As a way of trying to drag himself to his books, Fikri Jermadi figures he should review the films he’s researching.
‘Cun’ is a film directed by Osman Ali. I watched it as a part of my research, as an attempt to further discover the kinds of representations of gender and sexuality that may well be prevalent in a lot of feature films of Malaysia. A lot of research has been done on Malaysian cinema, though it’s still comparatively little if we are to look at the region as a whole.
However, quite a lot of the research has concentrated on what I would call films on and of the margins. They are not necessarily considered and accepted by many as a part of the mainstream. Rather, they are more independent in nature and execution, as well as in language. Malaysian films can be interesting to analyse from a number of different perspectives, but quite frankly I’m done reading another piece about the films of Tan Chui Mui anytime in the near future. Variety, please.
‘Cun’ (hopefully) adds to that. It tells the story of a female TV presenter, Luna Latisya (Maya Karin), whose job by day is to dig up the dirt on celebrities for her show, Meletups. I have to admit that that line turned me off a bit, for it represents a large part of what I consider to be wrong in Malaysian media and society. The focus of reporting has been on the transtextual reading between the lines, with people more interested in the sex lives of our actors and actresses (despite pretending to be otherwise).
However, when she reaches home to find her fiance Ryan Hidayat (Jehan Miskin) cheating on her, she decided to leave everything behind and head to the kampung. Interestingly, she doesn’t actually have a kampung per se, a position that reflects much of modern Malaysians, so entrenched within urban spaces that older roots have been…well, uprooted. She decides to borrow her assistant’s though, Tom (Elai Faezah) who hails from Kedah, and off they go, traipsing into the countryside for a comedy of errors focused largely on clashes between the city and the kampung.
Catching her attention (and vice versa) is Atan (Remy Ishak), who displays a certain machismo that many consider to be somewhat interesting. Though he is the brother of the key family of the film, his is a role that expands beyond that particular designation. He is the protector and provider, a role not entirely alien to father figures and other senior males of the kampung.
The question here is…who watches the watcher? They say that behind a strong man is a strong woman, and that is what his mother Tok Chah (Kartina Aziz) tries to push on to him. She strongly urges Atan to make the move on Luna before it’s too late. I have to admit that it does appear to be somewhat naïve in many respects, because of the rapid pace of development that appears in the story; Luna and Atan have just met, and while a certain attraction is not entirely out of the question, to almost immediately bring up the question of marriage seems like a hasty proposition to push this story forward.
Complicating the issue further is her Tom. It is quite clear that this is her domain, that while she may dress and play the tomboy, at heart she is a kampung girl whose attraction for Atan is not that well hidden. She, however, hides it deep down, preferring instead to torture herself than bare the soul. I find that an interesting proposition. I often see a lot of such characters in many Western films. One key example is Jack Bauer from the TV show ‘24’. Now, of course it’s a TV show rather than a film, but the key point of faux machismo to a fault remains.
He may well be battered, beaten and tortured to within an inch of his life, but upon being rescued and asked of his condition, the response would always be a grunted, “I’m fine.” The victim hero is a concept often seen played through the male in many films, and here the quietly suffering woman who sacrifices herself appears to be a match more to reality (as I understand it) than to a lot of the other representations I have seen on screen.
It’s quite a pity, then, that the film falls back on other, more conventional tropes of such films. The theme itself is not entirely uncommon, which is fine, but the tendency to use a slapstick brand of comedy as a way of punctuating the rather interesting moments between the characters are…how shall I put this…immature. I do not wish to shit on this film, but while this film has a good structure, it borrows a lot of slapstick that does not seem all that appropriate. It overreaches with its over-the-top approach, with the scenes involving Ryan and Tok Chah representing a new low.
It really hammered home how difficult it is to push boundaries within Malaysian cinema. Luna tried to do that, and in the end is re-socialised and integrated into the accepted ideal, with the family concept used to make her feel guilty. That glass ceiling remains, even as there are those who punches against it, kicking and screaming.
At times, Fikri wishes he had selected another film.
Featured image credit: The Patron Saint of Architecture