I had a problem with Bunohan. It was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before from a Malaysian-made film, but I was also extremely conflicted by it. Something about this film felt… off. There was something in the film that didn’t need to be there, and I felt that this element was holding it back from cinematic greatness.
It’s probably because I watched Songlap about a week earlier. That film was unflinching and very matter-of-fact in the way it presented a dark, gritty tale about two kids doing despicable things to stay alive in KL. It was a breath of fresh air.
And then this link appeared on my Twitter feed. It helped to somewhat get my thoughts in order, but I didn’t fully agree with what the article was saying. I poked Umar online and had the following conversation with him.
Without further ado, I present the first installment of “Studio Orang Bosan Talks About…”
The conversation has only been formatted to make it easier to read, and to correct some spelling errors. Other than that, everything is presented as how it was typed, grammatical errors and all.
This is a frank discussion about Bunohan and Songlap, so naturally there be spoilers. Sorry about that. If you haven’t watched these two films yet, whatcha waiting for la?
→ Read the article about Bunohan that Nabil posted?
→ I realized that Bunohan is TOO DEEP
→ And this makes sense
→ I was like HOLY SHIT
→ In a way
→ It’s cryptic
→ That only certain audiences might get it
→ I didn’t find it that deep, to be honest
→ Most of what the article is saying, I understood them while watching the movie
→ On one hand, ini cerita pasal keluarga dan harta pusaka
→ Yea, but the surreal element
→ It’s a beautiful, dark, violent tale about men beyond redemption, looking for meaning
→ It’s a story about childhood lost
→ Old values and legacies and traditions losing out against 21st century progress, and ultimately disappearing
→ But the surreal elements were overdone for me
→ The hallucinatory scenes with the mother, I get it
→ But only those hallucinatory scenes are needed
→ Channeling the father’s spirit through the boy (until now I still don’t get that), that was not necessary for me
→ Slo-mo sequence with the hornbill and the birds didn’t work for me because of the obvious green screen effect :(
→ This could’ve been a very focused, potent and fucked-up tale about family and harta pusaka and claiming what you believe is rightfully yours
→ But all those surreal elements, the cryptic dialogue at the end, I think it was overkill
→ That speech the mother made at the end… aiyo.
→ The atmosphere, the dialect, the fact that each male character in this story is so hardened and gritty that mercy and compassion are considered weaknesses… that is more than enough to carry the story forward strongly
→ That’s what I feel
→ I’m still shocked at how devious and evil Bakar (Pekin Ibrahim) is
→ My god, that character was diabolical!
→ Such a calm display of power and absolute control
→ That’s extremely powerful!
→ Ilham (Faizal Hussein) and Deng (Bront Palarae) are badasses, yes, but at the end of the day they’re only pawns
→ The 21st century thinking that came to Bunohan in the form of Bakar dominated and manipulated them completely, and threw them away after he was done with them without a second thought
→ These elements by themselves can make the story so potent
→ That’s why I said I was frustrated
→ I had second thoughts on whether to write about this movie or not
→ A potentially diabolical story was kinda sorta messed up by unnecessary surreal elements
→ As in the surreal made it confusing?
→ Or unecessary?
→ You could’ve had this long shot of Ilham just lying there dead, for 20 or 25 seconds, and then the mum comes out of the water, walks towards him, stops beside his body, caresses his forehead and then she keeps walking
→ And I think the audience would understand it easier
→ Hmm, I think it’s unnecessarily confusing
→ Not integrated well into the narrative
→ Some parts were unneeded
→ That would be the problem I guess
→ I even said I hope to edit the film in a more understanding manner if I got a hold of the film
→ It wasn’t edited well, that’s one problem
→ Ironic that I’m talking about editing, etc. considering that:
→ a) I’m not a film student
→ b) I haven’t made a single short film, even though we already have scripts waiting to be filmed
→ As an audience
→ As a member of an audience who views the film without any interference of such knowledge
→ As filmmakers, we’re to do films for the understanding of the audience
→ Audience is the jury and the judge
→ You are the true judge
→ The film doesn’t really connected with the main audiences
→ We’d never know unless we know something
→ That’s the problem
→ A general audience reaction is a real matter towards filmmakers
→ Be it artistic, or narrative or experimental
→ If it doesn’t connect, then the filmmaker is within their own world
→ This is why… I prefer Songlap better
→ I prefer Songlap too
→ It’s a good narrative
→ It’s well done
→ The scope of the story is smaller, but it’s also more linear, and therefore more relatable
→ Most of the audience are city folk, so it’s something we can click with faster
→ I just think Bunohan is overhyped
→ We can feel the city through the eyes of those two kids because we’ve experienced/witnessed that dirt and grime and grit in some capacity
→ The fact that such a dark tale about illegal human trafficking is presented in such a matter-of-fact way
→ The movie opens with a baby being sold to rich hip urban Malay parents kot!
→ No music, no fancy edits
→ Like, yeap, this shit happens every single day
→ This is how it is in KL
→ Didn’t know about it, did ya? Tu la, ignorant sangat
→ Deal with it.
→ It just made me go “wah liao wei.”
→ There you go
→ Connection towards the audience
→ The main key
→ I think Bunohan‘s hyped as much as it is because there’s never been anything like this in Malaysian cinema in a long time (Or ever? I don’t know)
→ And rightly so, to a certain extent
→ Americans have no exposure to Malaysian films, so they see Bunohan and they go “Holy Shit!”
→ Same case when they first watched Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon or Slumdog Millionaire
→ They discover something totally beyond their comfort zone, and in Bunohan‘s case it’s visceral and beautiful and dark and violent and poetic
→ Talking about values and morals that’s probably rare among the American public
→ But to Malaysians, the concept of keluarga and harta pusaka is something that everyone understands, irrespective of race or belief
→ I still baffled with Americans’ reaction
→ I don’t get it
→ In what alien perspective they see in this film
→ The legacy and history
→ The passing of tradition
→ We get it
→ I wonder what the Americans really get it
→ I was also scared that I won’t be able to fully understand Bunohan because I’m not Malay
→ Yeah, exactly
→ So… like that la. *sigh*
→ I prefer films that we get it the moment we saw it from start till end
→ This one however
→ Requires someone to mention what the hell is going on to understand what is
→ I mean, I loved the non-linear narrative la
→ But it started becoming messy the first time that scene where the boy was speaking in the voice of the father came up
→ And kept popping up at random times
→ And that scene with the boy and Pok Wah (Nam Ron)?
→ Yeah, that too
→ I never get that when I see it on screen
→ People must watch this movie
→ There really is nothing like it in Malaysian cinema
→ But I feel that if they do watch it, they must push the hype away and judge it on its own terms
→ Pok Wah was badass, though
→ He could see 3 or 4 moves ahead of almost everyone
→ But even his wisdom couldn’t predict the many simultaneous moves Bakar was taking
→ That evil, diabolical scum
→ Holy shit what a character
→ I need a re-watch…
→ But I’ll wait for Astro First instead
If you’ve come this far, thank you for reading.
Do keep in mind that this conversation is only a compilation of the thoughts and opinions of two people who watched and loved Bunohan, but felt that there were some parts that were off about it. It is an amazing film, this and Songlap. Do watch both, and make your own decisions. That’s how we grow. That’s what cinema is.
Lots and lots of thanks to Nabil Zamanhuri for posting this link up on his Twitter account, and to Tengku Umar for indulging my rants at an ungodly hour. (Neslo Ais for both of ya, on me! :D) These two guys helped de-clutter my thoughts (somewhat) about Bunohan, which lead to this unique review.