Jai (Adi Putra) returns home, and walks silently towards the front door. He had been arguing with his mother, and relations between them are strained, to say the least. She had practically disowned him once she felt that her son was engaging in illegal activities.
What is he to do, though? Wait for Malek (Aaron Aziz), the golden boy to come good with his honest hard work? How much will he be able to make over the number of years that would actually help to pay off the loan sharks his father had owed? The interest, too, that’s a killer.
And for his sister, too, who had to stop her studies to help take care of their mother at home. This is no way to lead a life. He had to step up, and step up he did, he thought to himself as he neared the door.
He stopped, hesitant. He wanted to knock, but he knows that the fire burning in his mother’s heart is still bright and strong. Now is not the time to provoke further the old lady. Since her beating the other day, she had not been the same, and the cancer treatment must have taken a lot out of her. If anything, the last thing she would want is to see him right now.
Nevertheless, it is home. He looked at the door, and at the light peeking through from beneath the door. He picked out the RM50 notes he had bundled together, and slid it under the door. He stood up, and then…gingerly, placed his ear closer to the door. Almost leaning against it, he listened for any sounds of life, of his family…of home.
The above is an excerpt from the film, ‘KL Gangster 2’. Released recently, it is quite possibly the most effective action film ever produced in Malaysia. Effective, because from a technical standpoint, I find it difficult to truly fault the production’s values. There are a lot of stunts here, ranging from well-choreographed fight scenes between the main protagonists and antagonists of the story to the blowing up of random cars that truly add to the scene and characterisation. Am I easily impressed? Perhaps, and this does not mean that the story is and should be superseded by the dressing, but when the clothes are this good, I can’t help but be attracted on so many levels.
Having said that, there is a fine combination between the story being told and the action being choreographed. Don’t let the title fool you, for as much as this is an action film, it is also one that is largely driven by familial conflicts and feuds. The protagonists are Malek and Jai. I say protagonists, because they both serve as the conflictual reflection of the other. Jai is Malek’s antagonist, and vice-versa. By the end of the film, I found it difficult to decide which of the characters I identify with more, the poster boy Aziz or the more accomplished Putra.
At the same time, the bigger background also helped to push the story between these two characters forward. Tailong (Rosyam Nor) is the new gangster on the block, one who is threatening the existence of the other gangs by his sheer violence and immoral aptitude. Feeling threatened by this, King (Rizal Hashim) and his crew, led by Shark (the director Syamsul Yusof), decides to fight back, but realising that this can’t be done alone, he made strong overtures to Malek. Driven to desperation because of his mother’s poor health and physical condition, he decides to accept. At the same time, Jai also agrees to similar offers by Dragon (Adam Corrie), a gang leader affiliated with Tailong. This places both brothers on a collision path with each other, a conflict as old as the times.
In the middle of all this, however, the most important character is actually the mother. Ku Faridah’s portrayal as the maternal figure may appear to be somewhat over the top at times, but it is also she who provides the moral center of the story. Everything is framed as negative in the film in light of the positive standards she intended to uphold. It is also for her sake and benefit that both brothers are motivated to pursue their respective activities. We could, of course, look at how the healthcare system is failing the citizens of the country by crippling the crippled with insurmountable debts, but I doubt that is the focus of the story. It is the mother that helps to provide the focus, and it is a focus that can be reflected in Malaysian and Malay society as a whole. I’ve read of papers and articles on the concept of the mother in Irish and Italian families; I wonder what a similar research in a more Malaysian context would look like.
That’s not to say that all the characters here are pulling their own weight. Within the first few scenes of Fadil (Zizan Razak) appearing, I found myself smiling. He has a good presence, one that adds to many of his own films, but here, his schtick of the comic sidekick wears incredibly thin, incredibly fast. If anything, his jokes and mere smile sometimes kills the tension and rhythm built up in certain scenes. A more limited use of his character might have ramped up the feeling for these scenes, but hey, he does not come cheap I guess, so I suspect it is a maximisation of Skop Production’s own investment. It does, however, lead to a cheapening of some of the scenes; a scene in which Malek drives in a German marquee vehicle has Fadil in the passenger seat mocking the film’s main character: “Who do you think you are? Aaron Aziz?” It didn’t do anything for me, to be honest.
