On this edition of ‘Dash Goes off on a Tangent’ we discuss yet another controversy surrounding yet another film. Sometimes, when people carry pitchforks, flaming torches and yell on top of their lungs to criticize certain aspects of a movie, it’s understandable. (By understandable I mean, you may not agree with the backlash, but you can see where people are coming from like in the case of the lack of brown Asians in Crazy Rich Asians). Sometimes, the scrutiny and angry tweets are absolutely necessary (i.e. Malaysian censor board cutting three minutes out of Bohemian Rhapsody or when it was the white Scarlett Johansson and not an Asian who was cast as the lead character in Ghost in the Shell). But there are times, where the backlash surrounding certain films will make you wonder how we as a collective society have been able to survive for this long when there are people who are so insufferably moronic. Which brings me to Polis Evo 2.
Since the release of the Polis Evo 2 trailer, some ignorant Malaysian Muslims have asked the public to boycott this movie because its villains are part of a fictionalised Islamist terrorist group. The whole thing started when a PAS Committee member (of course it’s a political personnel — what else is new?) mentioned, in a lengthy Facebook post, that this “trashy” film is anti-Muslim, is trying to “give Islam a bad name” and paint Muslims as “evil.” What’s even more frustrating are the dumbasses who agree with him. Look, there is a case to be made if the villain in the movie is an Islamist terrorist while the heroes are all Christian, Buddhist and Hindu saviours.
But buddy, all the protagonists in this movie are Malay Muslims — HEROES who go on to save hundreds of hostages. So, what in the world are you smoking? Also, movies work best when they’re earnest. And the reality of the situation is, Islamists terrorist groups do exist (non-Muslim terrorist groups too). We have to not only accept it, but also talk about it. Just like how Indian films like Kaala and Pariyerum Perumal have commented on the fundamental flaws and atrocities of the Hindu religion. So grow up and stop being a baby. Watch the news. Read a book or two maybe. Geez!
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about this movie that’s thoroughly enjoyable and exceeds all expectations. The plot is simple: An Islamist Terrorist organization, led by Hafsyam — a Taliban looking dude — have taken hundreds of islanders hostage. During a recon mission gone wrong, police officers Khai, Raline, Sani and a couple of other cops find themselves stranded on the island with these terrorists and hostages. The hostage negotiator, Dato Azizat (a solid showing by Erra Fazira) tries to reason with Hafsyam to no avail.
I don’t know how true to life this is, but apparently Malaysia, just like the US and many Western countries, does not negotiate with terrorists. This is great for two different reasons. One, we should never bend over backwards and give in to terrorist demands as terrorists thrive on scaring the masses into believing that they’re more powerful than they actually are; Two, — and this is very important — it leaves the heroes in Polis Evo 2 with only one option: ass-kicking babyyy!
Polis Evo 2 is a pure action movie. All action. From start to end. Every now and then the movie slows down for characters to talk and for us to catch a breath (and I will get to those parts later). It waits for us to take a few sips of Pepsi, maybe run to the loo real quick, and then dives right back into the action guns blazing. In it, a muscly police officer, a scrawny police officer (and a bunch of minor supporting characters/extras) stand alongside an Indonesian Gal Gadot and deliver ass whoopings to the asshole terrorists. In other words, hell yeah! By the way, the entire movie, besides the opening introductory scenes takes place on an island — a single, self-contained location, which adds to the thrills.
The heroes and villains use pistols, semi-automatic rifles, snipers, knives, their bare fists, the occasional grenade and build fortresses out of rice bags in an effort to take down one another and I’m a sucker for all of it. What can I say, I love violence in entertainment, when done right. Some will criticize the fact that this is just a two hour long video game pretending to be a movie. I won’t disagree — the climax especially, is like watching your friends play Call of Duty set in one of those dusty island maps. But who gives a shit, if what we get is wholly entertaining. Which this movie is.
That said, calm down! You’re not going to walk in and discover Malaysia’s version of The Raid, a film that left my knees weak and balls empty for a week straight. This isn’t a groundbreaking masterpiece in action cinema. There were a number of times where I found myself appreciating the idea behind an action sequence, more than the execution. Like the one scene atop the communications tower where Rian (Raline Shah) and Khai (Shaheizy Sam) take down a bunch of terrorists who have cornered them, swiftly. It’s a cool idea, but we don’t actually get to see how exactly it all goes down because of the excessive shaky cam and jagged editing.
