Monday, August 18, 2008 Malaysian film in years...

(disclaimer : the pictures are taken from Mr Fadz's blog, tontonmovie.)

Assalamualaikum & good morning,

During my recent holidays in Malaysia, I managed to catch Kabir Bhatia's latest offering, Sepi. By a unique turn of events, I end up going alone to see it. Prior to coming back to Malaysia, I don't know that Mr Kabir was working on a new movie. So, a few days after I arrived home, when I first noticed the vibes about Sepi, my interest was immediately piqued. Adding the fact that it has a strong ensemble cast, a who's who of the Malaysian industry, really drives me to see it. And the fact that I never went to the cinemas to watch a Malaysian movie is saying something. (Not even Cinta, Mr Kabir's previous work, which I only watch on cds).

If I am not mistaken, the production team is similar to Cinta. Back in screenplay, is Mr Kabir's wife, Nik Samira Nik Yusoff and ARA (Abdul Rahman Ahmad), & Madnor Kassim handling the camerawork.

Cinta, for me, is a good movie, but its weaknesses (not-so-flowing-storyline, uneven quality of acting, some implausible plot keys) manage to drag down its considerable strengths (stellar performance by Rahim Razali, Fatimah Abu Bakar, Nanu Baharuddin, Rashidi Ishak; excellent soundwork & camerawork), so that the end result is only good, but not excellent.

I am happy to say that Mr Kabir has improved by leaps and bounds in Sepi. The storyline as a whole, is tight, with less plot holes & occasional leaps of logic this time around. For the most part, the flow of the story is smooth, unlike Cinta, which does has some cringe-moments. (snatch-thief scene for e.g.) The dialogue is not wooden, and the cast, from the main characters right down to the supporting cast (which include the likes of Louisa Chong & Dian P Ramlee) perform their roles admirably. At the very least, they act adequately.

If the cinematography in Cinta was excellent, then the camerawork here will blow you away. The shots are very beautiful, and I sense a Malaysian aura permeates the whole movie. For once, I am proud of the way that the Malaysian way of life is portrayed by the movie. The wedding scene at kampung, the back alleys of low-cost houses, the KL cityscape from a glass window, the kitchen romantic scene between Afdlin & Vanida, the jogging tracks at the park... some scenes dont even have dialogues..because such is the strength of the camera shots...that the message is already conveyed to the audience..kudos to Kabir & Madnor.

The sound department dont disappoint either. They provide a nice complement to the story, & sometimes sets the mood for the scenes. Evocative, stirring, the movie will lost most of its charm & drive if not for the music. The use of Malay songs is also heartening, which shows that you dont have to rely on foreign songs, esp Westerns, to give an emotional impetus.

Sepi paints three story arcs, which progresses independently throughout most of the movie, but they do meet at a certain pivotal point, i.e. a car accident. 2 of the stories lead up to the accident, while one story starts from the accident. After the accident, the stories continues on their separate ways. Each of the story involves a love triangle (sort of), with one character being the focus of attention.

The first story revolves around Adam (Afdlin Shauki), a 30+ successful chef working in Kuala Lumpur (KL), who are unmarried and still single. His far relative, Suzie (Nasha Aziz), which is a bit eccentric & crazy, has always chased after Adam since childhood, but he didnt reciprocate that feelings. One day, he has a chance meeting with Ilyana (Vanida Imran), a wedding planner. Could she be the one that he has longed for so long?

To me, this story arc belongs to Afdlin. His acting is the best in the movie. He can portray humour and sadness in the same sentence. You can really feel his frustations, his sadness of being lonely. Vanida & Nasha's actings are good too, but dont leave an impression. Vanida's character seems a bit aloof sometimes, but there's no denying that she has a good chemistry with Afdlin. Their scenes together, pulls at the heartstrings...elicits feelings of longings.. Some reviewers praised Nasha's acting. To be fair, I am not adept in assessing eccentric characters (like Johnny Depp's characters), but she's a joy to watch.

The second story concerns about Sufi (Tony Eusoff), who lost his wife in the car accident. He blames himself for his wife's death, & for not expressing his love to his wife, and taking her for granted. Wrecked by guilt, he jogs daily to forget the pain, and he neglected his son. But a chance encounter with a mysterious lady,Marya (Eja) at the park, gives him hope again, and made him care about his son. Will Sufi ever find a second love?

If compared to Adam's storyline, Sufi's story is morally challenging, esp in a Malaysian context. The issues thrown about includes, whether you should be faithful to your spouse, if you really think you are meant for another. Marya is sad, because her marriage to Zain (Riezman Khuzaimi) is childless. Sufi make some overtures to Marya, but Marya still loves her husband. They decided eventually, that they will wait. For the time when they can be together.

