As a crime drama that deals with police corruption and illegal immigrants, Crossroads: One Two Jaga constantly blurs the line between right and wrong, and between the good and the bad. A film that conveys such grey areas are unheard of and unseen in the Malaysian mainstream cinemas and its effort deserves to be lauded, despite its few drawbacks.
Set in the gritty and cramped landscape of Kuala Lumpur, Crossroads opens with a song chanted by a group of children, of which is the origins of its film title: Polis and thief one two jaga, Polis mati, Pencuri jaga…
The song comes from a children’s game similar to cops and robbers and cowboys and Indians, which was played by the majority of Malaysians during their childhood, where one person would be chosen as police and the others would become thieves. And then the chase begins.
When domestic helper, Sumiyati (Asmara Abigail) ran away from her employer’s home, which left her with no passport, she looked for her brother Sugiman (Ario Bayu) to find her a way home. Sugiman, who is a single parent and who earns an honest living with a permit to work in Malaysia, then turned to his construction-firm boss, Pak Sarip (Azman Hassan) to buy his sister an illegal passage on a boat back to Indonesia.
In the meantime, Sugiman needs to keep Sumiati away from the police officers so he hides her in a cheap hotel called Hotel Merdeka. While Sugiman works, his son Joko (Izuan Fitri) spends his schoolless days with Pak Sarip’s son, Adi (Amerul Affendi) who looks after his father’s workers to keep them safe from exploiting officers.
For policeman Hassan (Rosdeen Suboh), who is married with two young children, money is always short. He takes advantage of the corrupt system and extorts bribes from foreign workers who might just be illegal immigrants in the country. However, Hassan soon faces a moral dilemma when his new partner, Hussein (Zahiril Adzim) questions him about the bribes.
Growing up, we identify Police and Thief as a game that sets a clear distinction between the good and the bad. There is no in between, just two extremes: The polices as the uniformed heroes of law and the thieves are the ragged outcasts of society. But what if the bad guys aren’t all that bad, and the good guys aren’t all that good?
Crossroads creates this exact contradiction within us and then shatter our preconceived notions of what defines the good and the bad. The film asks: Who really is the thief?
Adi and Hussein represent this very contradiction. While Hussein is against the tide of illegal immigrants who come to the country and steal from the people, Adi loathes the greedy police who exploits from the working class. As much as the illegal immigrants are stealing from the country, the police are equally stealing from them as well. However, both Adi and Hussein fail to see the bigger picture, whereby the corruption is perpetuated by people bigger than them, who hold higher powers than they both will ever have.
Although viewers are able to sympathise with the plight of the police (Hassan and Hussein) and the immigrants (Sugiman and Sumiyati), the film neglects to explain the other characters’ motives in dabbling with crime, bribes, and protection rackets. There are too many characters, whose backstories are not explained properly, causing viewers to get quite lost in the web of corruption that can appear messy at times. There are some characters who carry no weight in the film, whom if taken out of the storyline would not change the flow of the narrative.
Who really is the thief?
Ultimately, when both the police and the immigrants collide outside Hotel Merdeka—a clever analogy of immigrants coming to Malaysia for a better life but ended up hiding behind a façade of ‘liberation’—the one that truly suffers from the power struggle and corruption within the country is the younger generation as Joko is caught in the middle of the conflict.
As a closing point, Crossroads is a bleak representation of the perpetual, vicious cycle of corruption, with its victims trapped in a societal prison that is supposed to be ‘liberated’, as such the rampant corruption within this country will go on uninterrupted and unresolved.
Wendi Sia was a member of the 2018 Far East Film Festival Campus at Udine, Italy. The campus allows young journalists from all over the world to attend the festival. Here, she managed to catch the international premiere of Crossroads: One Two Jaga at the opening night of the 20th edition of the festival.