Recently, I got the pleasure of watching a fantastic Malaysian film titled, Kickflip, on streaming platform MUBI and ever since then, I can’t bring myself to stop thinking about it.
After writing a review on the film, JUICE decided to pick the mind of director, Khairil M. Bahar, to fully comprehend the thought process and inspirations that went into the conceptualisation and finally, realisation of the film. Compared to his other films, Cuak, Showdown and Ciplak, this title feels the most personal to the director.
Reaping a ton of praise from skaters and non-skaters alike, Kickflip’s success is well warranted and we believe it would do us all a great justice to read more on his opinions on Malaysian skater culture as well as skater fashion.
In our chat, Khairil talks about his heroes, his struggles as well as his ways of overcoming adversity during his career as a filmmaker.
Without further ado, here is our interview with the skater boi turned serious director…
When were you introduced to skateboarding?
Like a lot of folks of my generation I discovered skateboarding from Marty McFly in Back to the Future. In fact, it’s safe to say the genesis of most of the things I do came from that movie – skateboarding, playing guitar, Chuck Berry, science and movies.
Proper skateboards were pretty hard to come by in Malaysia in the late 80’s and early 90’s so my friends and I on my street had our cheap boards from a toy store that we’d roll around and bomb hills. But for my 11th or 12th birthday my parents got me a Back to the Future 2 skateboard, which was surprisingly made with better wood and grip tape and proper urethane wheels and bearings.
I’ve been trying to get that board on eBay ever since (a so-called friend of mine broke it).
In your opinion, do you feel that Malaysian skaters do not get the same recognition and praise as compared to Western skaters?
Maybe in the past, but Malaysia’s getting there. A lot of the OG guys out there really paved the way – like Pa’din, Joe Ipoh and Boy PJ, to name a few – and with the way social media has connected the world I really do feel our local guys are getting a lot more recognized.
What made you decide to centre a film around skateboarding?
When I wrote Kickflip, I was coming out of a pretty dark place in my life, career-wise. I was unsure of everything – was I getting anywhere with this whole filmmaking thing? Why didn’t my past movies do better at the box office? Will I ever be able to make a proper living out of this? What’s the point?
Somehow at this same point in time I had started getting back into skateboarding. I had stopped skating regularly for quite a while. At most, I’d ride my board down the road to get something from the store, or just cruise for a bit, but that’s it. And, now that I think about it, I got back into it in a really round-about way – I was looking for a skate shop to buy rollerblades for my then-girlfriend/now-wife as a birthday present.
That led me to Wheel Love back when it was in Subang and in there I saw a Hook Ups cruiser board, which I ended up buying as well.
Hook Ups was a brand I’d always been into back when I was skating regularly in the late 90’s-early 2000’s. So I started going online to see how they were still around and using the same graphics that I remembered and saw that the brand had come back and its creator, Jeremy Klein was still skating and running it.
That led me down an Instagram-rabbit-hole of which skaters from my youth were still around which led me to discover that my favourite skater of all time, Mike Vallely, was still around and running his own brand, which later became Street Plant.
And if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll see how that little story led to writing it. I wanted to explore the idea of failure, and skateboarding had the perfect philosophy with how to deal with failure – you never land a trick on your first try. You fall, get back up, and do it again, and again, and again.
How did you come in contact with Syed Qodeem?
I was helping my friend Zul who used to work at the Shah Alam CrazeeCausa shop. He was having a mini bowl skate competition at the Seksyen 13 skatepark and I was helping shoot the competition, and I had my re-issue Hosoi hammerhead skateboard with me – a huge 10 inch wide old school deck with very little concave. One of the kids competing in the comp noticed it and really wanted to try it out and was really into riding it in the bowl.
In the movie, Johan visits a skate shop and purchases a Street Plant skateboard. Do you frequent many skate shops? If so, which are your favourite shops and brands?
Not any more, unfortunately, for obvious reasons. But the shops I always liked were CrazeeCausa, Wheel Love and Joe Ipoh’s shop at Rakan Muda.
In terms of skate brands, I do tend to lean towards the brands of my era and the ones I looked up to when I was younger – Santa Cruz is one of the all-time favourites that’s still around. I love their graphics and shapes and they do a lot of collabs with geeky brands that’s right up my alley, like the Star Wars graphics and the Ninja Turtles ones. Hook Ups is a brand I was always into.
A couple of 90’s brands that I’m not even sure are around anymore like Alien Workshop and Shorty’s were some of my favourites.
And when it comes to shoes, Vans always work, though I have a soft spot for the 90’s/2000’s puffy designs, like the old Etnies and DC shoes. I’m also really digging what Adidas is doing with their skateboarding line. It’s just a shame not a lot of their shoes are brought in here.
In your opinion, how has skate culture changed throughout the years in Malaysia?
One thing I find really interesting in the skate culture here as opposed to Western countries is how there’s not that much beef between skateboarders and rollerbladers and scooters.
It’s all pretty chill amongst each other – except for that short period of time when random people were renting out rollerblades at Seksyen 13 for cheap and filling the park with people who had no decorum or spatial awareness of anyone who was skating, causing a lot of annoyances and some major injuries from falls.
But it’s a really chill and inclusive scene. A lot more spots to skate, a lot more skaters.
There was a special cameo from Joe Ipoh in the film. What was it like to meet him and do you feel there are many other skaters like him who are overlooked?
I don’t know who’s overlooking Joe Ipoh, ‘cos that man is a legend in my eyes.
The first time I saw Joe Ipoh skate was at the old Mid Valley indoor park. At that time, almost everyone skating had a very specific style to that era – concentrating a lot on single tricks, very street style, mostly concentrating on the rails and funbox. Then in comes Joe Ipoh and the dude just flows – it’s a smooth line through the park, riding everything, a very old school style which I loved.
He was one of the first guys in Malaysia I saw riding the transitions and bowls, first guy I ever saw ride a half pipe, and the one in Mid Valley was brutal. I think it had almost four or five feet of straight vert.
I remember watching him and thinking, “I wanna skate like that guy”.
You have been making indie films for years about various niche topics in Malaysia. Do you currently have any pending ideas and scripts in the works for future films?
There are a few ideas bubbling around, but not as much as I’d like. Believe it or not, I would love to do a bunch of more ‘mainstream’ fare and always have, but after 14 years it’s become pretty apparent to me that what I think is ‘mainstream’ isn’t what most producers, studios and distributors think.
There’s a script I wrote before Kickflip that my producer’s been shopping around, so it’ll be interesting to see where that goes (it’s a lot darker and serious than my usual subject matter).
What I do know is that I want to concentrate more on my own ideas as opposed to other people’s, even though I don’t have that many ideas at the moment.
But if there’s one thing I’ve learned so far in my career is that trying to make everyone happy – the audience, the studios, whoever – is a futile and pointless exercise. So you might as well spend that time and energy making yourself happy with the kind of creative output you want to do. Everything else is just paying the bills.
To watch Kickflip, click here.