Fight­ing spirit

Bunga Lalang is an ac­tion-drama that guar­an­tees view­ers a ring-side seat at a to­moi event.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ENVIRONMENT - By N. RAMA LO­HAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

AC­TION movies prac­ti­cally speak for them­selves. Whether it’s Bruce Lee giv­ing Chuck Nor­ris a pum­melling in Way Of The Dragon or John Rambo spray­ing bul­lets at the bad guys in any Rambo flick, the lan­guage of com­bat is one firmly en­trenched in our con­scious­ness.

While all this may come across as sense­less vi­o­lence, there is an in­trin­sic beauty and el­e­gance in the more pri­mal form of mar­tial arts that is to­moi. In fact, di­rec­tor for the up­com­ing Malaysian movie Bunga Lalang (Wild Flow­ers), Dain Iskan­dar Said, reck­ons that it’s artis­tic enough to be dubbed “sexy” even. Wel­come to the world of kick­box­ing, east coast-style.

The ori­gin of the sport, of course, in­vari­ably leads up north to Thai­land, where the sport is pop­u­larly known as Muay Thai. Malaysian prac­ti­tion­ers from the east coast and north of the Malaysian penin­sula (Ke­lan­tan, Tereng­ganu, Perlis), how­ever, re­fer to it as to­moi.

Bunga Lalang may not even be close to its post-pro­duc­tion stages but the film has al­ready at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Aus­tralian movie dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany Ar­clight Films. In fact, ac­cord­ing to Dain, the team just com­pleted the tech­ni­cal recce on the film that’s taken him two years to re­alise.

“That’s the process when we lock down the lo­ca­tions, work out the num­ber of per­son­nel we’re go­ing to need, the length of ca­bles re­quired for the cam­eras ... among other things,” shared Dain dur­ing an in­ter­view in Kuala Lumpur last week about the process which, to the layman, can be summed up as lo­gis­tics.

Though quite a bit of the shoot­ing in­volves cap­tur­ing scenes in the swamp­lands of the east coast, Dain, his pro­ducer Nan­dita Solomon and the team are fa­mil­iar with the ter­rain since they’ve done film­ing there pre­vi­ously.

While the cen­tral theme of the movie is on kick­box­ing, ac­cord­ing to Dain, the movie is more about the re­la­tion­ships be­tween the male species.

“It’s set around the idea of re­la­tion­ships be­tween broth­ers, half-broth­ers, friends, fa­thers, sons and all this re­volves around kick­box­ing and vi­o­lence. When I say vi­o­lence, I don’t mean it as a judge­men­tal thing, though. Vi­o­lence is part and par­cel of emo­tion ... love, ten­der­ness.”

It’s also part of the fi­bre of ev­ery cul­ture since time im­memo­rial.

Like any art that’s of­ten a ve­hi­cle for hu­man ex­pres­sion, to­moi is no dif­fer­ent and Dain likened it to an un­spo­ken lan­guage. “It’s like the song by Van Mor­ri­son – Inar­tic­u­late Speech Of The Heart. Some peo­ple speak, some peo­ple ex­press them­selves through their bod­ies. Kick­box­ing is kind of a di­a­logue in re­la­tion­ships, I guess,” re­vealed Dain, who ma­jored in pho­tog­ra­phy, film and video at Har­row Col­lege, Polytech­nic Of Cen­tral London (now West­min­ster Uni­ver­sity).

Pri­mal sport

Most mar­tial arts and boxing cap­ture their pro­po­nents’ stance as one of de­fence, first and fore­most. In to­moi, though, a fighter strikes a pose al­most that of a fowl poised for the at­tack.

“It’s like a cock­fight, where the fighter spreads his sayap (wings), ready to at­tack. In fact, back in the day in the kam­pung, they would have cock­fights first to rally the crowd for the main event,” Dain ex­plained of the pri­mal sport.

Hav­ing grown up in Tumpat, Ke­lan­tan (he also lived in Kam­pung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, be­fore the fam­ily moved around the world with his diplo­mat fa­ther), to­moi and re­lated arts of the re­gion are nat­u­rally close to his heart.

Bunga Lalang isn’t just an­other ho­moge­nous take on mar­tial arts movies. It bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to its slick Hong Kong or Tai­wan coun­ter­parts, which vaunt grav­i­ty­de­fy­ing leaps and near-su­per­nat­u­ral abil­i­ties. Bunga Lalang is as real as it gets.

“It’s very gritty and raw and re­ally cap­tures the en­vi­ron­ment at a to­moi event. Be­lieve it or not, the women at these fights will be scream­ing and cheer­ing ... more than the men,” re­vealed the well-trav­elled Dain, who scoured the cine­mas in his teens in the 1970s and knew since he was 15 that he was go­ing to be mak­ing movies. Fight movies have al­ways cap­tured the imag­i­na­tion of the view­ing pub­lic and Bunga Lalang isn’t ex­pected to buck the trend. “I see this as con­tained vi­o­lence, and it’s some­thing you’ll find in any cul­ture. Ul­ti­mately, it’s a form of ex­pres­sion, a char­ac­ter­is­tic of a par­tic­u­lar cul­ture. There’s al­ways mu­sic and rhythm to the fighter’s move­ments. In many cul­tures, tak­ing part in mar­tial arts is sort of a rite of pas­sage ... and it pro­vides a sense of com­mu­nity.”

