The film industry is slowly growing but at a surer and steadier pace. 2017 has been a great testament to do that with action epics that have a shinier polish to them, dramatic pieces with attention to cinematography and an inspiring story that reminds us of what matters in life. We’ve taken some steps in front from 2016 with more acknowledgement given to underdog productions, the removal of language categories, and more. It’s of course still saturated with subpar movies, but what film industry in the world doesn’t have its cheesier, cringier dark side. In this article, we’re going to commemorate the top 5 films that really struck a chord in our hearts.
Directed by Zulkarnain Azhar, J Revolusi is one of the movies from 2017 that highlighted the potential that our action genre has especially within the scope of fight scene cinematography and the glorification of our special task force, Unit Tindakan Khas, the same way that Hollywood films give patriotic movie makeovers to their military or intelligence agency . The acting by Zul Ariffin as a vengeance-seeking member of the task force is formidable, carrying the machismo role with ease. Zul Ariffin is likable as the lead and it is evident in his performance that he wasn’t trying to imitate other well-known spies in other franchises like James Bond and Jason Bourne since he played a knowledgeable and charming agent who is loyal to both his team and his family. Supporting characters are not wasted on the side-lines like Skodeng (Azad Jazmin) who carried the film solely with the chemistry he shared with Jay and his effective punch-lines, Eddie (Izara Aishah) who depicted the non-stereotypical Malay female character and was a breath of fresh air and other minor roles like the cameo by Hans Isaac. Visually, J. Revolusi does fight scenes and car chases cleanly, which adds a cinematic depth to a genre often saturated with eye-poking effects.
Jibam, an adaptation from an Ujang novel, is a tale about a special child who is more than meets the eye. The beautiful thing about Jibam is that although the story itself is straight-forward, director Che Mie manages to adapt the seemingly enigmatic and idyllic world of Kampung Belulang. Although the acting of Mohd Arif Abdullah as Jibam is commendable, the real star of this film is the simple story with accessible values of unity and love. Jibam as a film has gone through so much, failing to meet the necessary ticket sales to last enough time at the cinema until it’s actually gotten support on social media. But the resilience of a movie with such innocence speaks to the type of purity that Jibam stands for. In a world of big productions and grand storytelling, Jibam captivates with its simplicity.
ASTRO Shaw and Ideate Media’s first installment in the cinematic universe they’re creating based off of Ramlee Awang Murshid’s novel is visual feast with a mystical grasp on cinematography by directors Seth Larney and Nasir Jani and the cinematic vision of Khalid Zakaria. The writers, Yasmin Yaacob & Choong Chi Ren also translates the work of the novel smoothly into screenplay. Farid Kamil‘s role in this film is one of his stronger ones, and Zul Ariffin’s physical acting chops is shown at its optimum, crossing the boundaries of being Malaysia’s pretty boy since his covered mostly by the mask. Tombiruo is also laudable for a female character that is more than just eye candy or an empty vessel for male affection, with Wan Suraya (Nabila Huda), exuding an empowering presence as a determined news reporter out to discover the truth. Farah Ahmad also embodies the eerie nature of Monsiroi the bobohlian effectively, especially when she’s in a trance-like state and speaking in the Kadazandusun language. Having faced flak for the overgeneralization of Sabahan culture, Tombiruo is still one step ahead better than most Malaysian films that are Peninsular-centric. And as only the opening to a cinematic universe that would be expanded further, there is still a lot of hope for this nuances to be explored. Tombiruo stands out above the rest in the recent film industry, even as an action film. Besides being the inauguration of a cinematic universe that is virtually unprecedented in Malayisan cinema, it explores the subtext of Man VS Nature really well through the eyes of a man burdened with responsibilities and imperfections, almost as well as the original novel does. There are also deep, emotional nuance in scenes that explores fatherhood and familial relationships. It is not perfect in its, but the overall feel of Tombiruo speaks to a sense of cinematic maturity that is very rare in Malaysian cinema. Especially when it involves a lot of punching and kicking.
Adiwiraku itself is a testament to a nice change in the film industry. Award ceremonies such as FFM are often accused of favouring big budget productions and established producers or actors, but Adiwiraku winning the Best Film category has proven that wrong. Adiwiraku is a film based on a true story about Cheryl Ann Fernando’s journey as a teacher in SMK Pinang Tunggal who pushes her students to join a choral speaking competition despite their struggles with poverty and proficiency in English. Adiwiraku also won Best Original Story given to Jason Chong. It was shot beautifully despite its low budget (RM600,000), beating multi-million ringgit ventures like J Revolusi, Desolasi & Interchange. The underdog film about underdogs has touched the hearts of award panelists, proving that it’s not always about box office revenues and endorsements. The tale of Adiwiraku is an inspirational tale not just for students aiming to succeed when the odds are against them, but also for local filmmakers who’ve yet to find their place in the scene. Sangeeta Krishnasamy humbly said that she felt she didn’t “deserve to win Best Actress“, but truly she gave a stellar enough performance in Adiwiraku. Sangeeta winning the best actress symbolizes a hopefully inclusive future in an otherwise Malay-centric film industry, which definitely justifies the inclusion of this movie in this lis.
1. You Mean the World to Me
Nothing feels more surreal and homely at the same time than this semi-autobiography by Saw Teong Hin. It has left such a mark in our psyche for being so warm in its telling of complicated familial ties, while housing some of the most beautiful, scenic and heart-rending moments in Malaysian cinema. The story itself is about a director called Sunny who seeks to make a film about himself and, in the process, come to terms with the frustration and anger he’s felt towards his family. No single moment of this was cliched or hackneyed. Saw Teong Hin sets a wonderful tone that is neither screechy in its emotion (symptomatic of some local dramas), yet always leaves you wondering and pondering. This of course is significantly boosted by Christopher Doyle‘s wonderful sense of framing and pace, evident in his cinematography. Adding to the litany of great work he has done with Wong Kar Wai such as In The Mood For Love, You Mean the World to Me does not waste a single frame to purposelessness. Every framing decision seems to be assisted with emotion and direction. The climax of the film (and the ending) are great testimonies to that. Christoper Doyle’s signature style can be seen through so many shots of the film, yet it never feels foreign or imposed, adding to the very Malaysian-esque identity of the landscape at the background of the Hokkien-speaking family. Almost everything about this film is near perfection, with its scoring, its solid ensemble consisting of competent actors and actresses like Frederick Lee, John Tan, Neo Swee Lim and Evan Chin, and its organic storytelling. You Mean The World To Me is a testament to the fact that you don’t have to be ‘safe’ to create a work of art that is rewatchable and resonant. In 2017, nothing else was more personal and relatable than this film, crushing all linguistic and cinematic barriers.
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