A Whole New World – Budak Kelantan

bkI bought the DVD of ‘Budak Kelantan’ almost as immediately as I saw it. Almost, because it was perhaps the second time I saw it adorning the shelves of Speedy Video. But even then it must be considered as something out of the ordinary, because I tend to debate a fair amount, internally, as to whether such investments would be worth the money I’d pay for it. Sure, it wasn’t particularly expensive, but I also consider what the other goods I could have bought with that same money. I believe, if I recall it correctly, that it’s called comparative goods.

Ah, A Levels Economics is but an age away.

Two guys, a girl, but no pizza place.
Two guys, a girl, but no pizza place.

‘Budak Kelantan’, however, deals very much in the now. The film follows two childhood friends, Buchek (Danny X-Factor) and Jaha (Mohd Asrulfaizal), who meet up after having been apart for a fair number of years. Having recently met an old friend who I lost touch with for 15 years, I can relate a little bit to this particular experience. It probably goes without saying, though, that my friend isn’t the womanising, rule-breaking, conniving thug that Jaha is. In fact, in so many ways, I believe that such a description wouldn’t even do proper justice to the actual character. He is very much someone living in the now, a pseudo-pimp who uses women for his own pleasure, before discarding with them as easily as one does a smoked cigarette.

Staying very much on the ‘true’ path, however, is Buchek, an idealistic, principled, pious young man, whose joy at seeing his old friend is as sincere as it appeared to be mutual. Nonetheless, this joy dissipated quickly when he realises how far away they have been, and how big a difference it made to them. It does bring to mind the question: how much do you give to someone? Is it enough that this someone is a person you know from way back when? I suppose that my context is slightly different to the general audience who will be seeing this. Nevertheless, that was the question that jumped to mind.

The driver wishes Jaha had put some deodorant on...
The driver wishes Jaha had put some deodorant on...

In another way, the two characters of Buchek and Jaha could well serve as a representation of the modern Malay and Muslim in Malaysia. No matter what people say, here is the truth as I see it: there is one stream who very much stays on the ‘true’ path ala Buchek. This is the bunch who hits the masjid every time the azan rings, and does not even consider compromising during the month of Ramadhan. Then there’s another stream who won’t suffer from much compulsion downing a couple of Tigers every so often. For the record, I suppose you could say that I fall somewhere in between the two. Of course, these two ideals are incredibly general and vague in nature, failing to cover every single person. Nor do I necessarily believe that one is better than the other; I think that whether you’re a good person or otherwise is not entirely dependent on how many times you pray in a single day.

Coming back to this film, the impression I get is that the two main characters of Buchek and Jaha serve as representations of this particular clash between the two streams. We see this conflict played out in numerous occasions throughout the film. For example, in one scene, as the boys drove past a mosque, Buchek pleads with Jaha to stop the car. “Please, I won’t be long, I just want to pray for a moment.” Jaha eventually relented, but even that hesitation to grant what is an admittedly simple wish creates a clearer and stronger character, which grabbed my attention even more. It isn’t, of course, a one-way street; Buchek tries what he can to bring Jaha back to the ‘right’ path. He’s even willing to let go of his girlfriend, Che Nor (Bienda), once he realises that Jaha has fallen for her (though doesn’t exactly hurt that he managed to figure out a substitute…). What a sickly sweet gesture, even though Jaha’s mojo is not one that floats her boat.

UiTM's orientation is a bit wild.
UiTM's orientation is a bit wild.

This leads me to the final two points I’ll make before wrapping this up. One is the performance of Mohd Asrulfaizal. He is surprisingly charismatic, and I say surprising merely because I’ve not heard of him before. There is a certain presence that draws my attention every time he comes onscreen. I very much want to hate the guy; he is the textbook asshole, believe you me. As such, his is not an easy character to play, but Mohd Asrulfaizal made me squirm with his sliminess that I want to throw the DVD box at him in some of the scenes. Much like the antagonists in professional wrestling, however, that only means that he’s doing a very good job. I believe that, with luck and good timing, he would have a big future ahead of him. If even I get around to doing the gangster film I’ve been wanting to do for a while, I now know who to look for.

The other point that grabbed my attention is the camerawork. There are lots of long takes in the film, and if you have been following this blog over the past year or so that it has existed, you may well realise that I love long takes. It allows the actors time to get up to speed, and also gives the audience a good chance to be emotionally involved. There is a closer sense of reality, and it is this sense that is important. The film appears to try to mirror real life as closely as possible, and in the years to come, it may well be considered as a work that at least attempts to represent closely a part of the zeitgeist (‘Kami’, another film I saw while I was back home, is another film that did this. We will discuss this one later on). The camera’s dutch angles (slightly turned sideways, and sometimes shifting its tilt across to the other side of the room in a single shot) were well executed, adding a lot more to the scenes otherwise. Usually I could think of a few things I would do differently if I were the director. Here, I have to admit that there’s very little of Wan Azli’s work that I would change much, if at all.

In the end, I felt a little bad, because I had hesitated before buying the DVD. Yeah, Yasmin Ahmad gave it a glowing recommendation on her blog (though Fazil kinda beat her to it for ‘In Bruges’). It was apparently shot on digital video, but you wouldn’t really know it, such is the strength of the characters and their story. I felt bad because I wasn’t around to enjoy it in the cinema.

Most importantly of all, I felt bad because it is a film that people (including me at times) have described as one that is worthy of uplifting the standard of the Malaysian film industry. I felt bad for thinking that, because this is a film that is capable of standing on its own two feet relatively well in any industry, in any country, and across any race. It is a meaningful, strong film, one that deserves to be described not just as a very good Malay/Malaysian film, but as a very good film worth watching.

You won’t need an A Levels in Economics to figure that one out.

Fikri forgot that the blog is around a year old now. Yay to us. 🙂

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