BY SHAH SHAMSHIRI
Have you ever been touched or moved by a movie, so deeply that you feel the need to share it with the rest of the world?
It may sound a tad dramatic for some, but writing and reviewing films have been part of my profession for almost 20 years and to date, I don’t think I have ever felt so strongly about a movie until I watched ‘Abang Adik’ just a few days ago.
The Malaysian-produced movie which is brilliantly written and directed by Jin Ong, tells a tale which should likely resonate among viewers from every corner of the planet. This claim is no exaggeration as the film has already garnered several international awards apart from countless other reputable nominations.
While this year has seen so many gargantuan products of Hollywood take over the silver screen, it is such a pleasant surprise to know that just before the year closes, we have a gem of a film, that is homegrown and worthy of more than just a standing ovation.
The movie title itself according to Jin was already a show-stopper. ‘Abang Adik’ which directly translates to ‘elder brother younger sibling’ simply means ‘brothers’ in Malay.
“But brothers sound so common and it doesn’t signify anything special. I deliberately named it ‘Abang Adik’ so that the international audience will be curious to find out what it means. In fact, it was a good conversation starter when I Introduced it to my peers in Taiwan and other foreign countries,” explained Jin about his title choice.
True to his words, the movie will keep you intrigued right till the end of the story. This is courtesy of the very compelling screenplay and astounding performances by the leading stars.
Set, in present day Malaysia in the back alleys of Pudu, one of Kuala Lumpur’s most notorious quarters, the film depicts the tale of two orphaned brothers of Chinese Malaysian descent, simply referred to as Abang and Adi.
Astonishingly portrayed by Taiwanese KangRen Wu and Malaysia’s very own Jack Tan respectively, the film slowly unveils the challenges faced by these two main characters who contradict each other in many ways.
Abang the elder brother is a deaf and mute man who does various odd jobs at the nearby wet market to sustain an earnest living. While Adi the younger brother, embodies your typical rowdy adult who constantly lands into trouble due to his brash life choices.
Despite the differences, the two are bound by an inexplicable bond and their brotherly love for each other shines as the prevailing factor which keeps them united together.
From the get-go, you can clearly see that all they have is each other and that they are part of a system which seems to tirelessly fail them in obtaining a better life. This is because the two brothers do not have official identification cards for reasons which are not clearly explained at the beginning of the movie.
This ‘stateless citizen’ premise is probably the delicate core of the movie which can sometimes be seen as non-fictional hints to certain ‘parties’ who may be the indirect perpetrators of various social problems in real life.
As they are considered stateless, the brothers who live in a slum-like flat depend on Money, a transgender neighbour who also serves as a sex worker to survive. The movie explains that Money has been assisting them whenever they needed any form of official support as Money owns a valid national identification card.
Money, who sometimes spends her free time with the boys is also probably their closest ally in life. Amazingly played by Tan Kim Wang, who adds colour as the main supporting cast, her character’s sincerity is genuinely seen in the short instances displayed in the movie.
But like any film, a movie is not a movie without the much-needed element of drama. And it is the drama which will definitely awaken the souls of viewers. As the audiences follow Abang’s and Adi’s journey throughout the story, they will also marvel at how real the incidents depicted in the movie can be.
Most of the moments can happen to anyone of us but how would we deal with such scenarios in real-life? It really made me question myself after seeing this movie and I bet the rest of you will do the same.
It is further made interesting as more is explained towards the end of the film giving viewers a chance to stop judging the characters despite thinking that they may know them from the surface of the storyline.
‘Abang Adik’ is bound to make viewers ponder a little bit more about existence and as cliché as it sounds, it should teach everyone to be more thankful of everything they have in life no matter how things may seem.
Some may deem the movie a tear-jerker (although I managed to hold myself from the expected waterworks) but the message in the movie is so profound that one can’t help feeling connected to the characters’ feeling of joy and agony.
Coupled with an aptly produced soundtrack and music score by Malaysian-Japanese Ryota Katayama, the movie also promises a visual feast cinematographically despite the simple background of everyday Kuala Lumpur.
I for one appreciate the auditorial flavours placed into the story as they come in quaint noises of the city’s busy traffic, cries of children and several moments with the Muslim calls to prayer, subtly placed in between some scenes signifying certain important points of the film.
The only spoiler I can share is that Abang’s character gives the best part of the film’s script in sign language at the tail-end of the movie when he is visited by a monk during a life-changing moment of their story. I personally feel his character justified his present state at that juncture of the film.
Though the movie’s narrative is quintessentially Malaysian, the script is predominantly delivered in Mandarin with hints of Cantonese and Malay throughout the story. (Don’t worry as the movie is equipped with subtitles)
Also be on the lookout for two other talented Malaysian actors, Bront Palarae and Ghafir Akbar who make their cameos at different parts of the movie.
Furthermore, Kangren Wu the headlining Taiwanese actor who plays the character Abang does not discount the movie’s grandeur of being Malaysian in any way. In fact, it elevates the movie to another level as Wu’s performance is so intelligently impactful that you cannot forget most of his scenes.
Though what I shared may never suffice in doing justice to the actual masterpiece that I watched, I assure you Abang Adik is your must-watch movie for the year. And we as Malaysians should be proud that it was spawned from our shores. Here’s to more awards and victories.
Abang Adik begins screening in 82 cinemas across Malaysia starting December 14th 2023.
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