The final sequence of Rise: Ini Kalilah takes place late at night, a day after Malaysia’s 14th General Elections. The areas surrounding the Istana Negara are packed with Malaysians, both young and old carrying Pakatan Harapan flags, cheering their lungs out, celebrating a hard-fought victory. Our new Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, is about to be sworn in by the king. Amidst the crowd, a handsome Australian white dude (of course) says “Oh! This is wonderful,” to his beautiful Malaysian Chinese friend before they… hug (this is a Malaysian movie. No kissing nonsense allowed).
I vividly remember that night and the night before. It was wonderful indeed. I remember sitting at home with my family — TV on, laptop on and the Whatsapp group I have with my homies continuously buzzing — anxiously anticipating the results. Is this REALLY happening? We asked ourselves and each other, as the first hour flew by and then the second and the third. I think most of us walked into our respective voting stations with hope more than realistic expectations. But if there’s one thing Star Wars has taught us throughout the years is that sometimes hope is all you need. Rebellions are built on hope! And when the night ended at approximately 4am, so did the old regime.
We did it. We didn’t know if the new government led by the 93 years old — God bless him — Tun Dr Mahathir is going to be any better than the old, but we did know that for the first time in a very very long time, the country belonged to the rakyat. #MalaysiaBaru indeed. What a night! Wonderful is the perfect word to sum up that night and the entire GE14. What’s absolutely NOT wonderful is this movie. HOLY SHIT.
Rise: Ini Kalilah directed by Saw Teong Hin, Nik Amir Mustapha, M.S. Prem Nath is the stalest and warmest of beers. It is Coke Zero. It is a vegan pizza. It is a bodybuilder’s diet two weeks before competition day. If Rise is a Malaysian prime minister, its name would be Najib. No, love him or hate him, at least Najib had personality. Rise is Pak Lah. This movie has no heart, no spirit, no personality. You’ll be moved more emotionally watching the final moments of Barney & Friends where Barney turns into a stuffed toy again. People in the cinema were cracking up throughout the movie, even during the serious parts. Heck, especially during the serious parts.
This movie has no characters, only one-dimensional caricatures who are forced into unnatural, inorganic supposedly crowd-rousing situations. Picture this: A primarily CHINESE SPEAKING Malaysian Chinese sells chicken rice in a hawker centre in Singapore. When an interracial couple (Chinese dude + Indian girl) orders Wantan Mee, the Wantan Mee seller remarks (in Mandarin), “Couldn’t you find a prettier girl?” We understand what he’s implying. Upon hearing that, the Malaysian Chinese dude yells on top of his lungs. “DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT?!?!! YOU WANNA FIGHT??!!” And the whole thing almost turns into a brawl.
Have you ever seen that happen in real life (drunken bar fights not included)? Wouldn’t it make more sense if the Malaysian Chinese guy just rolled his eyes/had an uncomfortable look on his face/said something like, “Eh uncle? Why would you say something like that?” What’s even worse is that the screenwriters then turn that scene into a senseless ‘anti-Singapore’ subplot. The brother of the chicken rice seller, who’s a Singapore PR, is a ‘holier than thou’ asshole, and there are lines of dialogue that ring something like “What’s the purpose of following your Singaporean law if it means sacrificing your conscience?!” Speaking of, the dialogue in this movie are so poorly written — cheesy, cringy and absolutely farcical — it will make your ears bleed. What were the writers thinking?
In fact, the entirety of this movie feels like a collection of The Coverage headlines turned into lousy three-minute sketches. “Malaysian Chinese Chicken Rice Seller Stands Up For Interracial Relationship Against Wantan Mee Uncle.” “In A Moment Of True Patriotism Chinese Aunty Helps Young Malay Girl Returning From The UK To Deliver Votes.” “In A Heroic Fashion, Malaysian Guy Saves Bangladeshi Foreign Worker. What Happens Next Will Leave You In Tears.” Only here, you’re not in tears. You’re hiding your face behind your hands in embarrassment.
The characters here aren’t three-dimensional individuals. They don’t feel like actual human beings. They’re merely cartoons that represent grand, hyperbolic ideas.
- Primarily Tamil speaking Indian girl rejects the idea of arranged marriage and is in love with a primarily Chinese speaking dude.
- Hyper-patriotic Chinese speaking dude thinks Singapore is the Devil’s Den and is in an Interracial relationship.
- Malay cop who scoffs at the idea of corruption.
- White guy who misses his flight back to Australia to stand atop a hill and celebrate a new Malaysia cause Malaysia is that awesome.
These hyperbolic notions could’ve worked had Rise: Ini Kalilah been a satire or a short Petronas advertisement. But as a self-serious feature film, it falls flat. There is no nuance, no effort to tell an earnest and raw story. We laughed at the Barisan Nasional/Najib ads that invaded our YouTube space on elections week. This crapshoot is more or less the same. If our protagonists are all one-dimensional caricatures then the supporting characters in dark blue (here known as Parti Nasional Malaysia as opposed to Barisan Nasional) are zero-dimensional jokes. They’re the manifestation of pure evil and unfunny clowns.
It’s been a couple of days since I watched the movie, and I still for the life of me can’t figure out what the movie is even about. Is it a political discourse? Definitely not. Not one that’s remotely meaningful anyway. Does it encapsulate the rakyat’s suffering and why we desperately rallied for change? Nope. Does it touch on freedom of speech? Nope. Najib’s alleged corruption? Nada. What about the Bersih rallies? That’s a sound negative as well. Rise: Ini Kalilah is just a bunch of meaningless subplots strung together, followed by the voting and then actual real-life footage of Tun Dr Mahathir’s speeches thrown in at the end.
Rise: Ini Kalilah isn’t a film. It’s a poorly cut together, creatively barren Public Service Announcement. Except it’s announcing nothing because the General Elections is already over and done with. There are no actors here, only people blurting out lines they’ve memorised (Remy Ishak aside. He’s really good). But I don’t blame Mira Filzah, Sangeeta Krishnasamy, Jack Tan, Shashi Tharan and Jenn Chia. Not even Daniel Day-Lewis could’ve made this movie better. Its only saving grace is Sheila Majid’s beautiful rendition of Sejahtera Malaysia — a single line of this song is more evocative than anything in the movie. If it sounds like I’m grasping at straws, know that I am. After all, this is the kinda movie where when the Chinese guy romantically locks eyes with the Indian girl, music from Basmati Briyani Rice commercials kicks in.
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Rise: Ini Kalilah
Rise: Ini Kalilah is the stalest and warmest of beers. It is Coke Zero. It is a vegan pizza. It is a bodybuilder's diet two weeks before competition day. If Rise is a Malaysian prime minister, its name would be Najib. No, love him or hate him, at least Najib had personality. Rise is Pak Lah. This movie has no heart, no spirit, no personality.
Rise: Ini Kalilah