Saturday, January 14, 2006

take the bully by the horns

Saw Afdlin Shauki's Buli Balik yesterday at the press preview. Film opens nationwide 26 Jan.

A while has passed since Buli made its debut and proceeded to win Afdlin awards for screenplay, acting and directing. Not only was it a critical succes but a commercial one too, raking in more than 2 mil - not bad for a first time director.

I would have to say it's Afdlin's drive and utter chutzpah when it comes to sticking it in the goal. He declares what he wants to do and does what it takes to get there, all with a whole lot of talent, smarts and pure blind faith in a future success.

After Buli there was a bit of a pause while he got on with building his business and creating a name for himself in our entertainment industry, all the while working furiously on his next film projects and also acting in other people's movies.

One day he and Hans Isaac (costar of Buli and other future films) were talking about how all Malaysian films seem to follow the generic rom-com, lowbrow slapstick way, and wouldn't it be great if they could do a buddy film about guys planning to steal back a possession from a pawn shop? And just at that moment, Awie walks in the shop they're at, and little light bulbs go ping ping ping and a year or so down the line Baik Punya Cilok is raking in 2.46 mil at the box office, and is still going strong.

Hot on its heels will be Buli Balik, the movie Afdlin really wanted to make when he took Buli to the producers. Buli Balik tells the story of a man who overcomes his fear of the bully who plagued him all his life. Thing is, his only reference for confidence and success is the bully - so he begins to turn into the very thing he hates.

I must say, watching Baik Punya Cilok twice in the cinemas with the masses, and hearing real enjoyment and entertainment in their responses, Afdlin has mastered intelligent movie-making for the masses in Malaysia (IMM for the MIM). But seeing Buli Balik, I see a sophistication in the storytelling and the direction which has evolved since Buli.

I am not saying that Afdlin is the best director in Malaysia - I think there are many out there who are of worldclass standard too :)
I am saying that there is possibly no other director in Malaysia at the moment who can reach out to the masses successfully and deliver something that doesn't patronise them, nor fly way over their heads - and they love it. His work is accessible at all levels. If you're looking for a comedy, you'll get that. If you are open to the underlying messages or themes in the story, then you experiece the film at a deeper level. He's not arty-farty (in fact he's always got his eye fixed on the bottom line, no matter how crazy creative he might get) nor is he a lazy director who thinks he can get away with sloppy work.

Of course, and he would be the first to admit it, Buli had flaws, as does Baik Punya Cilok. Right now, still on a high from seeing Buli Balik, I think it's totally wonderful!

And it must be made known that working in an industry like Malaysia's, compromises are almost a necessity (unless you want to struggle fruitlessly or go crazy). It's true in any industry, but with adhoc censorship laws such as ours and petty politics Malaysian-style, we do spend an enormous amount of time negotiating for something that should happen out of logic or common sense.

Anyway, this is why we are trying to strike out on our own, to gain control of our product, and to own it. And part of it means that we have to look outward - the local returns will not support the industry in an exponentially growing way...

Hence, Sumo, Afdlin's next project.

Meantime, watch out for Buli Balik and please do not make the mistake of expecting another romp like Baik Punya Cilok. They are two completely different films about different things and I would hate for Buli Balik to suffer for the lack of distinction.

Buli Balik is a tragedy, really, but don't let that put you off. I think Woody Allen's best comedies are quite tragic - because they tell of the human condition, and how weaknesses and stubbornness can keep people caught up in their own little world.

And the ending - ah, the ending. Many confused or surprised or unhappy faces about that. I say, look at what meaning the ending has for you. If you are disturbed, or even disappointed, what is it about you that makes you feel that? Why ISN'T it okay for the ending to be like that - it has happened before, after all.

If you are prepared to look deep, you may be surprised. I hope you are, there's nothing like finding out something new about yourself.

But anyway, in case themessage is not clear: GO AND SEE BULI BALIK. IT WILL OPEN YOUR EYES (to something...)

Lovey, C


dJ phuturecybersonique said...

I think it's because most Malaysians still equate Afdlin to comedy right off the bat for most of, if not all the time and not knowing of his other facets. Buli Balik is a good piece to showcase his other sides and versatility in acting/movie-making. As for the unexpected ending in that movie, too often Malaysian movies end in a somewhat expected manner or high note (I'm guessing this is due to the "ownership" of the movie). I reckon ending it differently would have more impact and evoke a lot more reaction from the audience. isn't that what movie-making/storytelling all about? (besides the bottom line also lah! :))

mamasan said...

so, aside from the unexpectedness being ok by you, do you like the ending as it is? For me, I cannot imagine any other.

