Monday, March 14, 2011

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (The Malay Chronicle: Bloodline)

I am not sure why I was so excited to watch this movie? Could it be because of Stephen Rahman Hughes (....of courseeeeee), or to satisfy my curiosity on why a Pan-Asian actor got the starring role. OR just to see whether KRU production manage to pull it off , you know, after my BIG disappointment with Puteri Gunung Ledang, despite the fact that they had nailed it with Cicakman and Cicakman 2.

Well, admittedly it is not really easy to bring an epic adventure story, usually based on oral history or folklore to the screen without making it either confusing or illogical. Plus delivering the story to the screen without adding some "sugar,salt and pepper" and a little imagination would make it rather tasteless. Ok ... I would not look at Hong Kong or Indian epic movies for comparison because of big cultural differences and historical relations. So my benchmark for this movie was Queen of Langkasuka by Nonzee Nimibutr (who also gave us Nang Nak and Suriyothai).

To be fair, I also watched Queen of Langkasuka because of Ananda Everingham (a Thai-English actor) and like Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (HMM) ... I also don't know much about the legend of the Queens of ancient Pattani kingdom. Interestingly, some historical writings indicate that the Queens of the Pattani kingdom were descendants of Merong Mahawangsa from the fourth child (a daughter) of Merong Mahawangsa's son, Merong Mahapudisat. Okay, please refer HERE for the storyline.

To make the experience more special, I decided to watch the movie at the brand new TGV Cinema at Penang's newest shopping mall, 1st Avenue. I watched the 2pm show and sadly the cinema hall was 25% occupied. Okay ... another problem with regional epic movies ... not many followers. Another possible reason ... many Chinese don't watch Malay movies except Jaime Yeoh and other bananas. BTW, this new cinema will definitely be my new chill out place.

So ... my overall comment about the movie. A heavy mixture of LOVE and HATE. We are almost there but  still not there. Okay we know that KRU production spent RM 8 million for this movie. And to be honest, if they have another RM 14-15 million we (as in Malaysian movie) will be able to compete internationally and position ourselves in the international film industry.

First, I would like to congratulate KRU production and the movie writer Amir Hafizi on the storyline. Notably  in highlighting Geruda as the pirate tribe instead of the mythical bird. Well, to be honest, Langkasuka was said to be located somewhere between Mount Jerai and Muda River. In the real Merong Mahawangsa text, it is said you can see Jambul Island and Lada Island from kingdom city. Now when I went to Bangkok last year, I saw a display of an old map which belongs to an English/French traveller that marked Penang Island as Pulo Lada. Those days, Penang provided a sheltered harbour for Chinese, Indian, Arabian and European ships during the monsoon months; this, in turn, inevitably made it fertile hunting ground for pirates. In present day Penang, Mount Jerai is about 50km from Butterworth and is visible from town centre.

Taken at Museum Siam, Bangkok (my own photo)
However, I was a bit disappointed that HMM did not (or could not) incorporate some Hindu customs and traditions of the people during those time to make it more realistic. Though Amir Hafizi did explained why in his blog (another constraint of a local movie),  however tourismwise ... I saw this as a pulling factor for history lovers and historians all over the world. My point is ... long before the great kingdoms of Srivijaya, Ayuthya, Sukhothai or Pattani, there was this great kingdom of Langkasuka in the Malay Peninsula. 

Thai epic movies love to showcase how great their ancient kingdoms of Siam, but historians and linguists agreed that the Thais moved from their ancestral home in southern China into mainland southeast Asia around the 10th century AD. Prior to this, Indianized kingdowm such as the Mon, Khmer and Malay kingdoms ruled the region. Langkasuka probably the kingdom that gave birth to other great empires in Malay archipelago ... hehehe. From just tribal villages into a kingdom.

For this, I love Shuhaimi Baba's works such of Pontianak Harum Sundal Malam for incorporating traditional and cultural elements like the arts of kuda kepang, black magic, royal court dance etc...Though the storyline is almost there ... however HMM still need to brush up on the "kesinambungan" from one scene to another . I am still confuse what the director wanted to highlight ... the greatness of Merong Mahawangsa martial arts or his leadership in the battlewar or the startup of Langkasuka.

Hmmm ... there are few tiny details that I was not really happy with in this movie. Like the costumes of the Chinese princess and her hand maiden. Their Mandarin and dialogues especially Nell Ng's acting. Hmm ... despite being a royal princess hand maiden, Nell's acting is more like an Ah So! I know she might be the comedy element of this movie. But sorry ... the  Chinese royal imperial courts requires poise and gracefulness. Plus their Mandarin were heavily accented with Cantonese phonetics. I do agree that, most of the scenes were about the princess and her handmaiden travelling but looking at Queen of Langkasuka, the scenes where the princesses were in their travelling costumes and traditional costume of the imperial court made me awe in wonder. Plus, they made tengkolok, sampin and baju Melayu in songket looked so grand!

