'Munafik 2', 'One Two Jaga' or 'Rise: Ini Kalilah'?

SEPTEMBER 15 ― After quite a depressing box-office slump in the last few years, August and September this year has seen the sort of recovery that can only be described with one word ― astonishing.

I wrote about Hantu Kak Limah's surprise blockbuster status a few weeks back, where it scored the biggest local movie opening of all time with RM1.8 million, which then became RM9 million in just four days.

The first week brought a total of RM11 million, and in just 11 days it smashed the previous all-time box-office record for a local movie by collecting RM20.5 million, before again setting a new benchmark for local movies when it bagged RM32.5 million in just 18 days.

To put those numbers into perspective, that's higher than Thor: Ragnarok (RM32.473 million), Batman vs Superman: Dawn Of Justice (RM30.45 million) and even Spiderman: Homecoming (RM28.69 million) managed to get in the entirety of their cinema run in Malaysia.

To put forward another perspective, the previous local box-office champ was Abang Long Fadil 2 with RM18.15 million, which is still below the average box-office numbers of Hollywood films here, which average between RM15 million to RM20 million for most major releases. If that's not astonishing, then I don't know what is.

Like London buses, all of a sudden another box office behemoth arrived hot on the heels of Hantu Kak Limah, and it's doing even more astonishing business right now, and that film is of course Munafik 2.

Comfortably claiming the biggest sneak preview collection of all time for a local movie with RM2.05 million, which then became RM5.65 million including its opening day (a mind boggling two-day total, if you ask me), it then raced to RM21.6 million in just four days, before becoming the fastest RM30 million Malaysian film as it reached that mark in just 10 days.

As of Thursday, according to Wikipedia, it's on RM33.6 million already, and it's still playing briskly in cinemas as it enters its third week, so I don't think reaching RM40 million is that far fetched now.

So it's quite an exciting time right now if you're a keen observer of the local film scene, and in addition to Munafik 2, there are two other Malaysian films playing in local cinemas currently, so let's see how they fare, shall we?

Munafik 2

Despite its astonishing box-office achievements, Munafik 2 isn't really that hot when it comes to being evaluated as a film.  I can totally understand the hype from local horror fans, because not everyone cares to distinguish between being “shocked” and being “scared” by a film.

Shocking people can be done through a lot of ways, the easiest being by suddenly pushing up the volume to jolt people from their seats, and to a lot of people, this sensation of being shocked by a loud noise is equal to being scared.

As far as horror chops go, I've always thought that Syamsul Yusof is at his best when he's working with a horror flick, especially when it comes to imagining and visually staging individual set-pieces.

For me, Munafik 2 is full of indelible images, which is proof of how much care and thought went into composing and staging them.

Unfortunately I can't say the same about the storyline, plotting, character motivation and simple logic (within the confines of the film's suspension of disbelief, of course).

To give a simple analogy, I'd say Munafik 2 is akin to a very pretty traditional Malay kampung house, with beautiful doors, windows, carvings and even a nice coat of paint, but unfortunately it stands on very shaky pillars.

One Two Jaga

Directed by the always reliable Nam Ron, One Two Jaga's release in local cinemas is nothing short of miraculous, despite (or maybe because of) its many travels in international film festivals.

Why? Because this is one of the very few local films that dare to make police corruption its main subject. A bit similar in spirit to his previous indie film Jalan Pintas, this one also plays on that favourite plot device used by a lot of indie and arthouse films ― circumstance.

A set of characters, some loosely connected while some aren't at all, will collide by the film's end, but it's not the pretty much straightforward plot that is the point here, but the details and circumstance of each character where the heart and soul of the film can be found.

Immigrant workers, good cops, corrupt cops, innocents, criminals big and small, good bosses, bad bosses, pretty much the whole spectrum of a branch of society rarely depicted in local films can be found here, and how beautifully done it is.

I've long felt that Songlap is one of the finest Malaysian films ever made, despite how gritty and raw it is technically, and finally it has a new friend to join it whenever anyone wants to go on a realist, lower depths-type exploration of Kuala Lumpur.

Please go see it in a cinema. It's not every day that something this good comes along.

Rise: Ini Kalilah

Some people may have already dismissed this as an attempt to cash in on the wave of euphoria that washed over the nation on May 9, 2018, as an unlikely victory saw Pakatan Harapan end Barisan Nasional's 61-year reign as the government of Malaysia.

Just four months after that, a movie about that inspirational victory is released in local cinemas, which really should tell you how quickly this one went from conception, to scripting, to shooting, editing and release.

While this sort of story has been told before in the form of documentaries like The Square (about the Arab Spring in Egypt) or Maidan (about the Ukraine's Euromaidan movement), to make a fiction film like this in such a short time is clearly a risk, a risk made bigger by the film's decision to make it an ensemble piece, focusing on an even larger set of characters than One Two Jaga.

While it is nice to have such big ambitions to cover as much ground and on as many facets of the people contributing to that victory as possible, a running time of around 90 minutes is not going to do justice to a lot of the characters here.

And that is exactly what happens here. Only about three or four characters get enough time and room to breathe to really resonate with the audience, like the Malay policeman and the Indian boss of a foreign worker agency.

The rest felt rushed, and therefore quite unsatisfying, leading to a feeling that the movie could've been a lot better if only they took their time. Not really Ini Kalilah, but not exactly Lain Kalilah either. Maybe Cuba Lagi Lain Kali?

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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