I am a very easy to please filmgoer, but I do stand by the notion that whether I like or dislike something (eg, the ending), it is the meaning that it has evoked for me that is most important (which is why I asked the question, what is it about the ending, for example, which causes such a reaction in an individual, or what is it about the individual that causes that reaction within?).

So, you like or don't like? And if you don't like, why?

Dr C

dJ phuturecybersonique said...

i actually liked the ending simply for the effect that it has on the audience when they leave the cinema. had it been the other way around, i think it would've just flatlined it, maybe like how titanic would've been had jack survived or in rain man had charlie been given custody of his autistic brother raymond. sure, people will ask why does it have to be that way but isn't that the harsh reality of life sometimes?

if there's anything that i took away from the movie is that don't get too cocky or overconfident in overcoming the antagonist in your life. if you're not careful you end up becoming like the antagonist yourself. the very thing you hate, except that you won't know or realize that you hate it anymore.

atenah said...

wah i cant join the discussion on whether i like the ending or not, since im not able to watch it.

am a behaviorist (or i'd like to think so :) so, a tip for quitting smoking, on top of cutting down the number of ciggies, u can also cut down the length of the ciggies.

yike!! i really love sumo (the sports, the movie too, i suppose later) weird coming from a conservative malay ehem (always felt guilty wayching em in cawats) in the early 90s channel 4 of UK showed sumo weekly. and i would be there glued to the telly. my fave sumo wrestler is chiyonofuji, he wasnt big but he had excellent skills. fuyyo, must catch afdlin's sumo lah

muteaudio said...

Haven't seen Buli Balik, so I assume the ending is something I should "expect the unexpected" kinda thing. I like movies that escape the conventional linear story telling. Movies that are full of surprises, especially the ending. Most of our audience have a pre-conception of how an ending should be. And they simply hate it when the ending took another turn. Whats pathetic is, they'll label the movie as "no good" simply because the ending was such. I guess we being bombarded with predictable Hindi movies. Can't blame them.

I've seen Buli Balik, like it except for Carmen's line. Her bahasa seems too perfect, the diction and grammar. Tak balance with the rest. My friend and I was the only person who laughed when she use "....informasi..."

I like the character's consistency. Thats what lacking in local movie.

Na'a Murad was a gem. My perut mau pecah listening to his 'Kelanish'. Anyway goodluck.

Unknown said...

this comment may be late as i've only found out about this site just now.

You mentioned your worry about the expectations that viewers have, and how they may compare Buli Balik with Buli and BPC. That is also my main concern.

i was warned twice by afdlin about the movie being less comedy and more drama, but I still have the assumption that Buli Balik follows the footsteps of Buli, a great comedy with a message. Bullies and their victims in Buli is seen as a funny thing and do not give the impact Afdlin may want, but in Buli Balik, he managed to express the fury Nordin had for Roy.

as said in my relatively negative review, I was expecting to watch something fun and funny but was presented with something very different. I can accept it, in fact, in whole, I love it. I was not aware of the time flying, as I was engrossed with the movie (some scenes that were less convincing, did pull me back to reality, and I hope Afdlin can be more careful next time).But can the audience who had just watched Buli during Raya (maybe their first time), watched BPC, and then was expecting the same experience from Buli Balik accept it?.

I sure hope Malaysians can open their minds when watching this movie.

mamasan said...

I can see your point, and I agree with it, but I have to ask, why is the mindset such that just because the movies aren't the same, one or the other movie suddenly has a lesser value? I'm not asking you, but in general, why do we all think like that? It is a very limiting mindset which does not allow for any possibility. It's like an assumption that all fat people are jolly, or all pretty girls are high maintenance - so all Afdlin Shauki films are so-and-so? Whose mandate was that?

Of course this is something that happens in all cultures and countries, but in Malaysia it seems even more prevalent, and it simply reflects a fear or suspicion of anything out of the ordinary. This gives rise to the play-it-safe, avoid sticking your neck out, don't flaunt the rules mentality that keeps people blinkered and unwilling to try something new, or even accept something new or even preposterous.