Another interesting detail which was just mentioned in passing, that the meeting point  of Rome prince and Chinese princess was to be made at the Golden Chersonese because of fengshui ... it is not wrong to explained that in the Chinese Admiral line on why that place was chosen fengshuiwise (another point to promote Langkasuka site and Penang will benefit from it too hehehe). Good thing they mentioned Golden Chersonese, but what so Golden Chersonese about it should actually be highlighted in the Goan scenes ...  or in the Chinese Admiral line ... you know despite being "a wild ground, with wild people". Just like how Merong advised Prince Marcus about the Chinese ("the Chinese had fought battles long before the Romans" ) haaa for that matter, we could take some idea from Pirates of the Carribean.

Stephen Rahman Hughes is a great actor, but because he doesn't speak or understand Malay, some of the punchlines and expressions were a bit off. Most of the Malay dialogues were beautifully written as "pantuns" and very poetic so it need some soul to express it in words (verbally). Perhaps with the soothing sound of traditional wind instruments in the background. However, I was sooooooo not comfortable with some secenes of Merong with Prince Marcus of Rome. Funny, I feel like Merong has more chemistry with Marcus than with Embok hahahaha (OMG).

Initially I was questioning on the choice of Ummi Nazirah for the part of Embok. Then there were certain "supposedly intimate scenes between Merong and Embok, I realised yes .... we should highlight on the  authentic Malay beauty ... the skin, the lips, the hair (bibir merah merekah, pipi bagai pauh dilayang, rambut mayang mengurai). If this is not a Malaysian movie ... definitely there will soft sex scenes. But then again ... I thought of The Adjustment Bureau ... Emily Blunt and Matt Damon played with their facial expression, body language (you know the restlessness), their eyes keep looking at each others lips - that was enough to make me feel uneasy on my seat. HOT!!!

But I still don't get it why Embok suddenly acting angry with Merong. Though it was explained later (she was raped by Kamawas) but still "kaku".I think Embok's part will be better if Embok initially gave cold shoulder to Merong but slowly she was attracted to him but being a "hero warrior" Merong was also admired by young ladies of the tribe which sparked some jealousy on the part of Embok, thus the "angry intimate" scene between Merong and Embok.

" jika pintu empangan sudah dibuka, manakan boleh ditahan airnya"- Kamawas
Khir Rahman was great as Kamawas. What can I say (I am speechless)! His acting was so natural (and blown me away) that I would say he deserved an award for his supporting role. Mantapppppp .... though his line (refer to the photo caption) where he was being "seduced" by Princess Meng Li-Hua is a bit XXX for Malaysian viewers but I think in Malaysian words ... "memang ngammmm"  with scene. That guy was so horny that time what...

I love Dato' Rahim Razali in this movie. His voice, his facial expression and the soul that he brought into the character of Kesum. Well, many of his lines were a bit poetic and looking at the way he expressed  it, sent shivers to my spine. Yes, like other "unpaid critics" ... I don't like the hair hehehe

I don't want to comment much on the cinematography - I am seeing a bit of 300, Gladiator and Troy. The CGI was superb but need some polishing as in some of the scenes, the ships looked so obvious like toy ships.

Hahahaha ... panjang pulak komen. But anyway, it is because we are almost there but still not there. However, I applaud the efforts and money spent on the making of this movie and most importantly ... I did not fell asleep (tu yang banyak komen hehehe).


norzah said...

Congratulations on a very informative critique of the Merong Mahawangsa movie, J, especially in terms of explaining the historical setting. I was facinated by the old map you presented with Pulau Lada, Quedah (Kedah) and Patani clearly shown.
I've read other comments on the film, some very harsh and unfair (just google MM). Your's a very fair and personalised one with lots of allusions to other great films, and drawing attention to particular themes, scenes and actors/actress. Very deftly handled with the usual Jaime sense of humor, especially on the love scene ( feeling HOT, OMG!), and a girlish admiration for the hero,heroine and the major supporting roles (Rahim Razali. Mano Manoharan didn't seem to impress you?).
As a Bahasa Malaysia scholar you seemed to have captured the beauty of the poetic dialogue whilst one critic said that a Form 2 student could write a better script. As for the logical sequence of the story, you too seemed to be confused at places. But you accepted the fact that there should be enough pepper and salt to make the story interesting.
Well you've already whetted my appetite and i am ready to go snd see the film which some critics said is a new landmark for Malay films. With an RM8M budget it seems to beat everything on record. Let's see if the box office collection will also do the same.

rambomadonna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rambomadonna said...

