Film & TV Movie

Men Who Would Have Saved The World (Or At Least The Malaysian Film Industry)

Over the coming weeks, The Daily Seni will be reintroducing content previously missing from our databases due to system upgrades. Today, we’ve revived a review of Lelaki Harapan Dunia written by former Associate Editor, screenwriter and director Al Jafree Md Yusop. As one of few mixed reviews for Liew Seng Tat‘s critically-acclaimed film, it generated a lot of interest when it was first published on 27 November 2014. This version of his review has been edited by Deric Ect.

HAVING only been a film critic for a few months since August this year, I’ve already written a number of negative reviews for Malaysian cinema. While I admire Francois Truffaut’s brutal approach towards reviewing film during his days at Cahiers du Cinema, I still hoped that a movie will come to save me from becoming a bitter critic. Then Liew Seng Tat’s Men Who Save The World arrived on our shores with ginormous expectations from Malaysia’s film enthusiasts.

In Lelaki Harapan Dunia, Pak Awang (Wan Hanafi Su) successfully gathers a group of villagers — his ‘world-saving’ men — to help him manually transfer a so-called American House in time for his daughter’s weding. But the outcast, Wan (Sofi Jikan), sees what he believes to be an orang minyak in the house. He runs back to the village screaming hysterically, creating instant panic among the men.

Men Who Save The World has some positive and negative elements. Teoh Gay Hian’s cinematography is beautiful. It makes me want to pack my bags and live in the Malaysian jungle. Yes, it’s that beautiful. The actors’ performances are top notch, especially Wan Hanafi Su, Azman Hassan and Sofi Jikan. Liew has done an excellent job directing these already impressive talents.

But though these men cared to expend their time and energy to help Pak Awang move the house, they start to become suspicious of Pak Awang and keep themselves away from him as soon as the orang minyak rumour took shape. I don’t see enough reason for them to isolate and hate Pak Awang; it should have been Wan the village outcast who gets demonised by them.

This is a key element of the film which does not make any sense to me. Even in an obscure arthouse film like Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ took the time and trouble to explain and justify how its main character got to be in the situation he is in.

I also understand that there are films like Abbas Kiorastami’s Taste of Cherry in which the main character’s motivation is never explained. But Taste of Cherry is an extremely minimalist film which dealt with its protagonist’s need to end his own life. It didn’t need to involve the whole city of Tehran for him to do so. If Fellini didn’t make an effort to explain his protagonist in 8 ½, we would’ve been judging the other characters for treating its protagonist the way they do. In the end, I feel as if Men Who Save The World is actually much ado about nothing. That might have been Liew’s intention, but I’m not buying it.

Another movie I want to refer to is Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. In that movie, the main character is determined to transport a steamship over a steep hill in order to access rubber-rich territory. Fitzacarraldo‘s ambitious and charismatic leading man manipulates an Amazonian tribe into fulfilling his ambition. The steamship feels like an important character in the film; it is made clear that Fitzcarraldo wants the steamship to carry the produced rubber. But I don’t understand why Pak Awang decided to move the house. This needs to be justified further as it must have been difficult to stage the film’s beautiful house-moving scene.

Having said that, a new wave of young filmmakers has emerged after Dain Said’s critically successful Bunohan. I am done with superficial gangster and cartoonish horror movies — Men Who Save The World is not the movie I hoped it would be, but maybe this is a start. Liew Seng Tat’s latest film is after all still a breath of fresh air.

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