When it comes to Malaysia’s film industry, most people’s initial thought of what Malaysian-made movies entail generally leads them to think of certain stereotypes. This was the case, at least up until 2018, where local cinema had a resurgence of sorts with the release of massive box office hits such as Munafik 2, One Two Jaga and Paskal.
However, it seems as though some of us don’t realise that we’ve had (and still have) a treasure trove of relatively good yet obscure films from years ago up to our present time. Many of which were overlooked or simply unheard of possibly due to the negative connotations associated with our local movie scene and also minimal marketing, hence the obscurity.
As a huge local movie buff myself, I feel a certain sense of responsibility to bring these low-key gems to light. Hopefully you’ll find the same amount of enjoyment in watching these films as I did. Don’t worry, I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers (promise!). Now without further ado..
Here are my 6 picks of local movies that don’t get enough love but totally should (IMO)
1. Gadoh (2009)
Gadoh is a film that revolves around two groups of delinquent students who would always get into heated altercations every time they crossed paths. One group consisted of strictly Malay boys while their rivals are a group of Chinese boys.
Without spoiling too much of the movie, Gadoh essentially touches on the topic of racism in regards to where it stems from and ultimately what could be done to eliminate it entirely, and more specifically within our public schools.
Despite being a low-budget indie film starring fairly fresh faces at the time (with the exception of veteran actor, director and stage performer Namron), each of the performers featured in the film acted out their scenes brilliantly in my humble opinion. From the rumbles between these opposing cliques to the meta commentary on the dangers that come with cultural ignorance, this one is a must-watch for sure.
2. Hantu Kapcai (2012)
Yes I’m aware that this movie does technically fall under the ‘stereotypical Malaysian film’ umbrella, but believe me when I say this movie will have you laughing your a$s off be it from how ridiculous the plot is or the zany acting and jokes packed in this slept-on comedy.
The movie starts off with Ajib played by Zizan Razak who passes away in a sabotaged motorbike race and then wakes up to find out that he has become a ghost and must communicate with his little brother and friends to pay off a huge debt he owed from the botched race in addition to putting his spirit at ease by.. hope you’ve guessed it.. racing the man who caused his death. Yeah..
If that alone wasn’t already wacky enough for a movie plot, this film also stars Remy Ishak who plays the main antagonist Tiger as well as Hairul Azreen who plays Ajib’s little brother (both of whom would go on to be a part of the whole 2018 Malaysian movie ‘resurgence’ I mentioned earlier).
The fact of even seeing these two in comedic roles, knowing that they would eventually move on to become big dramatic blockbuster powerhouses makes re-watching this oldie all the more fun. Well, to me at least. But hey, if you haven’t seen this one but have seen their respective big-breakout movies, you’re gonna be in for one hell of a treat.
3. Lagenda Budak Hostel (2013)
Another comedy which I feel doesn’t get enough recognition, Lagenda Budak Hostel, as the name suggests, is a charming movie about two boarding school students who became the ‘top dogs’ of their dorm and eventually the school, gaining their own little crew of merry followers along the way.
At some point in the film, the two friends begin butting heads as they fall in love for the same girl which sparks a hilarious rivalry where both students try to one-up each other as a means of impressing their love interest Seroja played by renowned actress Nora Danish.
The feats they go through as they try to win Seroja’s affection will have you bursting in laughter because of how seriously they commit to it. As for those of you who have experienced hostel life, this one might hit a little close to home albeit not completely (cos issa movie, duhhh).
4. Ophilia (2014)
Ophilia tells the story of three friends, Uji (Pekin Ibrahim), Ozzi Gandum (Que Haidar) and Totoi (Kodi Rasheed) who identify as Malaysian skinheads that cross paths with a trans-woman named Ophilia, who is also an affiliate of the biggest criminal organisation boss in Malaysia, played by the one-and-only Nur Sajat! (Yeah, I literally just found out about this after watching the movie years ago).
