MAY 28 — Mainstream Malaysian movies, especially those in Malay, generally have a pretty bad rep among the general public, in particular those living in urban areas.
If I had a ringgit for every time I hear someone say “I don’t watch Malay movies”, I’d probably be pretty damn rich by now, and I don’t blame them for saying so either.
It might be easy for film buffs to mock people who say this yet have no qualms proclaiming that they love Hollywood crap like White Chicks and The Darkest Hour, but you can’t deny that a lot of Malaysian mainstream movies fail to adhere to even the most basic principles of craftsmanship when it comes to filmmaking.
Wooden acting, painfully contrived plotting, bad dialogue and baffling directing choices when it comes to framing shots and editing are things that you very often find in Malaysian mainstream films, and it’s things like these that make a lot of people stay away from them.
So it’s truly a pleasure when that very rare beast — a well-crafted and crowd-pleasing mainstream Malaysian comedy — arrives out of nowhere and I feel that it is my duty to help spread the word to other film-loving Malaysians out there.
This is to make sure that it makes enough money that the whole industry sits up and takes notice, and hopefully follow in its footsteps by making more mainstream movies that are not only crowd-pleasers, but are also meticulously well-crafted.
That film is Tiga Janda Melawan Dunia, or Three Widows Against The World if you want a rough English translation.
Directed by Hyrul Anuar, a highly respected name in the advertising world and a veteran of directing countless TV commercials making his feature film debut, and co-written by Nazri M. Annuar and Hyrul himself, the film is the second feature film effort from Directors Think Thank, after its highly successful debut Pusaka in 2019, another prime example of how to make a well-crafted mainstream Malay film.
The trailer promised a colourful and highly polished viewing experience, maybe something akin to a feature length TV commercial in terms of technical and production merits, with promising bits of comedy, enough to entice the Malay audience to give it a try in cinemas, but still not enough to elicit confidence whether the jokes will actually land.
I shouldn’t have worried, because Tiga Janda Melawan Dunia is very likely going to be one of the funniest films you’ll see this year, Malaysian or not, as the jokes fly left, right and centre, and very, very few of them will fail to tickle your funny bone.
This is the story of three widows — Midah, Rohayu and Ani (played by beloved veterans Khatijah Tan, Normah Damanhuri and Raja Azura respectively) — who also happen to be best friends living in your typical Malaysian kampung.
An announcement by their favourite singer Aiman Zalini (Norman Hakim hamming it up as a buffed up heart-throb) that he’s retiring and will be holding a special intimate concert for the most hardcore of his fans sends the trio scrambling to acquire the tickets.
One of their many schemes to raise the funds needed for the very expensive tickets (RM15,000 each!), which turned out to be so successful that it brings in shady characters into the mix, is concocting and selling their own vape juice, aided by the chemical expertise of Midah’s daughter Ana’s boyfriend.
This simple plot device is basically the film’s McGuffin, triggering all sorts of hilarious high jinks, leading to all sorts of twists and turns in the plot, all in service of treating the audience to the most entertaining experience that this particular narrative can serve.
Supported by top notch technical merits, whether in the form of fantasy sequences, music videos, karaoke videos or flashbacks, the filmmakers deserve special praise for not being afraid to do anything to get a laugh, resulting in a comedy film that’s truly and effortlessly funny.
Dumb jokes, smart jokes, witty jokes, meta jokes, they’re all here, and if it can make the audience laugh, they’ll put it in, which makes the movie all the better for it because the very purpose of comedies is first and foremost to make people laugh, right? A local comedy made by people with a bit more ambition than your usual suspects will of course find a lot of time to slip in some social commentary as well, which here comes in the form of not only local politics, but also the stigma attached to widows over here, especially within the Malay community.
These are all played for laughs, very successfully, especially in Rohayu’s rivalry with Datin Martipah (Rosnah Mat Aris, another seasoned veteran, delightfully hamming it up as the villain of the piece) and how Rohayu completely owns the whole “janda liking young men” cliché that people still talk about and think is true.
I left the cinema with a stupid grin on my face; this little mainstream wonder deserves to be seen by every Malaysian out there, so do yourself a favour and go experience first-hand how good a mainstream Malaysian comedy can be.
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.