IN a year which has seen strong releases such as Ola Bola, Jagat and even BoBoiBoy The Movie, it would seem greedy to expect Malaysian cinema to net more winning films. Yet the blessing continues as PhuturePhlow‘s Kroll Azry (a.k.a. Mohd Khairul Azri) delivers in spades with his directorial debut, Pekak.
Kroll’s film captures forbidden love budding amidst a colourful backdrop of youth and hedonism. Utilising an original story by Azril Hamzah and Alfie Palermo, Pekak notably has no preoccupation for moralistic lessons nor false aspirations to educate a mass audience. As a result, the takeaways surface naturally.
The film has been touted as “controversial” for its risqué themes — sexuality and drug use feature here and there.
Pekak revolves around deaf drug pusher Uda (Zahiril Adzim) and his relationship with teenage schoolgirl Dara (Sharifah Amani). By Dara’s side is her best friend Melur (Sharifah Sakinah), a sexually-precocious young enabler who lives a very adult life after school. Melur is sleeping with Azman Picasso (Amerul Affendi), a simultaneously frightful and exhilarating junkie who takes Pekak‘s on-screen debauchery to its limits. And then there’s their friend Kamil (Iedil Putra), a wealthy young man who just wants to get in bed with Dara and will pay for Azman’s drugs as long as it takes to make it happen.
Without giving too much away, Pekak is a modern tragedy based on the star-crossed lovers archetypes (PS: the script’s working title was Uda & Dara). Igniting as a romantic film with moments of humour, it morphs into a thriller during its latter half.
Pekak is not so much concerned with what society thinks of its protagonists, choosing instead to pit them against one another in the real world.
It is most compelling when things get dangerous — there’s a sense of real alarm when quirky naivete Dara is in harm’s way, or when Azman gets a bit unhinged around the girls.
The film’s depiction of taboo matters is also not bound by stereotypes, and as a result creates some of the most spell-binding on-screen characters this year.
Melur is one of them. Decked in a baju kurung and scarf, she quickly takes a few drags from her cigarette before knocking on Dara’s front door. Elsewhere, she’s coy with Azman and shocking with her jokes, at one point suggesting that she “services” Dara’s father (Zaidi Omar) to loosen him up.
She is unforgettable, made all the more potent from Sakinah’s commitment to character. This underrated actress has consistently stood out in the middling telemovies she’s headlined (Racun Menantu, Girlfriend Aku Dari Neraka), and with Pekak her star is set to rise.
Although be fair, each one of the film’s young leads pull through with honours. Pekak displays strong ensemble work resulting from smart (and surprisingly safe) casting choices. Even Joe Flizzow in his brief appearances as Uda’s dealer doesn’t distract from the story.
Special mention must go to Amerul Affendi, who will be looking at some awards season glory next year. With an unshakable meth habit feeding his hunger for more, his Azman grows ever loathsome but watchable throughout the film.
Pekak also harks back to Malaysian filmmaking of the 90’s, before a swing towards conservationist outlooks inflicted a plague of self-censorship on Malaysian cinema. Who can remember the days when the local film industry produced timeless films considered impossible today, like U-Wei Haji Saari‘s Perempuan, Isteri & Jalang (1993)?
At the core however, it’s just a screwed up love story. Presented through Kroll’s gritty yet effervescent screenplay and a clear understanding of what works, Pekak is a vivid trip.
The film unfolds at a cracking pace, vibrant but unapologetic, and will not strain attention spans at ninety minutes. Where its on-screen theatrics take a backseat, Loque‘s trendy yet atmospheric soundtrack and Taufiq Kamal‘s gorgeous visual palette quickly fill in the blanks.
It is difficult to fault Pekak (at least not to an untrained audience) and this alone sets it apart from many local releases small or major. But there’s something about its resolution sequence which makes the film lose some momentum as it concludes.
Don’t be mistaken however; Pekak‘s final scenes remain impossible to erase.
Fascinatingly, there is one moment here which suggests that repeated views could yield more information — when Dara’s tight dress rips apart at the shoulder area, Uda retrieves her name tag to bring the seams together.
It’s thoughtful and telling of its director’s openness to subtext and layered storytelling, but he might also simply be taking the piss.
Whatever may be the case, there’s clearly some intellect behind the lens of Pekak, and viewers can decide for themselves what they want to bring home after this trip to the cinema.
Thanks also to meaningful cooperation from the Film Censorship Board (LPF), the film loses no impact despite a trip to the cutting room, where several harrowing scenes were shortened rather than eliminated altogether.
Produced by Grand Brilliance‘s alternative genres division Lightbulb Pictures, Pekak is due for cinematic release on 1 September 2016.
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