the one Oscar title that just opened, Little Women, is an awesomely fresh new adaptation of a time honoured literary classic that's worth every penny you're spending at the cinema, so let's check out what else the cinemas have in store for us this week, shall we?

Happy Old Year

Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit (of Heart Attack and Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy fame) is definitely in my top 5 favourite Thai directors of all time list, alongside Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Anocha Suwichakornpong and Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, and to get to see another one of his films in a Malaysian cinema is a gift that I could never refuse.

His second studio film (after the critical and box office success of Heart Attack), again for Thai giants GDH, any thoughts of Nawapol selling out within the studio system will absolutely vanish once you're halfway through the film, and especially when the hard hitting ending crashes through you.

This may be a Thai romance made by a mainstream studio, about a girl, Jean (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying, the girl from Bad Genius), returning to Thailand and embarking on a Marie Kondo-esque quest to renovate her home, getting rid of most her and her family's belongings (and by association, the memories that come with the objects as well), only to have that mission derailed by a reunion with an ex-boyfriend she left without so much as saying goodbye, but Nawapol is asking some serious questions about memories and what it means to let go.

And my, oh my, even if we're still only in mid-February, Happy Old Year is already one of the most immaculately photographed films we can hope to see this year, with a great sense of geometric framing and supremely elegant production design, and I won't be surprised if it ends up on a lot of best films of 2020 lists as well come the end of the year.

The Gentlemen

The Gentlemen is very much the Guy Ritchie of old, when he was content with being branded the British version of Quentin Tarantino with early films like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch.

Those films revel in telling tall tales with a brash cockney attitude, very liberal usage of the F and C word, and a humorous approach to violence.

If you've moved past those and no longer find that kind of stuff amusing, then it's best that you steer clear of The Gentlemen, but if you still find yourself amused by reruns of those films either on TV or on home video, then Ritchie's latest film will hit all the same sweet spots.

Hilariously long-winded framing device as an excuse for flowery narration? Check. Bait and switch plotting? Check. Colourful language? Check. Randomly connected characters? Check. Cheap and non-PC jokes? Check.

What feels quite new and fresh here is the film's framing device, which sees private detective Fletcher (a superb Hugh Grant) trying to blackmail a gangster's right hand man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) by way of pitching a movie script, and this goes on for the entire length of the movie, as the action goes back and forth in time according to the script and Fletcher's narration.

Will this reward repeat reviewing? Only time will tell. But for a good one time deal at the movies, this one's quite a blast.

Perempuan Tanah Jahanam

Only two months into 2020, and we've already been treated to three films with Joko Anwar's fingerprints on them. One of them, Ratu Ilmu Hitam, was made from a script written by him.

Gundala, which he wrote and directed, was released at the tail end of last year, going into this year.

And just last week, fresh from its showings at the Sundance and Rotterdam film festivals earlier this year, we've got the pleasure of experiencing another one of his films, Perempuan Tanah Jahanam (titled Impetigore for international release), in Malaysian cinemas.

Starring Tara Basro who plays Maya, and together with her best friend Dini (whom we first see working together at a toll plaza, the location of the movie's first, and probably most impeccably staged scare scene) venture out into Maya's hometown, in a very remote village accessible by horse cart or motorcycle in order to try and claim what might be a good inheritance, and even a big house.

Once at the village, however, things of course take a more mysterious turn as Joko lays out the relevant information in piecemeal fashion, as the main characters and the audience slowly find out facts like babies in the village die mysterious deaths at birth, the local folks seem to be afraid of Maya's old family house, and plenty more.

This is one of those twisty horror films with plenty of “surprise” revelations, so I'll just stop my plot description right about now so as not to interfere with your enjoyment of the movie.

Like Gundala, things go shaky a bit towards the end, because the script tends to over-explain things to the audience, but other than that, this is a damn good horror flick that's very beautifully shot, with plenty of good and humorous scares to keep all you horror hounds out there happy.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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