A review of Rise: Ini Kalilah is a tough one to write.
On one hand, I like that being in the cinema brought back to me the frenzy and turmoil of being a part of this year’s elections. The night of May 9th is still a vivid image in the minds of Malaysians and the film did have its moments that appealed to the patriotic side of most. But regardless of its many feel-good scenes, there is very little that Rise does to leave a lasting impression on its audience. This is not a film I would want to watch again, or even remember much about once it surpasses its hype.
Directed by Saw Teong Hin, Nik Amir Mustapha and M.S. Prem Nath, Rise: Ini Kalilah follows the stories of several diverse and distinct Malaysians in the days leading up to the 14th General Elections.
And while it is admirable that Rise has characters so diverse, the film’s flaws are rooted in the fact that it has too many characters and storylines to follow.
Throughout the film, the audience is continuously and rapidly thrusted from one subplot to another, leaving no time to properly develop each narrative. What this results in is a cluttered assortment of messy plot holes and one-dimensional characters that make for an overall very shallow story. You could very easily cut out all the scenes of any one character and have the movie progress just the same.
Rise consists of six interconnected narratives. There is Azman (Remy Ishak) and Johan (Mustaqim Bahadon), two police officers in a corrupt system who struggle with their moral compasses. We have photojournalist June (Jenn Chia) and British reporter Marcus (Mark O’Dea), who are compiling data on a story surrounding the exploitation of foreign labour, focusing largely on Selva’s (Shashi Tharan) foreign worker agency. There is also Leong (Jack Tan), a Singaporean-based hawker who returns to his hometown to vote. He is attracted to Shanti (Sangeeta Krishnasamy), a primary school teacher who volunteers as a polling agent, against her father’s (Thangamani) orders. We also have Fizah (Mira Filzah), a London-based waitress who works with her roommate Sasha (Farhanna Qismina) to bring home postal votes to Malaysia.
Sangeeta Krishnasamy evoked among the stronger performances in the film, as did Remy Ishak, who’s portrayal of Azman and chemistry with Mustaqim Bahadon was commendable. But even so, with so many stories we are meant to follow, and the general time-constraints of the film, even the best characters are never explored beyond an elementary surface level.
With such an ensemble cast and crew at work, you’d expect some better performances. But to put full blame on the cast’s acting prowess alone is perhaps unfair, for the film’s writing does little to showcase their full potential.
There’s a lot to be said about the writing of this film, but what stands out most is its bizarre and, oftentimes, very awkward dialogue.
Most characters speak as though they are giving a speech, like they feel the need to prove something every chance they get. It is like watching a continuous stream of one forced monologue after the other.
It’s one issue that the dialogue is odd. But it is another altogether that it quite often serves no purpose.
So much of the dialogue in the movie goes along the lines of “We need to make a difference” or “We have to fight the system”, that all come out of seemingly nowhere.
We are never really told why these characters are so upset. Or why the current government is so bad. I mean, we can probably guess why. But that’s not the point. Good films don’t just tell us what think. They show us both the good and bad and let us come to our own conclusions. In a strange way, Rise kinda comes off as subtle propaganda.
The film is also riddled with references to stories that went viral on social media during the recent political season.
We have a scene where a character witnesses people cutting out a politician’s face from a poster, referencing the time Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad‘s image was cut out from a billboard in Ayer Hitam. There is the story of Fizah, who brings home with her the postal votes from students in London, referencing the global army of ‘runners’ we had who were doing everything they could to reach the polling stations in time for the deadline. There is even a scene where a crowd forms a human barricade to stop a car from bringing illegal ballot boxes into a polling station, reminding us of the time when residents in Lembah Pantai did the same during the 13th General Elections.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with these scenes. They would’ve fit in fine if the film had a clear narrative. But because everything is so messy, every scene with a reference feels like the film’s way of saying “Hey, remember that? Remember when this happened? Remember that thing?”
It almost feels as though the ultimate purpose of Rise was to serve as a pat on the back for urban middle class Malaysians, or just a really long Petronas ad — the kind of thing you watch when you want to feel good about yourself.
The movie does manage to slightly redeem itself, however, with its soundtrack, which features covers and rearranged versions of popular patriotic songs. The main theme is Datuk Sheila Majid’s elegant rendition of Sejahtera Malaysia, which was rearranged by music directors Cheng Lee, Mac Chew and Audi Mok. Her version of the song is extremely charming and is perhaps the one aspect of this film that was executed solidly. There is also a cover (along with a Mandarin version!) of Saya Anak Malaysia, which plays during the credits and is sung by an all-star cast including David Arumugam, Jenn Chia, Priscilla Abby, Haoren, Meer Nash and Jeryl Lee. The video even features cameos of several of the film’s cast.
Whether or not you’ll like Rise depends on what it is you expect from a film.
If it is an intriguing plot and character development that you turn to film for, there are likely better works Malaysian cinema has offer.
But if you’re simply looking for something that is in the spirit of #MalaysiaBaru or will appeal to the nostalgic side of you that wants to remember the night of May 9th, Rise is a film you will very much appreciate.
Rise: Ini Kalilah is now out in cinemas.
Featured Image Source: Rise: Ini Kalilah