TWENTY-one years ago, filmmaker U-Wei Haji Saari sent an adaptation of William Faulkner’s Barn Burning to Cannes, where it became the first Malaysian movie to make the festival’s official selection. Released locally six years after completion, Malaysian movie Kaki Bakar (known internationally as The Arsonist) arrived in local cinemas in 2001.
It resurfaced most recently thanks to Galeri Ilham which screened the film yesterday to a full house. Kaki Bakar‘s director, whose long-delayed Hanyut will finally arrive in cinemas next month, was also in attendance for a special question and answer session post-screening.
Kaki Bakar follows Javanese immigrant Kakang (played by Khalid Salleh) who lands in Malaysia hoping for a better life for himself and his family.
Kakang is a man proud of his own heritage and culture, and he wants to instill his values into his children. However experiences of social inequality resulting from his status as a foreigner pushes Kakang to commit arson. Through it all, his youngest son Kesuma (played by Ngasrizal Ngasri) grows increasingly frustrated as his father’s teachings and actions don’t quite gel.
Kaki Bakar made the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival which was a first for Malaysia. It even world premiered at the festival in the form of Programme Malais, a showcase of works by U-Wei which comprised the film and clips of his debut feature Perempuan, Isteri dan Jalang and telefilm Aku Raja Gunung Ini.
The Arsonist is lushly photographed, with rich shadows at night and vibrant colors (of rugs and fabrics as well as trees) that shimmer in the harsh sunlight. And the film moves so smoothly it seems to be heading toward inexorable tragedy.
Internationally, Kaki Bakar won several awards including the Grand Prix (Best International Film Adaptation Award) at the Brussels Film Awards 1995 and the Special Jury Award at the 1st South-East Asian Biennial Festival in 1997. It was also invited to Telluride, Pusan, Hong Kong, Venice and Los Angeles. U-Wei’s career continued picking up and he would go on to receive international support for Jogho due to the Kaki Bakar‘s acclaim.
His next film release Hanyut meanwhile has been delayed for around five years. An adaptation of Joseph Conrad‘s Almayer’s Folly, the film is led by Australian actor Peter O’Brien, Malaysian actresses Sofia Jane and Diana Danielle, and Singaporean talent Adi Putra, Hanyut also costs approximately RM18 million, making it one of Malaysia’s most expensive movie projects ever.
Shot on a 35mm panavision film camera in the jungles of Pahang, it has a notable selection of Malaysian actors (Normah Damanhuri, Hasnul Rahmat, Bront Palarae, Ramli Hassan, Khalid Salleh, Hana Nadira and Sabri Yunus are some of them) in supporting roles and cameos.
But back to Kaki Bakar: if you haven’t seen the film or were turned away from Galeri Ilham because the screening was packed to the rafters, we know it’s available to purchase on the internet via the Academic Video Store for a ridiculous price. We also couldn’t find a streaming link, but tune into Astro Citra because it pops up there every so often!