The character of Tailong, however, was incredibly captivating. Rosyam Nor portrayed him as an absolute bad ass, someone who will not bow down to any man. He has a vicious streak that is difficult to curtail, and it is to the immense credit of Rosyam Nor that he has portrayed someone so different from what I had expected. I know that he held the role of Castello a while back, a character not entirely dissimilar in physical and emotion outlook, that was effective for a while in the film ‘Gerak Khas’ and the spin-off ‘Castello’. The latter of the two films, however, positioned him not only as the protagonist but also as the hero, which didn’t do much to advance that image and idea for me. Here, however, when he says that he’s going to kick someone in the nads, making it travel out through his mouth and make them eat it again, I would actually believe him (and guard my nads ever more tightly).
That is, of course, assuming I understand what he was talking about. I appreciate the fact that the film plays on exaggerations of what many consider to be stereotypes of gangsters and…well, more gangsters, but quite frankly, the mixture of Manglish and Manglay was very difficult for me to get a hold of. I have to admit, Sofi Jikan’s renditions of some of the more poetic insults were wondrous works of art that left me hanging on his every word, but ultimately I also wonder whether it is a reflection of my ears to hear these things. Do people actually really do speak like that, or is Syamsul is continuing the fine tradition set forth by Yusry KRU in removing the film from the context(s) of its production? It feels unrealistic, but then again, realism is probably not what they’re aiming for when they made this film. Let’s just say that I’m glad for the presence of the English subtitles peeking through at the bottom of the screen (though there were parts when the characters were going at it full tilt, and there were no words coming up to translate them. Perhaps the transcriber/translator had given up at that part).
Once the talking is done, however, the action begins. And my word, what action they were. In every sense of the word, this film is truly designed and presented as a strong action film. More to the point, I will say this once again, and perhaps with even stronger words: ‘KL Gangster 2’ is arguably the most accomplished Malaysian action film I have seen. Again, bear in mind that I have not seen them all, but I think it is a point worth considering all the same. Even if you are not as willing to accord it the same level of achievement, you won’t find that many films that is presented as slickly as ‘KL Gangster 2’. It doesn’t just know that it’s a popcorn film, it strips itself naked and jumps into the popcorn making machine, all the while screaming “I’m a popcorn film! I’m a popcorn film!”
I should point out that I also did not note any music used from other films, which is a step up from the first one; back in 2011, I wrote: “I will point out, however, my great disappointment at the film producer’s lack of willingness to create and use original soundtrack. I detected music ranging from films such as ‘Inception’ to ‘Swordfish’.” Prior to this film, I had thought it ironic that a film that was stolen left the director and producers disappointed, when they themselves had been stealing from the works of others for many years without any credit whatsoever; I think the likes of Zimmer and Ottman could have made millions from royalties cashed in Malaysia alone. After watching this film, however, the lack of music I could recognise from other films left me feeling somewhat pleased. Bit by bit, I hope that this will lead us to respect the work of others a bit more.
Ultimately, despite all the action surrounding the film, this is a film filled with strong elements of characterisations that drive compelling stories: brothers on opposing sides, strong moralistic motivations that does not necessarily preach (though it does at times), and a clear idea of how it links up with the first film, ‘KL Gangster’. In one scene, for example, we see Jai contemplating for a few moments, leaning against a road sign that says Jalan Hang Jebat. It could be a coincidence, but let’s be real here: Syamsul Yusof, the son of Datuk Yusof Haslam, that honorary police officer who spent years deifying the police force and the government (a scene of the police car being overturned was, of course, immediately followed by the backup vehicle that placed everyone involved under arrest), could almost literally pick any street in the country.
Yet he chose the one that glorified the rebellious hero from the most famous tale amongst all the Malay(sian) myths and legends, one that told of a brotherly bond between two warriors being pushed to the limits by the motivations of their very own character and principles.
Make of that what you will.
Featured image credit: Ayay