By Daniyal Kadir
(1330 words, five-minute read)
It is rare to see social or political criticism delivered boldly and directly in Malaysian films. Even critical commentary, cloaked creatively, is difficult to do. There are many things that constrain creative freedom, not least the multiple legislations and regulations that bind the hand of filmmaker.
Criticism is still conveyed, but its manner and meaning is gentle, artistic rather than direct. For an audience that lacks perhaps strong cinematic understanding, this allusive criticism, this beating around the bush, is a road to nowhere.
Understanding film as a medium of social and political criticism is extremely difficult for a large majority of audiences in Malaysia. The whys and wherefores are many, but undoubtably, lack of education about and appreciation of cinema is an important contributing factor to our current movie viewing culture.
In this gloomy environment, comes Nam Ron and his latest movie One Two Jaga. The film is a torch that shines brightly, its social and political critique, unflinching. This is a brave film, a film that explores corruption, and in particular, police corruption, clearly and directly. One Two Jaga tells the story of Sugiman (Ario Bayu), an Indonesian immigrant and single father. His son Joko (Izuan Fitri), pays him little heed and spends too much time with Adi, the son of Sugiman’s employer, Pak Sarip (Azman Hassan). Sugiman’s sister, Sumiati (Asmara Abigail) runs away from her employer and Sugiman asks for Pak Sarip’s help to send Sumiati home to Indonesia. Hassan (Rosdeen Suboh) a married policeman is constantly in financial trouble; Hussein (Zahiril Adzim) an idealistic young policeman, suspects that Hassan takes bribes. We are also exposed to the interactions between Marzuki, played by Iedil Putra and Rico (Timothy Castillo) a Filipino immigrant, Along Eyzendy (Chew Kin Wah) and Dato, played by Nam Ron himself. The conflicts and clashes between this cast of characters provide the thrilling shifts in One Two Jaga.
Prior to One Two Jaga, there was little opportunity to watch a local film that addressed corruption amongst politicians and leaders so directly. If it was touched upon at all, it was more as a side note, rather than the main focus. Before One Two Jaga, most films that delved into the policing world were cutesy cop films. This film instead, explores the reality of a section of the police force motivated by greed and desperation.
One Two Jaga is a disruption of the Malaysian film industry, giving us new hope, and awareness that we need more realism in locally made films. This film shows that the flame lit by Shanjey Kumar Perumal’s Jagat (2015) amongst filmmakers to burn down the walls of power is burning bright.
One Two Jaga blurs the line, a grey line, between what is good and what is evil. It creates a shifting sense of good and evil, intertwined, so that we are unable to judge clearly. We are conflicted and confused by Adi, whose corruption sits alongside his defence of oppressed migrant workers. Conversely, is Hussein’s character good when he turns his eyes away from his own partner’s corruption?
The impact of political and social corruption on those that occupy the lowest rungs of society may be a common theme in Indonesian or Filipino cinema, but in Malaysian cinema it is still alien, even if such corruption is a fact of everyday life in the country.
Viewing Nam Ron through his theatre works — Matderihkolaperlih (Mat from Kuala Perlis), Laut Lebih Indah Daripada Bulan (The Sea is More Beautiful Than The Moon), Aku Nak Jadi Bintang (I Want to Be A Star) dan Lembu (Cow) — we see he is undoubtedly on intimate terms with the world of men, the world of masculinity. Yet even these works cannot escape dealing with politics and social issues, including corruption.
More interestingly, in his plays, Nam Ron’s male characters may appear strong and powerful, but they are exposed as weak men, unable to think rationally and without the strength to fight the oppression that confront them.
These kinds of characters are evident in One Two Jaga too. Here, we see the dark side of Kuala Lumpur, dominated by men who seem, at first glance, strong and brave. But each are defeated by the challenges that confront them. The policemen in the film are absent or inadequate; leaning towards oppression, they fail to become true and honest policemen.
It’s like a trick maze – no way out, deadlocked. This depiction of a brutal, swelling venality, is one that Nam Ron tries to decipher. Each character is trapped and continues to fail to find a way out. It is interesting to watch the way Nam Ron presents and makes us comprehend that corruption is complex.
In addition to police corruption, One Two Jaga examines the fate and lives of immigrants in Malaysia, giving an insight into the turbulence faced by this sector of Malaysian society. It’s a subject that is rarely explored in local films.
The performance of each actor in the film is brilliant and persuasive, especially Zahiril Adzim as Hussein, Rosdeen Suboh as Hassan, Amerul Affendi as Adi, Azman Hassan as Sarip, Ario Bayu as Sugiman and Asmara Abigail as Sumiati. Each is an important feature of the film, and Nam Ron’s personal compatibility with these actors benefits the film well. Even supporting actors such as Chew Kin Wah, Along Eyzendy, Shahrolnizam Nor and Sabri Yunus’s cameo appearances are outstanding.
Nam Ron’s approach to playing with space and time in the movie is also very engaging. See how he reveals a day in the life of a policeman: with great economy, we get a sense of this policeman’s experiences within a day and how that one day can have many consequences. Playing skilfully with space in cars, hotel rooms, lanes, construction sites, workshops and so forth, the film communicates the dirty world occupied by the disenfranchised. Nam Ron’s compelling direction manages to create an everyday world in the film.
Meanwhile, Razaisyam Rashid’s editing keeps the tempo steady and believable, without unnecessary awkwardness. Helmi Yusof’s sensitive cinematography creates an image of a city full of dirt and darkness. Close-ups are used to bring the audience into the lives of the characters. The movement of the camera captures the restlessness accurately, and drives the mood of the film to its logical end.
The script, written by Pitt Haniff, Muhammad Syafiq and Nam Ron, based on an original story by Ayam Fared, Amri Rohayat and Nam Ron, gives the film its fundamental strength. Careful character creation and plot, combined with realistic dialogue make One Two Jaga a deeply satisfying experience for the viewer.
Developing two stories in parallel and merging them strengthens One Two Jaga, giving us an insight into Nam Ron’s attempt to present a thorough meditation on the issue of corruption. However, the conflict between Marzuki and Rico’s characters is not given enough space to flourish, leading the audience to be a little curious about what actually happened.
The rainstorm at the end of One Two Jaga successfully conveyed that God is trying to clear all the good and evil that is mixed up.
Nam Ron as been courageous in making this film, and indeed, One Two Jaga is one of Malaysia’s best films of the year, possibly of the past five or ten years past. However, fear still drives those in power, as many lines of dialogue were censored to the point of disrupting the viewer’s experience of the film. In fact, the censored lines were not confined to foul language, but also to dialogue that had just a whiff of politics. Obviously, Nam Ron managed to score a direct hit, and now it is up to those in power to comprehend how creative freedom should work in the public space.
This review was originally written in Malay and translated into English by Kathy Rowland.
One Two Jaga: Crossroads, directed Nam Ron, and written by Nam Ron, Pitt Hanif, Amri Rohayat, Ayam Fared dan Muhammad Syafiq, will be screened at the Singapore International Film Festival 2018 on Tuesday 4 December, 9:30pm at the National Gallery Singapore. Find out more here.
WIN TICKETS to see One Two Jaga: Crossroads at SGIFF via our giveaway here.
Penulis Undangan, Daniyal Kadir banyak menulis ulasan filem dan artikel mengenai isu-isu berkaitan sinema Malaysia. Di samping itu beliau aktif dalam program-program apresiasi sinema tempatan. Beliau turut menulis sebuah buku pada tahun 2015 berjudul Membedah P.Ramlee yang mengupas pelbagai aspek penting dalam filem-filem arahan legenda filem Malaysia, P.Ramlee.