Prison Break – Juvana


Watching this film brought back memories of an all-boys high school for Fikri Jermadi.

Talk about a rough and ready film. ‘Juvana’ is a difficult film to watch, even though it doesn’t necessarily have the sort of violence you might see in a film like, say, ‘Transformers’. The latter has all sorts of action that could make you wince, but a film like ‘Juvana’ is difficult to watch precisely because it deals with more personal issues.

Perhaps a part of that is my entry into parenthood. You watch and analyse a film differently based on your own experiences, and it is because of that I always encourage you, dear reader, to take this and other reviews presented here with very small pinches of salt: enough to hopefully make your life that bit more tasty, and yet not necessarily the only ingredient required in doing so.

The film is about young men incarcerated in juvenile centres. Daim (Zahiril Azim) is recently freed from such a centre, and continues his life with a job at a brick factory. He also enrols in a secondary school, picking up the remaining pieces of his life with bright hopes. Of course, life outside of prison can be complicated too, as such integrations are not as well received by many.

Boybands: never out of fashion.
Boybands: never out of fashion.

His mates in his ‘alma mater’, Sekolah Wira Bakti, are facing similar problems. They are sent to a new facility, Sekolah Indera Sakti. Here, the likes of Botak (Johan As’ari), Apek (Syazwan Zulkifli) and Kicap (Megat Fazeril Faiz) have to contend with the kings of the new yard, which include Lan Todak (Sharnaaz Ahmad) and Jamal (Syafie Naswip). Overseeing the chaos is Ali (Adlin Aman Ramlie), but predictably, he doesn’t do as good a job as can be hoped, allowing for all sorts of conflict to ensue.

This film exists and stands alone as a singular text, even though it was an adaptation/spin off that continues the events seen in the eponymous TV series. I suppose there is a deeper value to be appreciated here should you have seen the series, but even though I was not as aware of this, it remains a strong work I enjoyed.

For example, while I could guess how certain things might have turned out, this film surprised me on a number of levels, especially with regards to the characters. The supervisor Ali was initially portrayed as someone not to be messed with, with little compassion to be seen. However, revelations about his character meant that we see him in a very different light by the film’s end.

Orange really is the new black.
Orange really is the new black.

The same applies to Botak, whose tendency to let his heart rule his head threatens to derail him sooner than most. However, some choice advice later led to a transformation of sorts. More to the point, it is a development and transformation that made sense.

I know it sounds like sense is a magical ingredient missing in many films, and that it’s simple enough to rectify, but…it’s true. Some films do not stick strongly enough to its own sense of logic, thus denying the audience the chance to truly believe in it.

A part of this is because it matches with what I expected in such institutions. I don’t actually know how realistic the portrayals are, but I believe a great deal of research and translation of personal experience must have gone into the writing of the script.

Beyond that, it explores a number of issues in a smart way, too. In one scene, Daim became dispirited by the treatment in school that he decides to focus on his day job. His boss, in that regard, managed to break his spirit, questioning whether his efforts in gaining academic qualifications would work in wiping out the past.

"Wot you lookin' at?" South London school culture transcends boundaries.
“Wot you lookin’ at?” South London school culture transcends boundaries.

It raises the issue of a prison beyond bricks and walls. Society can, in itself, become a form of incarceration precisely because of very specific and exacting expectations put on the shoulders of young uns. I am reminded of the second season of the TV series ‘Prison Break’; having broken out, the characters find living life on the run is an even bigger prison of sorts.

Back to the film. Daim’s teacher (Rahim Omar), paid him a visit, just as he’s literally placing the bricks in order. On a visual level, we see this as part of an attempt to build his life; on another, the colour of the brick suggests that an association is to be made with the bricks typically used in the building of prisons. The imagery is clear: imprisoning yourself is not the way to go about things.

The shot preceding that was a pan of the clouds in the sky. We cut to Daim looking up to it, almost in vain, before continuing his job. I don’t know whether it’s meant to be read as such, but I see an attempt to include the supposed almighty into the story; where were you, God, when I needed you?

It is moments like this really drew me in. ‘Juvana’ is film whose story, characters and script felt very well developed. The editing, too, really drew out the kinetic energy from the fight scenes, of which there were a number. There are drawbacks in the films (I feel if the production team had a bit more money, they would have made it look much better), but all the same, this film is an important one, highlighting certain aspects of society we may not be as willing to confront.

Fikri thinks the Wikipedia entry for the film was very complete. This film was nominated in the Best Supporting Actor (Sharnaaz Ahmad) and Best Newcomer (Syazwan Zulkifli) categories at the 26th Malaysian Film Festival.

Featured image credit: Politic365

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