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Bunohan, mysticism, and UMNO

By Izmil Amri

One might seem to think that Bunohan is a story of murder, Thai kick-boxing, or even go to the extent of assuming that it is a horror film. Director Dain Said however has masterfully amalgamated every other story into this one.

You are first served with a scene from an underground fight club of sorts where the youngest of the three sons nearly loses a fight and gets whisked off away after obtaining serious injuries and being brought back to his home town in Bunohan.

Adil, the fighter, gets chased by the lawi-ayam wielding assassin, Ilham who happens to be his older brother. They both find their way back to their home just in time as the eldest brother, Bakar sets to coerce the village people to sell their land to some Datuk from KL in the name of development.

Bakar has a very UMNO-like quality to his character. Tucked in shirt, well-kept goatee, he comes home claiming to want to look after the ailing father. He quietly conspires with people to take over the villagers’ land. His greed is evidenced by his final act of treachery by murdering his father in order to get the final piece of land.

Listening carefully, the audience might detect political nuances within the dialogue; most glaring of all would of course be the part where Adil hoping that the second fight to be clean (read: bersih). Subliminal political messaging is abundant in the movie, for those sensitive to the language of politics.

But the movie, as far as I was concerned, was a train wreck. Allow me to extend my heartiest congratulations to you if you happen to belong to the handful of people who made it out of the theatres without a confused look on your face after nearly two hours trying to comprehend it.

Firstly, the thick Kelantanese dialogue throws the viewer off (the title is pronounced as ‘boo-know-hair’). That alone managed to score a few laughs among the numerous KL-ites who have little encounters with the east coast dialect. I however failed to see what was so funny.

The movie was an abomination. Non-existent plot centred around a mishmash of Malay mysticism and the usual troubled and dysfunctional Malay family. Mom is a traditional healer with magical powers, dad is a shadow puppet master with his own idiosyncrasies, and three sons of which this film is built upon. By some unlucky turn of events, the mother dies, and the children leaves home to nurture their inner demons, only to come back at a certain point in time to meet those demons face to face. Blah blah blah.

The director must have a fondness for everything olive green, he played extensively with water and sand, making Bunohan an extremely wet and dull picture. Mind you, the cinematography is oh so beautiful. Charin Pengpanich’s work was astounding, making the dull and wet scenes seem artful and fancy. Utilizing wide angles in every other frame he could, the picture was photographically perfect.

The film’s only other redeeming quality is its success in pulling us out from the dark that is the slurry of typical Malaysian films, always going in circles with love, betrayal, comedy and horror. It enlightened many viewers to the culture of ‘main puteri’ and introduced ‘saka buaya’ as undertones to the grand theme of mysticism.

My rating? Three and a half stars for Bunohan; one for the gorgeous cinematography, one for Faisal Hussein’s performance, another for the political innuendoes and half a star for the effort at enlightenment. – The Rocket

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