It's an issue people have talked about for aeons and will not be resolved in our lifetime. Who was it said, "Know thyself."? If we examine ourselves and ask ourselves why we think this or that, why we reacted in such a way, instead of purely reacting and presuming things about others or other things, we would all be utilising both our conscience and our compassion towards others. We wouldn't feel the need to justify our feelings, we would just feel them, and be ok with it.

I hope I am making sense. It all suddenly became very philosophical and not much about movies at all!


muteaudio said...

Its like philosophy too, the mindset stemmed out aeons ago. What Afdlin, you and probably me need to do is to keep on doing things that we believe in and never give up. And risk taking is simply orgasmic, no matter whichever way the result goes.

Unknown said...

I guess the mind set started out of our comparative nature. which also means we tend to prefer consistency and standardization. it feels good to have something to relate to, and not to have to undergo the new experiencing and learning process.not that I say we do not like new things, but the prospect of experienceing something we may not like is, for most, scary.

we feel safe around things we know and can predict. we are humans, and humans are afraid of one and only one thing: things we do not know.

as for me, I am bored with the current batch of Malaysian movies, in general. It's hard for me to be attached to it. the first hindrance was the usage of bad dubbings and stock sound effects. no matter what version of dolby or THX the movie's using, none of it matters if the mouth are moving but no sound, or the repetitive usage of a sound effect.

Another thing is bad acting by extras.I really feel castings should use theatre students or players to play that part, if no movie actor's available.

the story's there, and there are very good presentations of those stories, as in this case, BULI BALIK.just some minor glaring problems that's yet to be tackled.A good storyteller can tell any story, and us audience will believe. take The Matrix, for example.Neo's stopping bullets in mid-air, for God's sake.but the story has developed in such a way, that people believe it can happen.

I know, the main reason behind this problem is cost, and I do not know any other way around it. but I hope my expressing it to you helps.i know this comment looks like it has sidetracked, but i really want to feel proud of Malaysian products, and I am still searching the reason to...

muteaudio said...

I feel proud to see small Malaysian films succeeds in telling good stories as I believe cost is not the main problem but only one of the problem.

WE don't need mega budget to come out with good films. We just need to think harder. And that is our main problem. Only a few thinkers in our film industry. The rest are people who think less or think too much where much often they blame cost, censorship etc as the reason why they can't 'sell' their films.

Directors are everywhere but good storytellers are rare. Fortunately good stories are everywhere to be found. The problem now, can we identify one. Use our brain, the most powerful tool given by god. Most of the great films are less technology dependant and not that expensive.

Iranian need mega budget to produce good stories? I don't think so. Something for us to think about and we shouldn't give up in producing good stories. We are able to find a meeting point between 'good story' and 'commercial value'. So far so good. We are on our way.

mamasan said...

a quick note - lizzam, it is definitely a cost factor when it comes to extras. Most producers think, why pay a thousand bucks, say, for a professional actor for 30seconds of screen time, when 50 bucks for an eager fan will do? To me, we are not talking time in seconds, but moments in screen time - and only actors can deliver "moments" in the film.


Unknown said...

I see. Another point there, muteaudio. I believe the filmakers' side had done their share of thinking. but I believe thinking is not what audience do WHEN watching.

they watched, and and then got stimulated into thinking. it was during the 2 hours (or whatever duration the movie was) that all the info, feeling, stimulant, ideals and anything that the director wants the audience to get, was delivered both subliminally and smack-in-your-face. then it's up to the maturedness and openness of the audiences' mind to process.thus, comes the thinking.

so it is crucial that the audience is immersed by the film. I believe you all know this better than I do, but why is it so hard for me (and most whom I know) to immerse in most Malay movies?I don't have the same problem with most local production that uses English Medium?I'm still looking for this answer and it's one of the main reason why I joint the Kodok, other than that I love his work.

another question, i've heard about Foley Artits and how it helped productions sounds real as compared to stock SFX.what's the cost of this method and do we have the capability to use this in local production?

thanks for this info. please don't think that i'm trying to put down Malaysian productions, but I am rooting for a good malaysian movie, that i can be really proud of. there are already, but can be counted by hands. what about the others?

mamasan said...

Not being able to immerse yourself into a local film comes down to a few things.

First, the story-telling is a craft that each director needs to hone. A director can't "tell" the audience what is going on in the film, he must "show". For example, we don't need actors crying and wailing and repeating over and over that they are sad and angry - we are smart enough to see that just by what is going on visually. A director can "show" us someone is angry by having the actor walk out of the room without a word in the middle of someone else's sentence.

