The press kit for ‘Cuak’ landed in our inbox a while ago, an email from one of the film’s producers, Michael Chen. We replied, telling him to get in touch with us via our official email address we had just sorted out (or so we thought). It was an interesting opportunity, because he was offering us the chance to attend some preview screenings being arranged to promote the film. We waited for him to get back to us, but…nada.
Alas, it turns out that technical difficulties were to blame. He actually did reply to that address, but we never properly received it until much later. So…sorry Michael.
It is a pity, because ‘Cuak’ appears to be a very interesting project. It is basically anthology of short films that centers around Adam (Ghafir Akbar), who is having second thoughts about getting married to Brenda (Dawn Cheong). There are five different segments, telling different aspects of the relationship in a number of different ways from different perspectives. However, there is a strong connective tissue that links all the stories into one single narrative, so to speak.
The film is produced by Garang Pictures (I think; more on this later). I remember Garang Pictures as a production company that has concentrated on less-mainstream projects, even if they do feature a lot of very recognisable names both in front of and behind the camera. For example, the compilation of fifteen short films, ‘Ikal Mayang’, was produced by them. They were directed by different directors looking at issues related to women, feminism and the like. I had met Abby Latif, who appears to be their head honcho, but a quick scan of the credits list on this press kit does not reveal her name anywhere, so perhaps she is not as involved on this initiative.
However, a quick scan on the website reveals a potential distinction between Garang Pictures and Garang Indie. For now, I am not entirely sure whether they are completely separate entities looking to do different projects for different purposes, but the set up appears to be a very interesting one, if slightly confusing.
All the same, I have no doubt that there is some cross polination that happened between ‘Ikal Mayang’ and ‘Cuak’. Some of the key personnel on that project are also on board here. For example, Khai Bahar is directing ‘The Bachelor Party’ segment, as Adam and his friends share opinions about how marriage would change their friendship. Having been somewhat aware of Khai and his previous films such as ‘Relationship Status’, I do expect this to be identical in terms of style and content. His previous works have been very dialogue-driven, reflective of the socioeconomic class of their characters. This is what I wrote of ‘Relationship Status’: “in thirty years time, when researchers and anthropologists wish to analyse the lives of Taman Tunians, Bangsarians and Mont Kiarans (though that might be a little too ‘upper’), it is this film they’ll be referring to, and not…err, ‘Adnan Sempit 2’.” I do not expect this to change for this project.
Someone I am less aware of is Lim Benji, the director of ‘Found Footage’. It is not to say that I’ve never heard of him, for he has a tendency of popping up here and there. He is a co-director of ‘The Joshua Tapes’, but as with most films credited with more than one director, it is difficult to truly ascertain whose vision we are truly seeing on the screen. It does not make it less valid, but it means that I, as a member of the audience, can’t truly predict what will happen next. Perhaps a film like ‘Meter’ could shed more light in terms of style, if not substance. The film is, after all, called ‘Found Footage’, which takes us further into the past when Adam was dating Brenda’s housemate, Nurul (Ani Juliana Ibrahim). On a sidenote, ‘Meter’ is always a big hit with all my students (along with Nash Edgerton’s ‘Spider’ – you can’t go wrong with them, my fellow warriors of the academia), so thanks for that!
Someone I found myself saying thanks to a fair amount some time ago was Manesh Nesaratnam, as he helped out with this event here. He is an independent filmmaker who struck me as someone with a very clear vision of trying to crack the features side of things on his own terms. Of course, every single filmmaker worth his salt will always say, “Yeah, I’m working on something.” That’s not difficult to believe, because it seems like the features world is afforded more credibility compared to the their shorter brethren. It is an assumption I feel should be challenged sooner rather than later, but nevertheless, the point is that Manesh actually seems like he’s working on something. He was very strongly involved in the collaborative project called ‘Your Grandfather’s Road’ a few years back. It was an online initiative that sought stories from random Malaysians up and down the country, before it was to be finally distilled into a workable feature film. Looking back, I feel that it could have easily been the first crowd-sourced film to be made in Malaysia, had it been successful. Of course, I could be very wrong on that front, but I cannot recall another effort to make a film like that either before or after.