For the few minutes that Ophilia is seen on screen, Ozzi Gandum joins Uji as he is conversing with her, and scares Ophilia off the fleet of steps they were both sitting on, after which she dies from the fall. While they didn’t intend to kill her, Ophilia’s death is what sparks major unrest within the criminal underworld as Ophilia’s sister, Ivy, holds a high-ranking position in the criminal organisation.
This leads to an open manhunt for the three skinheads who are given the option to make up for this loss by paying RM75,000 within 24 hours to Ivy as she had previously been conned by members of a rival faction in a drug-deal gone wrong. Pretty heavy, right? It sounds cool but after a second look back at this film the plot’s nothing groundbreaking really.
That being said, the stellar performances of each actor and actress in this film are not to be undermined. Ophilia also serves as the first movie to really explore the skinhead movement and subculture within Malaysia that highlights the activities, trials and tribulations they go through on a daily basis.
Some might say this movie was a quick cash-grab on skinhead culture, but if you’re fascinated by this underground movement it’s definitely worth watching at least once.
5. Jagat (2015)
Now I’m not sure whether these next two movies I’ll be talking about would be considered ‘underrated’ as they’re both on Netflix but to my knowledge, Jagat, despite gaining major coverage and praise at the time of its release, is rarely ever mentioned in the conversation of great local movies.
Perhaps this is due to the lack of interest in the subject matter as our fellow Malaysian Indians are one of the smaller ethnic groups in our country, but I assure you that this one should definitely be on your to-watch list.
Jagat chronicles the life of Appoy (Harvind Raj), a young Tamil boy who is constantly picked on at school by teachers and students alike in addition to being harshly treated by his father at home. While most of the transgressions Appoy has to deal with in school are unwarranted, we eventually find out why Appoy’s father is so hard on him all the time. (No spoilers, I got y’all).
Nevertheless, Appoy isn’t the only character the film focuses on as it also sheds light on the plight of gangsterism as well as drug addiction. Appoy’s uncle, Mexico (Jibrail Rajhula) is an up-and-coming gangster who climbs his way to a higher position of power throughout the movie and progressively becomes a huge influence on Appoy leading him to become intrigued with his uncle’s lifestyle.
Appoy’s other uncle, Bala (Senthil Kumaran Muniandy), serves as an affectionate confidant that gives Appoy life advice during regular visits to his seaside shack. Intense, heartwarming and realistic are but a few words to describe this (dare I say) masterpiece of recent local cinema.
Additionally, this movie carries significant importance as it is one of the few films that puts a spotlight on the challenges faced by the working class Indian community in Malaysia. Moreover, Jagat took around 10 years to be completed in its entirety as the production team faced several financial issues yet managed to snag the award for ‘Best Picture’ at the 28th Malaysian Film Festival in 2016, deservedly so.
6. Fly By Night (2018)
Fly By Night is another recent local-made gem which hasn’t received enough exposure and credit for it’s fantastic character-driven story. It would be an injustice to simply classify this as a ‘Malaysian gangster movie’ despite that being a central theme of the film. Allow me to explain..
The movie revolves around a relatively small triad crew with two members Sai Lo (Fabian Loo) and Gwai Lo (Jack Tan) posing as taxi drivers while simultaneously running a small-scale extortion ring for their boss and father figure of their group, Tai Lo played by veteran actor Sunny Pang.
Against the wishes of Tai Lo, the younger members let their hunger for more money get the better of them after attempting to kidnap and extort a wealthy lady who then presents them with a more lucrative opportunity.
Things go awry and slowly descend into chaos especially with the band of brothers facing pressure from a corrupt police official named Inspector Kamal (Bront Palarae) and a rival gangster who tries to extort Tai Lo’s crew as compensation for a conflict that took place between members of his gang and Tai Lo’s boys.
What makes this movie stand out so much is the fact that you won’t know who to root for, if anyone at all. The parallels of the brash actions carried out by Tai Lo’s crew goes at odds with the somewhat sympathetic reasons they choose to do so. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and check this flick out when you get the chance!
As always, keep it here at JUICE for everything cool that’s below the radar.