Second, local dialogue leaves a lot to be wanted. Good movies can be watched without the dialogue - because a good movie tells the story purely visually. Thus, just by looking at the picture, we can tell what is going on. Dialogue is supposed to be the icing on the cake, but sometimes it's more like pie in the face! The dialogue should not simply verbalise the visual information - it should capture nuances of the character's feeling or intention. Sometimes the dialogue works against the visual - so what they are saying does not match with what they are doing. This is where we get subtext, and subtext that is delivered masterfully creates movie magic.

A good example of subtext is the scene in Goodfellas when Ray Liotta takes his girl out for dinner and impresses her with his ability to get front-row tables and service. She asks him what he does. He says he's in construction. She says he has smooth hands for someone in construction. He tells her he's not on the field. That's the dialogue. What's really going on? She's trying to find out if he's a gangster. He lies. She points out that it looks like he's lying. He gives her a warning not to ask again. That's the subtext, and that makes the writing and direction sophisticated.

Third. The tendency to overact here is a real threat. Perhaps it's an offshoot from the bangsawan style of performance. Perhaps its because actors think that's what people want to see. Perhaps our actors AND our audience can't handle subtleties in performance - oooo, controversial!

Fourth, the audience needs to develop a sense of patience and openness with local films so that they don't make rash judgments about a good local film that is supposed to be slow-paced, atmospheric, quiet, etc (arty). Not all good films are action-packed, suspenseful or funny. Some of the best filoms in history can be really boring if you're not open to the subject matter.

So, there are many things which ultimately are about sophistication. And some things must be done logically and timed well (pacing, chronology of events,e tc). But the leeway for a director is to inject his own sense of style, humour or message. However a local director needs to be able to convey these things with a certain level of sophistication when it comes to the execution and the film language. After all, most local filmgoers have seen western or regional films and are aware, at least subconsciously, of the universal film language. That's why if a local movie has bad pacing, we know it. We think its slow. And if the humour or storyline isn;t enough to compensate, then people lose interest.

(So now that I have regurgitated my FIlm Making 101 notes, hope I haven't muddified the line of discussion)

Foley artists - are available in Malaysia. Wizardworks and Addaudio are the people I know of who provide the service.


Unknown said...

No, it hasn't been mudlefied (is that a valid word? must lok it up). I love this discussion, as an insight on what's happening in the movieland.

about the 'controversial' point, do you think that our local audience do not take subtleties very well?I personally prefer it,as it makes it more real, although at times, I miss cues.after all, I am a simple minded movie goer.

But there are, among my friends even, who can't accept it at all. what do you think is the general acceptance level of our local audience, and what kind of movies or 'formulas' that's widely acceptable. and what do you think is the next improvement in our audience's mindset on movies?

does this comment sidetracked your post?if so, i'll stop here...

mamasan said...

I say local audiences don't "read" subtleties in movies very well at the risk of sounding like they are ignorant. It's not that at all, what I mean is that it takes practice to read a film just as it takes practice to learn to read. I just mean that there isn't enough exposure to lots and lots of different kinds of movies here, which would help audiences to view new movies and make educated judgments on them. I think most audience members here will sit through a movie even if they don't think much of it. I can;t really say at what level they appreciate the movie, but I can definitely say that there is a change in their mindset and they aren't happy to be shown a lot of wiffle!


Unknown said...

I hate to admit, that's the reality of our audience, and I believe, I myself lack in reading subtexts. being a VFX lover I'll be counting the hairs on Kong and wondering 'how long id they took to render this?' or 'how did they put that many Simths to fight Neo' or 'how did they put Gump with Nixon and JFK in that footage?'

I was watching senario (I was having dinner and it was on TV), and I wondered. What would a movie looks like, if all the main actors are comedians, but the story is a serious and sad one?sure, there should be jokes, but most would be in the 1st 40mins, and the mood goes downwards from that point. but in the end, there would be a hint of hope, or what ever seems suitable.

is it okay if I post the comments in my blog for discussion?

muteaudio said...

Try King of Comedy. De Niro trying to be a comedian and Jerry Lewis try to be serious. And its not a comedy. LOL.
"Eh, Eh, Robert De Niro berlakon cerita lawak!" This people were looking at KoC pirated DVD. They thought De Niro in another MEet The Parents kinda role. Go ahead, be my guest. WHo knows they might enjoy it.

muteaudio said...

