I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to watch this film for a while. A part of that is the willingness and the desire to support Malaysian-made films, especially the independent ones. While I was waiting, it did cross my mind how much support one can give to films. I mean, I watch it. And then…what? Perhaps I’ll pay for the privilege of watching a film, certainly if I am watching it in the cinema or renting or buying the DVD. The residuals will eventually find their way into the pockets of those who truly deserve the money to begin with: the people made the film. Of course, along the way, there will be those whose hands will dip into this particular fund, rightly or wrongly.
Nevertheless, the first obligation to such a support would be…to watch it. It is certainly true for films (just as listening is the first step of supporting an artist) and it is also true of ‘Emperor’. I wanted to support it because it seemed like an interesting story that’s not often explored within the Malaysian context. I wanted to support it because the production itself seems to be one that is worthy of such support. Not that many foreigners come here to make whole movies. Ang Lee, perhaps, a scene for ‘Lust, Caution’. Khabir Bhatia, as well, off the top of my heads. Maybe a few others. The reverse process is far more desirable, certainly in other fields that has more ‘proper’ jobs. Finally, I just have an affinity for feature DV films. I don’t quite know why, but it’s already a plus point in my book.
‘Emperor’ tells the story of Poh Sin (Alfred Loh), Victor (Adrian Lai) and Felix (Sean Yap), three friends who grew up in the crime organisation of Thomas Li (Sam Yap). He’s more commonly referred to as Dai Goh, but that name is nothing more than just a name to Poh Sin, who constantly goes against the Dai Goh’s wishes and orders. Victor is the one trying to keep everyone on the straight and narrow, while Felix is the goofier of the three main characters, though his character becomes arguably the most developed of the three by the end.
But we’re jumping ahead of ourselves here. Li’s main business is in the human trafficking business, where he makes a fair amount of money important Chinese workers to Germany. On one delivery, the three friends make their way to Europe to oversee the deal, and despite Victor’s efforts, all havoc is unleashed when a German girl (who Felix was seeing) ends up dead.
They return to Malaysia, and yet another girl disappears. With all the vidence pointed towards Victor, it didn’t help to have both the Malaysian and the German police on his back, trying to nail the crimes to him. However, as the story progresses, we get even deeper into the intrigue of the film, with a fairly unexpected twist in the end.
In many ways, the story played out like a classic ‘whodunnit’ film. There are plenty of strings dangled across both Malaysia and Germany, and at times, if you don’t pay attention, you feel as if you’re missing out on something important. With the aid of flashbacks, the story develops itself rather nicely, leading to a nice conclusion at the end. In fact, it’s the first film I’ve seen in a while to have employed such a tactic. It is clear that, story-wise, Julianne has spent a fair amount of time trying to twist as much of it as possible, but making sure that all of the elements come together eventually. Just when you think that you’ve got it figured out somehow, the carpet is swept from under your feet.
It helps that the music was a top-rate arrangement. I felt that it really captures the feel of the scenes rather well. The music by Yuri Wong and Hoong Bee Lim is subtle, using low, soft riffs that adds a little sinister feel to the scenes. It’s very Chinese/unique/oriental in nature, which fits in nicely with the whole feel of the film.
It’s a pity that the two lead characters, then, doesn’t really do much to flesh things out. They remained the same from beginning to the end. Though it’s doesn’t always have to happen this way, I think a little more empathy with the leads would have made for a more wholesome experience. I am reminded ‘KL Evolusi Drift’, somehow. In it, the main character remains the same arrogant jerk he had been from the start. By the end, I ended up wishing that he would lose his girlfriend to his best friend instead. “It was clever of them to put a bad guy in the lead,” I told my friend at the time. A part of that can be applied here, though not to the same level, mind you. It is unfortunate: lookwise, the seemed to fit the part, but dammit…Victor’s permanent scowl and Poh Sin’s constant smirk makes me want to punch his face. Perhaps that was a part of the plan all along 🙂
This, however, was not a major issue. The acting is balanced out nicely by the rest of the cast (with Sam Yap shining particularly bright). By the film’s end, I had not realised how quick the time had past, a mark that I got lost in the film. It’s not the lost of a bad kind, though; not the one where I wondered “What the hell is going on here?” I did wonder that, but it’s of the good ‘lost’ kind, rather than the confused type (did you get this?). It’s all satisfyingly rounded up by the end, and that is probably the only standard by which this film could be judged.
I spent four hours in the library downloading this film. Thanks to the Portable Film Festival, you don’t have to, but even if you did, it would still be worth your support.
Fikri was surprised to see his junior, Linora, in a cameo role. He was even more shocked to see his junior junior junior, Eunice, who was surprisingly feisty. The film is currently taking part in the Portable Film Festival, which means that, for the time being at least, you can watch it for free here.