For me, this story has the most leaps of logic, and some jarring or cringe-moments. Initially, I was taken in by Sufi, sympathizing in his plight, but midway through the story, I was a bit disgusted by Sufi's actions, which includes trying to pry another man's wife. However, the story redeems itself in the later parts of the story, which casts Sufi as a selfless man, and maybe, tragic. Acting-wise, Tony's performance is adequate, but not stellar. He doesnt portray the part of a widower quite well. Riezman's acting is adequate. He lacks screen time for me to make a connection. Eja could have the best acting in this story, but her scenes doesnt flesh her out too much. If only there were more of her.

The final story, centers around Imaan (Baizura Kahar) a college student, who writes a play named Sepi. She has a steady boyfriend, Khalif (Pierre Andre), who is an introvert. A "casanova", Ian (Syed Hussein), irks Imaan when he belittled her play. Trying to make up for it, Ian woos Imaan to teach him how to act, so that he can play the main act of reciting the poem in her play, titled Sepi. Ian finds himself smitten to her. Imaan slowly find herself falling slowly head over heels for Ian, who is sincere in his feelings toward her. Needless to say, Khalif is not amused.....

At first, the story doesnt seem engaging. The storyline is OK, but it seems to me like on of those run-of-the-mill stories of college puppy loves. The acting is top-notch however. Eventhough to me, Afdlin is the best actor in this movie, but Vanida's character is a bit serious. Baizura & Syed's characters on the other hand, has more playful banters and sweet exchanges between them. Baizura's acting has always been a charm, esp after seeing her for about 4 minutes in Cinta. She can portray child-like charm, sweetness, and seriousness in one go. Syed is also another good actor. He seems to be made for his role, a playboy who renounces his ways when he meets Imaan and is sincere in his love. You can sense that he's a playboy once, but has turned over a new leaf, and is really fighting hard to win Imaan's love. Pierre Andre, on the other hand, returns as another morose and introvert character, like his character in Cinta, Taufik. I guess his acting is adequate, because it is difficult for me to gauge his character, which is one-dimensional.

What makes the third story really ticks, is the last third of the story. What has been hitherto unremarkable storyline, changes into a shocking conclusion. (SPOILER ALERT: spoilers in red)

It is revealed that the reason Khalif was morose and introvert all the time is because he is already dead. He was only the imaginations of Imaan in the movie, who refused to accept the fact that he has died in a mugging. Suddenly, all the weird things in Imaan's storyline is explained, such as why a fellow passenger in the train was gazing pityingly at Imaan when she was "talking" with Khalif, and why Ian also puts on a sad face when Imaan remarked "My boyfriend is waiting to pick me up."
Khalif was being morose, because he wishes for Imaan to let him go, so that she can have a new life. When the truth is revealed, the revelation feels a lot like The Sixth Sense. You also feel sorry for Imaan, because she turns out to be the loneliest character in Sepi.

Sepi ultimately has a simple story to tell, which is encapsulated in its nebulous tagline...."Cinta tak datang hanya sekali."
I went to see it with the impression that it will be a sad movie thru and thru (with a title like that, surely the main theme will be "loneliness" to the hilt, rite?).

But it was not so.

The movie IS about loneliness, but it is foistered with a message of hope.
In Adam's story, it is about not giving up, always believing that the person who is meant for you is just around the corner, waiting for you.
In Sufi's case, it is about patience to wait for the right time to be together, undying love, and sincerity for the well-being of the person you care for, even if your love is not returned.
And in Imaan's case, it is about letting go of the past, and living for the present, and finding love again.
And the conclusion of all three stories is good. It might not be all happy endings, for some people, but it is the best way to end things, if the stories is taken to consideration.

But even a simple story, with good execution, good acting all around, stellar cinematography, and nice sounds, will translate into an excellent movie. And Sepi is one. A romantic movie which can make me cry many times during its length is a good one in my book. The best Malaysian movie in years, P Ramlee ones not withstanding.

And when the credits roll, with the outstanding Anuar Zain belting out Mungkin, IMO was the best way to end it all.

All is not lost for the Malaysian film industry.

See Sepi if you has its CDs.

You wont regret it.


Drive to succeed...

Assalamualaikum & good morning,

The new semester has just started, which practically means that I have only less than 6 months before entering the hospitals. Gosh! Time really flies. Having enough knowledge about the workings of the human body now is wishful thinking!

My nature has always been governed by my current will & strength of conviction. That's why I have moments of youthful energy & exuberance (akin to the Renaissance) , and then it flips to downright shocking periods of extreme laziness. (the Great Depression?hehe)

Now, the key for me to become a beneficial & achieving person, is to harness the energy of exuberance when it appears, & try to prevent myself from flipping to the Dark Side again.

Ramadhan's peeking around the corner. O Allah, please let that be an impetus for me to really change for the better.

And hopefully the change is permanent this time around.