Dear Norzah, kenalah be fair sebab like I said , if they just have few millions more, I am sure KRU could come out with something better. In terms of suntingan lah right?

You see, I love epic movies while other "unpaid critic" might just love movies (there is a difference there). Epic movies need to be executed with care, need to balance between fictions and historical facts, or perhaps the producer may need to consider political, religious or "international relation" issues that might stem out of it.

Even in the beginning, Nonzee wanted to name Queen of Langkasuka as Queens of Pattani but due to social unrest in Southern Thailand and its political sensitivity, it was changed to Queen of Langkasuka, which interest me more ... a Thai acknowledging the history of the Malay kingdom of Pattani and the depth of the research done. Malay warriors had never looked sexier in other movies (seriously hehehe)

About Mano, I love his works ... the same for Nel Ng's. However in this movie, he is just executing his character in "the same Mano style" nothing much to shout about. I would love to see him as a Goan taiko ... instead of more like a port "Chettiar". Okaylah, maybe he is potraying a port broker or sort. Goshhhh .... I felt like wanting Omar Sharif to play that part.

To be honest, a few characters did some injustice to our Malaysian actors/actresses (especially the non-Malay roles) great talents. Just like Nell's part, she was trying hard to be comical for her part but to me it became so Ah So ... again sorry Nell.

Oh ya ... I forgot to add that, it would also nice to see the Chinese princess recites a sad poem by famous Chinese scholars, showing how she wanted to be free from the royal cage .... (at least will peak the interest of the Chinese viewers). Suddenly scenes from movie HERO flashed through my mind.

rambomadonna said...

Norzah ... I forgot to thank you. Hehehe

aquilladah said...

hi there.
i totally love ur unformative and fair review.

n OMG!!
i absolutely agree with u about the scene between marcus n merong!! i was literally cringing my toes watching them. hahaa~

to me, the dialog (english esp) were too simple..but they managed to write the malay purba dialog well.

it wasn't an awesomely excellent movie coz i felt the story wasn't 'complete' enough. but overall, i was quite satisfied with it n tak menyesal tengok kt wayang. ^_^

aquilladah said...


rambomadonna said...

Hello Aquilladah, thank you for your comments. You got it right there ... the film is not "complete" enough.

However comparatively Queens of Langkasuka cost USD 20 million to produce whereas Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa cost RM 8 million (about USD 2milion ++) ... a difference of about 10 times.

You also did the right thing, eventhough HMM is not "awesome" yet but let us support it through our positive critics and of course watch at cinema. So KRU production can produce more better movies of the same theme next time. Hehehe

Bukan Sepet said...

Fair review. Great!

transformed housewife said...

I just love this review. I share some similar opinion too.

SweetSour B said...

aiyo.... jaime. what a critic lar... but that is good 1...

I know why u so x-cited bout "merong mahawangsa" because of the "merong".... kkakakaka

Saed Ramadhan said...

Hi J,

Just nak kongsi pendapat.

I think Pulo Lada is located at Langkawi cause it near to Muda River and Mount Jerai.

Bab nak komen pasal pakaian/dialek dalam movie ini memang i tolak tepi and agak ia sebagai sebuah epik/hikayat.

then, i terlintas macam you nak compare with filem Queen of Langkasuka?

Compare with Pari with Merong? adakah dia orang yang sama?

Seri Nara Majawangsa said...

Queen Langkasuka cost RM60 million!!...MMH Cost RM8 million!!..

OrAng_PeRLiS_mEnULiS said...

my review...

Asma said...

Nicely said. Taking the budget into consideration, I loved the movie in overall. However I think it would be nice if they could put more focus on the scenes where MM fought his way up to win the hearts of the people and become the King... I think those scenes were too simplified. They should develop the scenes as how the developed the relationship between MM and Marcus.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I watched this movie TWICE at BIG in Brem Mall and TGV in Jusco Kepong.

I didn't have time even 1 second to get bored or to fall asleep. This is what i call "real epic-action packed masterpiece".

I can't wait to buy an original dvd later.

resident.wangsamaju said...

Pass la this movie. Great effort by KRU. Malaysia need more epic films the scene is being filled by too many comedy pics.

merongmahawangsa said...

Pewaris Mutlak Merong Mahawangsa

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