Watching this film makes Fikri Jermadi yearn for nasi lemak antarabangsa.
In a recent preview of the upcoming 26th Malaysian Film Festival, I didn’t think enough of this film to justify writing of their nomination in the Best Special Effects category: “Frankly, their titles [I had lumped it together with ‘Ular’] and concept were not initially compelling enough for me, so I am not sure how much of a chance they have here.”
To begin with, I wondered what a film titled ‘Lemak Kampung Santan’ is doing anywhere near such a category. Are we about to witness some proper Maya-rendered nasi lemak ayam goreng (tak nak kacang, kak)? That would indeed be a sight for sore eyes (and empty stomachs).
I then realised that I had critically judged a film as yet unseen. I suppose it’s not entirely wrong to have such feelings to begin with, but it’s hardly fair I castigate my friends for avoiding such films and then do it myself. I decided to give it a taste.
‘Lemak Kampung Santan’ tells the story of Ridzuan (Hans Isaac, who also quadrupled up here as the director, scriptwriter and producer), a big shot city boy architect. He works for GHI, managed by his girlfriend Sofia (Natasha Hudson). They’re targeting an area, which includes Kampung Santan, for redevelopment.
Unfortunately, it is home to Pak Wan (Harun Salim Bachik) and his daughter Tiqa (Neelofa), who operate a nasi lemak stall. However, this is not just any lemak stall, but a nasi lemak stall whose popularity apparently has more to do with its taste than with the pretty lady selling it. With regards to the eviction, it’s safe to say they weren’t the happiest bunnies around.
One day, Ridzuan accidentally ends up at the stall. Realising that he’s on enemy territory, he lies about his identity in the interests of self-preservation. Over time, he becomes closer to the villagers, primarily an effect of getting closer to Tiqa. Predictably, it is not an unrequited love.
It is this that needs some proper addressing. Yes, these are characters created for the purpose of a story. However, being somewhat familiar with the performers, I didn’t see Ridzuan and Tiqa falling in love, but Hans Isaac and Neelofa being swept away by their emotions.
This is, I believe, the biggest selling point of such films, a rendition meant to be intertexually linked to real life. If you are able to do that, then I suppose there is a measure of entertainment that can be served up. After all, how else to explain the rooting for a protagonist who cheats on his girlfriend…by lying to the current, secret apple of his eye?
Another selling point for this film was the use of computer generated images. All jokes aside, I was wondering whether I’d witness something new. There were some scenes with elements of CGI in and around the live action on screen, but only one of them, involving Abu (Awie) and his wife, managed to gain narrative traction. That was fairly impressive, but that was one scene.
Speaking of Awie, his presence made me think of how…creatively incestuous this production is. What I mean is how much and how often the people in front of and behind the camera have collaborated with each other, further tightening the creative loop of this production. Let me explain.
The opening scene had a couple of characters talk about the great Malaysian footballers of the past, including the late Mokhtar Dahari. Hans Isaac actually produced ‘Supermokh’, a stage production based on the life and times of the great man himself. The fairly close proximity of the film and stage production made me feel not only that both were developed extensively at the same time, but a marketing seed was also planted; Mokhtar Dahari was portrayed by Awie, who…was also in this film. See what I mean?
‘Supermokh’ also featured Douglas Lim, who also made an appearance here as a factory owner. It was co-directed by Harith Iskander, one of this film’s co-writers who also had a minor role in the film. Speaking of minor roles, Afdlin Shauki also popped up in an early scene; he starred in Hans’ directorial debut ‘Cuci’ some years ago.
Hans himself will appear in ‘Nota’, directed by another of this film’s co-writer Yasu Tanaka, along with Maya Karin, who also appeared ‘Supermokh’…you get the idea, right? Such collaborations are not entirely unusual, mind you, but I am just struck by how overt and prevalent the creative synergy is in this film.
I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, but what I do know is that I had guessed how this story will develop by the tenth minute (and confirmed it by the twentieth). The challenge for the rest of the film is to see how closely it fit what I know of conventional storytelling structures.
Even a concept like deus ex machina was even invoked; the one thing promoted as the saviour of the day did not do so, while the one element that was inserted in the last ten minutes did. Though a reversal of both would have been more obvious, I feel it might have been more satisfying.
Going beyond that, land eviction is a long-standing political issue affecting many. Malaysia being the home of visitors to begin with (everyone comes from somewhere, however near or far), the hint to our colonial past is never far away. Teasing Tiqa, Amin (Mohd Ashraf) compared Ridzuan’s nose to Frank Sweetenham’s. To say Sweetenham is an influential figure of and for the British during colonial times is to say that Cristiano Ronaldo is not bad at football: a bit of an understatement.
Furthermore, the divide between the city and the village, the urban and the rural in Malaysian films continue. It portrays the big bad city as…well, big and bad, with nobler rural folk fighting for justice and tradition. This system of representation affirms with a key segment of its target audience.
And therein lies the key: I highly doubt I am a part of that. The film has been constructed in such a fashion that only those truly embedded in the contexts that surround this production as well as the film can appreciate it. Though I am not entirely clueless, the end result is a film I can’t really connect with.
For example, it does little to truly establish enough of its own topography: how far away is the village from the city (they seem really close to one another)? How many people are there in the village (would a bigger population make this seem more serious)? How did Sofia know of the village to begin with?
It’s not all bad, I suppose, but I also feel this is a 90 minute time period of my life I will never get back.
Fikri wonders whether nasi should have been in the title. This film was nominated in the Best Visual Effects, Best Child Actor (Ahmad Ashraff Fahmy and Best Original Theme Song (Shamsul Cairel) categories at the 26th Malaysian Film Festival. Check out our previews here and here.
Featured image credit: Taste Buds