For a while, though, it seemed like there was a chance it could actually happen, before financial issues brought the curtains down on that production. Of course, a filmmaker who makes films on his terms will always be held against his own works with little room for excuses, but at the very least, Manesh’s work holds up strongly against the others. This can be seen in ‘The Invigilator’, a film that always makes me check the toilets when it is my turn to invigilate during the exam season. As for ‘Cuak’, Manesh’s segment, ‘Consent’, involves the meeting of the in-laws, which is always a topic that is easily enjoyable.
I’ve talked a bit about some of the filmmakers above primarily because I have an idea of what their segments in ‘Cuak’ would look like, but quite frankly, I have little to say about Tony Pietra Arjuna. His name pops up quite a lot, and he seems to have an extensive enough background in the television industry. The press kit lists works he was keenly involved in with NTV7, Astro and 8TV, amongst many others. I asked Google what else he did, and Google got back to me 0.31 seconds later saying, “Sorry bro, all I have is that he photographed ‘Some Like It White’ by Khai Bahar.” For a moment, I had it mixed up with ‘Nicotine’, a film I have always referred to in my head as Khai’s cigarette film, but a single short film shot in the middle of the noughties is a poor indicator of what this year of the horse will be hauling in. He has a plum segment though; ‘Issues’ sees Mikail (Tony Eusoff), Adam’s half brother, inserting himself into the picture, believing that Brenda is bad news for everyone.
Finally, we get to ‘The Couple’, which also means that we finally get to the two main characters around which the ‘Cuak’ universe revolves. Thus far, what we have are segments that develop the main characters based on their relationship(s) with others, so the final segment promises to be the part where the spotlight will fall on our two protagonists. In many ways, should the film be structured in the way I think it would be structured (the five segments back to back, rather than all the segments intercut with one another [again, I could be wrong here; I remember someone saying something specific about this but for the life of me I can’t remember, both the person and what (s)he said]), then the film could wrap with this story, so the responsibility that lies with Shamaine Othman, the segment’s director, is great.
Shamaine was also involved with ‘Ikal Mayang’, but that film was in a different compilation whose screening I did not attend, so not unlike Mr Tony Pietra Arjuna, I have little clue as to what she has served up. It is strange, because being one of my ex’s best friends, we have hung out way back when in the past, but even if you offer me all the A&W waffles (double scoop) in the world, I cannot even begin to guess what her creative vision on screen might be like. Yes, she is involved with ‘Projek Disko Baldi’ (the sketch where she tried to get into a nightclub but was rejected was quite funny), and yes, she probably gets good advice on filmmaking from her family, but still…those would probably be more stereotypically defined as comedic influences, and I am not sure how much of that would seep through here.
That kind of sums it all up nicely, because what you do get here is a combination of very different films produced by very different people. Very rojak, and in that sense, very Malaysian…
…which segues nicely into the penultimate paragraph. I find it interesting that the official press kit of the film mentioned more than once about the production’s Malaysianness. It’s not as common a line in such promotional efforts, and I personally think it stood out, for some reason. Here is my suspicion: the film’s makers are perhaps the ones who have probably been accused of not being Malay/Malaysian enough, at least in their work, because of the fairly fluent usage of alternative languages in the past (primarily English). I wonder whether this train of thought is destined to be derailed, simply because of the complex makeup of the issue, and have previously talked about the need to challenge the conventional understanding of what is truly Malaysian at its very base. Subconsciously or otherwise, I think this film offers not only a part of life that we don’t see as much of on screen (either independently or otherwise), but it also portrays the perspective of those who have some influence in (re)defining the idea of what a Malaysian film is.
Having said that, similar efforts in the past have crashed and burned at the box office, so as much as I think this is a very interesting film, I look forward to seeing if others agree with me.
Upon realising that the film’s producer is also a MMA fighter, Fikri thinks it’s wise to reply to his emails from now on. Promptly. Check out ‘Cuak’ on social media here and here, then catch the film in cinemas on Valentine’s Day. Unless things change…
Featured image credit: Aclhi
Note: After this post went up, Michael got in touch with us not to administer a roundhouse kick to the head, but to enlighten us about the following points. Garang Indie is a part of Garang Pictures, which is itself a part of a sisterhood of companies that includes Kakiseni, Capri Communications and Fearless Designs. Abby Latif is not quite the head honcho of Garang Pictures, but she is spearheading female-related projects. Lastly, the film is edited according to emotional points; Michael himself says, “It will weave back and forth from one short to another, almost as if the whole movie was directed by one Director.”