In some kam­pungs, a sport like foot­ball pro­vides a com­mu­nal en­vi­ron­ment, and in oth­ers, it’s some form of mar­tial arts. “To­day, the kids are all caught up with Face­book and Twit­ter,” Dain noted.

Fam­ily ties

Bunga Lalang – which is pro­duced by Dain’s own com­pany Ap­pa­rat, with sup­port from Bank Sim­panan Na­sional’s cre­ative fi­nan­cial arm Dana In­dus­tri Kre­atif – re­volves around the love lost be­tween three es­tranged broth­ers and their fa­ther, an ail­ing wayang kulit dalang (shadow play mas­ter).

Adil the kick­boxer, Il­ham the as­sas­sin and Bakar the busi­ness­man re­turn to their home­town, only to un­earth tragic se­crets from the past. For them, home is where the bro­ken heart is.

“The char­ac­ters are pro­to­type in na­ture. They go in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions but share the same in­ten­sity in what they want,” he ex­plained when queried whether the broth­ers rep­re­sent any of so­ci­ety’s stereo­types.

The ac­tion drama stars award-win­ning ac­tors Faizal Hus­sein, Has­nul Rah­mat (of Rock fame) and Zahiril Adzim (who ap­peared in Kami), all of whom will be sup­ported by the likes of Nam Ron, Bront Palarae, Sofi Jikan and Wan Hanafi Su. “I wanted char­ac­ter ac­tors. Some of them come from the­atre back­grounds and some from movie,” Dain said of his cast.

While the movie is fic­tional, some of the char­ac­ters por­trayed are based on real peo­ple.

“The as­sas­sin in the movie is based on a guy whom I met while work­ing on a doc­u­men­tary on AIDS. He was a Ke­lan­tanese hired gun,” he in­formed.

Re­search for the movie came cour­tesy of the con­ven­tional chan­nels of in­for­ma­tion – books and the In­ter­net, but pro­ducer Nan­dita name-checked one truly rich source.

“Pro­fes­sor Dr Ghu­lam-Sar­war Yousof is a real trea­sure for the coun­try. He’s like the fore­most ex­pert on Malaysian arts and he passed us quite a few books to read,” she chipped in about the ad­junct pro­fes­sor at the Cul­tural Cen­tre, Univer­siti Malaya, dur­ing the in­ter­view.

The re­search process for the movie didn’t nec­es­sar­ily arm Dain with any myths, nor did it smash any, but both di­rec­tor and pro­ducer learned some im­por­tant lessons on life.

“Peo­ple in Ke­lan­tan have a cer­tain wis­dom which we have lost out on,” Nan­dita opined poignantly.

Highly in­spired

Hav­ing done Dukun (the yet-un­re­leased movie about singer/black ma­gi­cian Mona Fandey, who was con­victed of mur­der­ing Batu Ta­lam (Pa­hang) assem­bly­man Datuk Ma­zlan Idris in 1993) in 2006, Dain was able to ap­ply what he learned from that project in Bunga Lalang.

“I’ve learned to work ef­fi­ciently within a given time frame. With Dukun, I was a di­rec­tor for hire and my job was to turn a script into a screen­play. Fol­low­ing that project, I re­alised with Bunga Lalang that I needed to work again with some of the same ac­tors,” he said, sin­gling out Faizal Hus­sein, Bront Palarae, Sofi Jikan and Nam Ron as re­peat per­form­ers.

There’s still a way to go yet for Bunga Lalang to be fully re­alised but both di­rec­tor and pro­ducer are buzzing with en­thu­si­asm, like­wise the movie world. And Ar­clight Films’ in­ter­est in the movie has only spurred the duo to work harder for their craft.

“I’m lucky I have a pro­ducer who’s highly ef­fi­cient. The in­ter­est in the movie to us isn’t so much about flat­tery but more about in­spir­ing us to do bet­ter. To our knowl­edge, no movie has drawn this kind of at­ten­tion at this stage in the pro­duc­tion, and we have our friend and pro­ducer Tim Kwok to thank for this,” said Dain, giv­ing credit where it’s due.

Bunga Lalang prom­ises to im­merse view­ers in the real-world set­ting of to­moi. There’s guts and there’s plenty of glory, too. “My aim is to cap­ture the en­ergy and heat of a fight on film.”

That’s a prom­ise the ini­ti­ated can truly hang on to.

Rig­or­ous: The ac­tors for Bun­gaLalang be­ing put through in­ten­sive train­ing for their roles in the to­moi movie.

Di­rec­tor Dain Iskan­dar Said (right) shares a light moment with Zahiril Adzim af­ter the ac­tor’s train­ing ses­sion.

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