The New York Asian Film Festival ran from August 28 to September 12. For more information, click here.
Sometimes, you get to see a star in the making, and it is always a thing to behold. The Malaysian martial arts actioner Geran doesn’t make you wait very long at all. Some bad dudes roll up to the house of Pak Nayan (Nam Ron), looking for his son Mat Arip (Fad Anuar), who is in debt to notorious loan shark Haji Duad, and as a way of staving off the guillotine has opted to hand over the deed to his fathers land. Which, being his fathers and not his, requires Nayan to sign it over. While Nayan is guardedly courteous to his guests, his daughter Fatima (Feiyna Tajudin) can barely hide her disgust.
Nayan’s other son, Ali (Kohoarullah), off on an errand, finds out what’s going on, hops on his scooter and races back to the homestead to prevent disaster.
And we’ve seen all of this before; we know how it goes: a race against time, where Ali will either show up just in time to rescue his family, or too late and will spend the rest of the movie trying to avenge them.
But what happens instead is Fatimah’s increasingly vocal insults and disrespect chip away at the veneer of civility, until she finally takes it one step too far. One of the thugs raises his hand to strike her. And it appears that we’re in for the smacking around of a female character to prove the reprehensible nature of our baddies and make sure they’ve earned their inevitable thrashing at the hands of Ali.
So imagine my surprise and delight when Fatimah intercepts the hit and proceeds to lay a whooping on the thugs that left both them and me reeling.
Reader, I cackled.
Within the space of five minutes, Feiyna Tajudin makes a solid argument for a very long career as a hard hitting action hero, and I can only hope that this film gets in front of the right eyes to ensure that she shows up again, and soon.
The plot of Geran is a relatively simple one, but shifts its focus in interesting ways. For starters, the subversion that prevents Ali from saving the day holds fast throughout much of the film. While Ali is clearly positioned in the noble hero role, the film is far more interested in the exploits of black sheep Mat Arip, a cocky brat who spends all of his time gambling and drag racing with his portly comic relief sidekick Mi (Taiyuddin Bakar, being… a lot). His hotheaded nature means no shortage of people who want to shut him up, which in turns means no shortage of well-choreographed fight scenes to enjoy.
Mat Arip and Mi veer between the amusing and the annoying, to be sure, but spending time with them seems preferable to spending time with Ali, who spends almost the entire movie doing nothing but fishing and talking to a series of older mentor figures that parse out wisdom with a notably religious bent (this is a curiously pious movie at times, and sincerely so)
It’s obvious that they’re building up anticipation for when Ali finally throws down, but the character as written is a bit of a nonentity. And Khoharullah, as good a figure as he cuts, doesn’t do much to inject any life into his dialogue.
But the pacing of the movie works to its advantage as it builds to a set piece where all three siblings find themselves being hunted by agents of Haji Duad, and respond with…
….well, I was going to say ‘gratuitous’, but that’s not right at all; it is in fact, a perfectly acceptable and, indeed, level of violence. And in many ways, it is the centerpiece of the film.
Director/cinematographer Areel Abu Bakar puts a stylish spin on every scene, slick but measured, which is to say he doesn’t overuse the showy camera moves and has the control to let the kinetic energy speak for itself without burying everything in a blur of needless edits and pointless flash. The siblings feel pretty invincible, which for some may be a downside, but it worked for me. The skill and variety of the fights outweigh the diminished sense of danger to out heroes. And after a while, the fact that the same thugs keep getting pummeled over and over seems like it’s own deeply amusing running gag.
This sequence does lead to the big disappointment of the film, and a thing I think viewers should know going in as to adjust their expectations accordingly; the siblings never actually fight together. I’m not sure why this decision was made, but it was an undeniably wrong one. The movie doesn’t suffer too badly for it, but one still can’t help but feel a bit let down.
While Tajudin and Anuar have already established their skills by this point in the film, the sequence only gives us a taste of both Ali as he only trades a few blows with enforcer Kahar, obviously slated from the start as the Final Boss, an obvious bid to build anticipation for when Ali finally gets to let loose and throw down. Which is what the final act is all about. And I’m happy to report that Khohrullah is worth the wait.
Ali takes center stage for the final twenty minutes of the film and if he underwhelmed with the character stuff, he acquits himself most impressively as a righteous deliverer of high-impact justice. And the extended final showdown between Ali and Kahar (played by Areel Abu Bakar, who also choreographed all of the fights) is as impressive a one-on-one duel as I’ve seen this year. It’s construction may not always make the wisest choices, but it ends strong.
That’s probably a bit harsh; he’s probably doing the best with what he’s got, scriptwise, but when you get right down to it Ali isn’t a very interesting character. And is at a further disadvantage in that this is a film filled with fun characters. As Pak Nayan the reserved yet wise father, Nam Ron doesn’t have all that much to do either, but has enormous screen presence and radiates effortless cool, making it all the more affecting when his unmistakable yet understated soft spot for wayward Mat Arip gets blatantly exposed. YMMV as to whether Pak Nayans’ bottomless love and forgiveness makes you more charitable towards Mat Arip or makes you want to smack him upside the head.
A special shout out must go to Megat Sharizal as the portly race promoter who grows to loathe Mat Arip and turns out to have a few decent moves of his own; and Aeril Zafrel, going way over the top as Mat Arips’ hilariously rakish and tacky rival Lah. They lend a more subtle comedic jolt to the film that acts as a welcome counterpoint to Mi’s relentless braying.
Geran is a damn fine showcase for the Malaysian art of Silat, and a damn fine addition to the modern martial arts canon. It’s a little bit better than it needs to be, and despite some questionable choices, never fails to deliver the goods. Highly recommended for lovers of good old fashioned fight flicks.