But for the most part, the film is competently shot (by cinematographer Tan Teck Zee) and the shaky cam technique isn’t used to a degree that it gives you a migraine. I love the scene where Khai and a terrorist named Nafjr who’s now hungry for revenge and high of his leader’s “god has chosen YOU” pep talk, start beating the living daylights out of each other. In another sequence, Khai and a terrorist get into a fisticuff while Rian tries to find a clear shot. It’s a pretty thrilling scene as Khai and Rian try to terminate the fool with as little noise as possible. It’s my favourite out of the many many action sequences in the movie.
But what separates this from a video game are the slew of characters that directors Joel Soh and Andre Chiew (along with the slew of screenwriters: Kyle Goonting, Anwari Ashraf [and helmer Joel Soh]) establish. I’m not necessarily talking about nuanced three-dimensional human beings, but characters who are distinct with interesting personalities. First up is Khai, who’s a slightly grounded version of Captain America. He’s less muscular than The Rock, but still 20 times more muscular than me. He’s strong-headed, emotionally driven and always dives headfirst into a battle, especially if it’s a fist-to-face one.
Then we have Khai’s partner and good friend Sani. Now Sani is an interesting case as he has the most fleshed out and emotional arc in the film, but at the same time is also central to some of the film’s weakest spots. Sani (played by popular comedic actor Zizan) is a down to earth everyman who’s relentlessly determined and has a heart of gold. Early on in the movie, he gets captured by these terrorists and is beaten, tortured and forced to experience some harrowing ordeals. Zizan is given some real heavy material to work with and half of the time, he succeeds. He’s good in the scene where he pleads, begs and apologises to the terrorist leader. Here, Zizan delivers his performance with vulnerability, a side I’ve never seen previously from this actor.
What doesn’t work, though, is a scene that happens later on where Sani breaks down in front of Khai. It’s a scene that’s good on paper but doesn’t necessarily translate well to screen because Zizan overacts and the whole thing plays out like a TV3 telenovela. (Many scenes with Zizan also don’t work because of the audience I was with, who were clearly so used to seeing him in comedic roles that they burst out laughing every time he’s on screen. At one point he gets his mouth wedged open by the terrorists who pour large amounts of water straight down his throat… and the audience laughed. It’s a frustrating experience, as I found myself being sucked out of the movie multiple times.)
I walked into Polis Evo 2 eager to watch Sani and Khai back in action. I walked out thinking mostly about Rian, the Indonesian cop who’s deep undercover in a drug ring when things go south, dramatically. She reminds me of Gal Gadot in the Fast & Furious movies — ferocious, sexy and unequivocally badass. It’s easy to buy someone like Khai who has arms the size of my head as an ass-kicker. That you buy Rian’s badassery just as much speaks volumes of Raline Shah’s convincing physical performance and screen presence. I wouldn’t mind seeing a Polis Evo spinoff (Police Evo: Indonesia, perhaps) with Raline Shah as the titular character. And if you’re wondering what the villains are like. Well, they’re mostly just basic stereotypes, though, Hasnul Rahmat delivers a convincing performance as the leader, Hafsyam.
Before I end, I’d like to talk about one more scene. A scene that’s jarring and belongs in a completely different movie. As we approach the third act of the movie, the terrorists throw Sani in a chamber. In it, he begins to hallucinate and Joel Soh and Andre Chiew direct the sequence like a horror film, jumpscares and all. We’ve seen directors used horror techniques in war films many times before, most recently in Mel Gibson’s Hacksaw Ridge. The difference is, in Hacksaw Ridge, the soldiers were sleeping in a ditch in the middle of an open battlefield, so when the jumpscare-oops-it’s-only-a-dream method’s used, it made sense — that very well could have been a Japanese soldier pouncing at Desmond T. Doss. Here, the hallucination scene is unnecessary. It plays out goofily like it’s meant to get a laugh, but not really? For directors who for the large majority do a very good job in keeping the tone of the movie perfectly balanced, this scene is an odd choice by the duo that perhaps should’ve been left on the chopping room floor.
I guess the question on a lot of your minds is, how does this compare to Paskal, the other big budget Malaysian action flick that came out just last month? Paskal is a technical achievement in Malaysian cinema. It’s a good-looking movie with riveting action sequences that falls short in almost all other areas, particularly when it comes to tone. Polis Evo 2 knows what it is: a balls to the wall, fist-pumping action bonanza, and it leans into that HARD! Besides a couple of speed breakers, it travels at breakneck speed delivering one thoroughly enjoyable sequence after another revolving around memorable characters. In a perfect world, this movie would be rated-R, with a lot more bones snapping and blood splattering. As it stands, I like it. I like it a lot.
Polis Evo 2
Some will criticize the fact that this is just a two hour long video game pretending to be a movie. I won’t disagree -- the climax especially, is like watching your friends play Call of Duty set in one of those dusty island maps. But who gives a shit, if what we get is wholly entertaining. Which this movie is.