Bunohan Charges Respectably but Falters in its Final Act Review

What other way is there?

It isn’t clear what way is being followed, let alone the availability of alternatives in Bunohan (2012).  Adil (Zahiril Adzim) is a fighter who gets in over his head in a Thai kickboxing match and has to be rescued from the fight by his friend Muski (Amerul Affendi).  This gets him in trouble with gangsters (I think).  These gangsters send Ilham (Faizal Hussein), a ruthless hitman, after Adil to take him down.  Meanwhile, Bakar (Pekin Ibrahim) has moved back to Bunohan ostensibly to take care of his ailing father, but actually to close out a property deal concerning the land of his father and the local kickboxing club.  Thus, Bakar has to deal with Adil and Ilham, his brothers, using two-bit gangster Jolok (Hushairi Husain).  Oh, and then there’s Mek Yah (Tengku Azura Tengku Awang) who is like a water spirit or something.

The cover of this DVD is inspired by something that the movie is not and that is the dark ultra-violent films commonly associated with contemporary Asian action movies.  Adil is shown carrying a long knife with a mid-war grunt on his face and the whole thing is completely unsaturation and “Return to Murder” is written as if in blood.  If it had Ilham carrying his own blood-soaked knife, that’d be fine because he definitely kills a number of people in the movie and that’s about a fifth of the whole thing.  However, this is much more about crime and the transformation of Malaysia than it is about fighting.

Bunohan is an ambitious movie.  How half of every western is about the railroad changing a way of life, Bunohan is about the corruptive effects of business.  It isn’t a spoiler to point out that Bakar, who personifies an image of 21st century business, is the most ruthless of the brothers.  Ilham may cut people’s throats, but at least that’s quick and to the point.  That corruption kills people at times, but worse, it kills “stories”.  Clearly, this element of the film has particular cache in Malaysian culture that writer/direct Dain Said considers to be under attack.  These stories are mystical in nature and Said deals with them as actual phenomena.  Birds talk sometimes, the mother of the three men is some kind of spirit, and there’s some other spirit (of the still-living father, I think) inhabiting the body of a young boy on occasion.  None of that made sense to me, but it was mostly done in an acceptable way.  You can be mystical so long as it is aesthetically strong, which Bunohan often is.

Where Bunohan failed was when it cheated its ambitions.  The final act, for example, is painfully brief and choppy.  When so much time was spent indulging in the beautiful landscapes, why short-change the ending.  The narrative, at that point, is very lyrical but not dwelled upon enough.  There was also a missed opportunity in highlighting the smallness of the criminals.  Bakar and the other baddies take up what looks to be a gas station as gangster HQ and it is the rattiest, flea-bittenest place you’ve ever seen.  There are tree-houses that look more solid.  And yet, it’s filmed as though it’s a Panama hotel in a Le Carré movie.  That and the fact that the property deal is dealt with very superficially made the ominous nature of Bakar and his dealings less profound.  That and Bakar looks like a mid-level functionary in paper company because his clothes are very middle management.

It isn’t a poor effort and for a budget of half a million dollars, it’s positively magnificent.  If it went for two hours, it might have been even better.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

Commentary by Dain Said, Making of Bunohan, Conversation between Said and Dramatist Huzir Sulaiman, and a trailer.  (All in English and quite interesting.)

"Bunohan: Return to Murder" is on sale May 7, 2013 and is not rated. Action, Drama. Written and directed by Dain Said. Starring Faizal Hussein, Pekin Ibrahim, Zahiril Adzim.

Jason Ratigan • Staff Writer

A lawyer-turned-something-else with a strong appreciation for film and television.  He knows he can't read every great book ever written, but seeing every good movie ever made is absolutely doable.  Check out his other stuff on Wordpress.


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