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...)