From what i've learned, you can't or should I say a bit difficult to teach a director on Semiotics and actors on Subtext. It comes naturally and unaware.

U can tell or teach them what Semiotics or Subtexts are. Try to watch Hussein Hanif's Hang Jebat. RIch with Semiotics from Hussein Hanif and subtext by Hang Jebat (Nordin Ahmad). I bet both of them never heard of these 2 words before. One of the best Malay film ever made and it was Hussein's 1st film.

I agree with u on the influence of bangsawan onto our actors. I attended some sort like an acting class and the lecturer brought a T-shirt that is written "How Do You Feel Today?" and a cartoon character with 20 different face expression. He asked all the students to act out all these characters.

How do you act out 'happy' and 'cheerful' or 'jealous' and 'envious' rather differently? I think a good actor should be able to tackle this without much difficulty. And I believe not many of our actors are able to do that. In the end they have to substitute their lack of acting ability with words "aku tengah marah ni!" or just simply overacting.

Our bangsawan stemmed out from Indian play. And u can see a lot of overacting in their play (thats the style) and also movies from India. It works actually.

muteaudio said...

"U can tell or teach them what Semiotics or Subtexts are"
It should be "U can tell or teach them what Semiotics or Subtext are and hope they'll apply it in their work."

Come to think of it, its how the directors and actors interpret the 'naskhah'. Different directors and actors might interpret the same script differently. And I believe the same thing applies onto Semiotics and Subtext.

mamasan said...

hi lizzam, of course, please put stuff on your blog! muteaudio's example of acting out those feelings - it's almost impossible to put a face to one emotion - which is why watching the same stock cartoon faces that some actors here give is a bit like feeling patronised. Acting is not just the "Acting", it's the reactions. Think of Silence of the Lambs - when Clarice meets Hannibal. If you look at Anthony Hopkins' performance without the sound or without thinking of the context (i.e. he's a rabid maneater who would do anythhing to get out), he seems rather like a polite, slightly boring if not melodramatic professor of ancient history. It's Jodie Foster's reactions which instill the fear in us of him. So we see her fear and her need to control her fear, then we see Hannibal talking about fava beans and chianti and then we get the shivers.

Sometimes it's seeing the actor hold back the tears that makes us want to cry. Nobody likes too much howling and wiping of snotty noses anyway.

The moment of realisation, when the character knows he/she has won / lost everything / betrayed his father / turned his back on being good - these moments can't be acted with a "face" - it has to come from within, that it, is must be true for the actor. I think the biggest problem with local actors is they think acting is pretending, which is absolutely isn't! And the trick to getting out of that habit is to allow your own deeper feelings to come up - and that means getting vulnerable. And for an actor to do so in this tiny industry, that can be quite daunting, because they cannot separate their work from their persona. (Eg, if they see me really cry they may wonder what sad story I have that has caused these real tears) Actually, all they would be is being honest.

Bla bla bla, sometimes i think ijust keep saying the same thing in 4 different ways!

Still think acting is a serious craft. If you have ever seen Afdlin Shauki acting a dramatic scene live, then you have witnessed honesty in acting. Also, there are some actors here who have serious charisma, which more than compensates for the rawness of their performance (eg Awie, AC Mizal for different reasons)

Ciao for now!

Unknown said...

speaking of holding back tears, recently i saw a korean movie entitled "A Moment to Remember". simple love story, but it had evoked feelings in me that i called that film 'keji'...hehe

in CD 1 (I watched it via VCD), it shows how the couple met, how the flirted with each other, and how they got married and have a seemingly perfect life.I believe the reason behind all those are to make the audience love the in CD 2, after being lifted up so high but the 1st, the story goes to a sad mood so fast, that it was like a shock.

the thing that made me very-very sad was, the fact that both the hero and heroine held back their tears from each other as to not make the other sad. It was what we would do, don't we?and the twisted fate in this story makes the sad feeling more unbearable.

sidetracked again

I've tried the muteaudio's faces infront of the mirror, and found it's useful, especially when animating in 3D.I can't act, but I'm trying to make those dead characters live. but i can;t seem to make the look real, and end up looking overreacted.that's why i really respect actors like Jalil Hamid.

what makes us perfect is our imperfection.

mamasan said...

just remember that feeling angry is very different to looking angry. i look angry when i drive, but that's because the sun is too bright. And most people when they are really angry would rather not show it - some even smile. it really boils down to finding the honest feeling and expression (been thru this i think)

okie, back to work


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