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Publication Date : 30-08-2013
Gangster movies’ popularity seems to be at an all-time high while gang-related news hogs Malaysia's headlines
The current media attention on gang-related violence across Malaysia has got some people wondering – what is going on?
From nationwide crackdowns to calls to beef up the police force to the gangs themselves taking to social networks, it seems that crime is all anyone is talking about these days.
For some Malaysian filmmakers, the headlines in our newspapers seem to bear out what they’ve been dishing out in recent years. Telling stories in reel life has always been a way of sending a message about the state of society, and it now seems no coincidence that action-packed crime films have been raking in big grosses at the local box office for the last couple of years.
Local film Kepong Gangster producer Eddie Tiger says his film, which was released in September last year, shows the dark side of gang life.
“A lot of young people have this misconception that being in a gang is about placing importance on values like brotherhood and sense of camaraderie,” Eddie says in a phone interview.
While doing research on Kepong Gangster, Eddie says, it was difficult to get former gang members to talk about their past life.
“They live in constant fear that eventually, someone will rat them out for their past crimes.”
Kepong Gangster tells the story of five secondary school friends who turn to gangsterism as a means of protecting themselves against bullies.
Eventually, they rise to become prominent members of a gang in Kepong but soon learn that their lives are constantly under threat because of their underworld ties.
Prior to the film’s release in local cinemas, Eddie says he was disappointed that the Malaysian Film Censorship Board gave the film an 18+ rating.
“Our film was rated 18+ due to violent scenes and issues related to gangsterism. At that time, I strongly felt that the film should be watched by younger viewers so they’d learn for themselves the perils of being involved in gangs,” he adds.
“Based on our research, misguided secondary school students aged between 13 and 18 are most likely to be coaxed into joining gangs. They are made to believe that gangs will protect them from bullies, have long-lasting friendships and even lucrative job offers.”
In reality, that’s just the way gangsterism is “packaged” to look like a more favourable way of life.
“Eventually these youngsters will find out the hard way that gang life is a dirty business. Once you’re in, it’s hard to get out,” Eddie concludes.
For director Bade Azmi, he feels the need to let viewers learn for themselves about certain social issues. In December, Bade makes his return to the big screen with Sindiket – a film that focuses on human trafficking.
“It’s not an easy subject to tackle. With this film, I hope viewers can see the issues that lead people to desperate and dangerous situations,” he says.
Previously, Bade has also directed crime-related films like Castello, KL Menjerit and Gangster. Bade believes audiences look at violence in movies purely as a form of entertainment.
“Some viewers really enjoy fast-paced, action-packed scenes as a way of escaping their thoughts of living in a mundane life,” he adds.
Eddie agrees, saying “it’s just entertainment”.
“As filmmakers, we ... present certain issues in a way that audiences can relate to. I honestly don’t believe anyone can go into a movie and immediately be influenced to be part of a gang.”
He also mentions the original script had scenes involving police being linked to gangsters.
“We had to cut that part out of the script because the (Film Censorship) Board didn’t want us portraying the police in a negative light. We also had to remove gangster initiation scenes because they are concerned that youngsters would emulate the ritual.”
Bade thinks horror films have worse effects on viewers. “Some horror flicks lead people to believe in things that don’t even exist. Even my children are afraid to go the toilet at night now. That’s why I stopped making horror films,” says Bade, whose last horror film was Maut in 2009.
Ganging up on screen
Currently at the top of the National Film Development Corporation's (Finas) list of all-time top-grossing local films is Syamsul Yusof’s action flick KL Gangster. The film revolves around two brothers and their links to the seedy underworld of Kuala Lumpur.
Older brother Malik decides to leave the gang life while younger Jai is willing to do anything to continue enjoying the perks of organised crime. Complications arise when an influential member of the gang orders Jai to execute his older brother.
KL Gangster made over 11.7 million ringgit (US$3.5 million) during its run in local cinemas in 2011 – topping other hits like romance drama Ombak Rindu, as well as horror comedies Ngangkung and Hantu Bonceng. Rounding out the top five is another gangster flick, Kongsi, starring Shaheizy Sam as a Thai assassin ordered by his boss to cause a stir among Kuala Lumpur’s top organised crime groups.
Lately, there has been no shortage of gang-related films in cinemas. Earlier this year, Juvana starring Syafie Naswip and Sharnaaz Ahmad was released. The film tells the story of a student who has to adjust to life at school after spending time in a juvenile centre. Standing in his way is the menacing Lan Todak who has his “unique” way of making people remember his name.
Then in February, Gangster Celop – an action-comedy directed by Ahmad Idham about two former gangsters who have to look after their former mob boss’s daughter – made its rounds. In April’s Langgar, Adi Putra played a husband bent on avenging the rape and murder of his pregnant wife by a group of gangsters.
The list goes on with Lari (Aaron Aziz as a man out to save his sister from human traffickers), Pecah (Tony Eusoff as the mastermind behind a bank robbery) and 1 Lawan Satu (where one plotline involves the main characters preventing their friend from being sold into prostitution) in June.
Over the next few months, viewers can look forward to the explosive prequel to KL Gangster (simply called KL Gangster 2) and Dampak, once again starring Aaron.