And The Winners Are… – 26th Malaysian Film Festival (part 1)

With the 26th Malaysian Film Festival coming up sooner or later, Fikri Jermadi takes a closer look at the major categories in the first part of this (in)complete guide.

Soon enough, the 26th Malaysian Film Festival will take place. It is an event that celebrates much of mainstream cinema in Malaysia, and is largely considered to be the domestic equivalent to the BAFTA or the Oscars. Conceived as an annual event, there is, however, a lack of consistency in its scheduling. This is important, as some of the nominees here were released to the public almost two years ago.

All the same, it’s worth taking a look at how the actual awards itself may shape up in the major categories. This article will largely assess the viability of each candidates without necessarily sticking its neck out for any single person.

I also must point out that I do not wish to cover each and every single category. A number of them are fairly redundant, given how they demarcate the selection of certain movies and performers using language and age/experience as criteria. We’ll get to this a bit more later on.

Rusdi reminisces about the time when he was a pendekar on TV3...

Beginning with the Best Art Direction category, the films of ‘KIL’, ‘Rock Oo!’, ‘Penanggal’, ‘Tanda Putera’  and ‘Sembunyi’ are nominated. Out of the five, I only failed to watch ‘Rock Oo!’ out of the above, and therefore I can’t comment any more accurately on that film. Of the remaining films, ‘Tanda Putera’ received a lot of flak with regards to its direction and sound editing amongst many other things, I didn’t think there was much wrong with the art direction itself. Having said that, I feel that the winner could come from either ‘Penanggal’ or ‘Sembunyi’. The former was directed by a first-time director in Ellie Suriaty Omar, while the latter was by Kabir Bhatia, an experienced superstar director. Both conveys much of the kampung aesthetic in different ways. They can also be classified as horror films dealing with monstrous elements, and the dark nature of these films were amplified by the strong art direction in both.

‘Tanda Putera’, ‘Rock Oo!’, ‘Sembunyi’ and ‘Penanggal’ also made the cut for the category of Best Costume Design. Another of the nominees, ‘Kara King’, was a film I nearly forgot was released; at around the same time, films like ‘KL Zombi’, ‘Tanda Putera’, ‘KL Gangster 2’ and ‘Vikingdom’ was also present in the cinemas. You may disagree with the actual quality of each film, but that’s a fairly stellar lineup of landmark films in many ways, and ‘Kara King’ failed to make the cut for me at the time. It was with great regret, too, since the DVD itself was nigh on impossible to find. A student of mine, who had planned a thesis on the authorship of Namewee, was forced to modify her paper because she couldn’t find this very film.

What actors really mean when they say they're in the middle of a shoot.

Similar to the Best Art Direction category, most of the films received nominations for the Best Sound Design award, with ‘KL Gangster 2’ replacing ‘Tanda Putera’. This is with good reason, too; in my review, I noted that the inconsistency was “maddening”, to the point that I thought twice about the following sentence I wrote of an experienced and respected director: “The director has completely lost the plot with the sound design and the endless music that gave us very little room in which to breathe.” The same could be said for the music in ‘KL Gangster 2’, though the finer technical mixing made for a more even experience. You still can’t get away from the sound punches pulled directly from sound libraries which, while is the standard approach by many, does not really match up to ‘KIL’s subtle and elegant designs.

Speaking of elegance, a Malaysian-Chinese film, ‘Paper Moon’, fires up its band as a nominee in the Best Score category. This is a film that had impressed me greatly last year. In judging a national-level competition, the judges and I watched a number of films fairly quickly. Obviously, within the very limited timespan, we did not sit down and watch every single submission from beginning to the end. Usually, we would persevere with at least the first ten minutes or so of the film; if it failed to catch us, we would skip to the next film. ‘Paper Moon’ caught our attention so much we ended up watching nearly thirty minutes of the film, and I was so caught by the bug I went out and bought the DVD. Though it is not the perfect film, the score is not one of its flaws, so it would be great to see this film stand up and stand out against ‘Tanda Putera’, ‘Tokan’, ‘KL Gangster 2’ and ‘Sembunyi’.

Purcell really wanted to audition for 'Game of Thrones'.

It missed out for the Best Special Effects category,though. Our old friends ‘Tanda Putera’ and ‘Penanggal’ pop their head in the door once again, though thankfully they brought other friends with them this time. ‘Ular’, ‘Husin, Mon & Jin Pakai Toncit’ and ‘Lemak Kampung Santan’ are also nominated for this gong. Out of the three, I did see ‘Husin’, but was not interested enough to check out the other two. Frankly, their titles and concept were not initially compelling enough for me, so I am not sure how much of a chance they have here. ‘Ular’ seems like a unique enough concept, with a bunch of lucky draw winners fighting for survival on an island. Produced by KRU Studios, the company who’s made such strong inroads for the local animation and visual effects industry, I would think that this film wouldn’t lack the human or financial resources at working up a scare. I’m somewhat surprised their flagship film, ‘Vikingdom’, wasn’t nominated here, though.

Some would say that film editing is what makes film what it is. As such, the nominations for the editing award is one that always catches my eye whatever the event. The nominees for best editing is really interesting, though. For one, I actually did manage to catch all the films, and am therefore better able to provide a more informed assessment. It’s a tricky one, truth be told, precisely because many of the films had different objectives. ‘KIL’ relied on a slower pacing, one that lets us a feel a bit more, and is therefore an entirely different proposition to ‘KL Gangster 2’, whose visceral editing style meant that we were supposed to be thrilled more than anything else. A combination of both could be seen in the horror films ‘Penanggal’ and ‘Sembunyi’, but arguably the most unique of them all is ‘Istanbul Aku Datang’, whose bright and cheery outlook was matched/informed by its clean and precise editing style, carried out almost rhythmically. I do have an issue with its nomination, though: this film is nominated for an awards show nearly two years after its release. It’s not its fault, but it highlights the inconsistent and ridiculous nature of this awards show.

"Go away, Zooey wannabe! Anyways, I prefer Emily."

Of the five above, ‘Tanda Putera’ replaces ‘KL Gangster 2’ in the Best Cinematography category. It’s a bit of a fallacy, this. While there was not much entirely wrong with the cinematography of ‘Tanda Putera’ (at least, none that I can recall off the top of my head read now of what was an aesthetically problematic movie), there was nothing that truly stood out well enough to say that it’s Top Five material. In fact, they might as well have kept the same five films for this, for we would have again witnessed a similarly strong battle for this particular award. Again, the fairly late entry of ‘Istanbul Aku Datang’ is weird for me, but I won’t deny that Harris Abdullah captured the tone of the story perfectly. It can’t be all that easy working in unfamiliar territory in Turkey, either, with changes in weather and ambience also playing a key role in how you manage the light. Out of all the films here, I feel SY Chong (‘KIL’) and Raja Mukhriz (‘Penanggal’) would also be worthy winners.

Part two of this can be read hereThe 26th Malaysian Film Festival will take place on 1st November 2014.

Feature image credit: Linkology

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