Mendam Berahi (Review)
Directed and written by Z. Lokman
Malaysian Charlie’s Angels! Yes, the Charlie’s Angels concept is so universal is seems to exist in every country on the planet. I bet there is even a Tongon Angels somewhere. This time the Angels go searching for lost treasure, which ends up with bloody gunbattles. And a little girl cries while singing. But who cares, gun battles! Chicks kicking butt! Malaysian women you’ve never heard of that Google won’t tell you anything about! It’s all here, and more!
“It just so happens that Mendam Berahi is an action flick and that the good guys are us girls. As soon as we started filming, people were already going, ‘Oh, it’s the Malaysian version of Charlie’s Angels.’ Okay, so that’s good for marketing, but it was targeted from the beginning as a pure action film.” Shaleen Cheah stated, in an argument that might hold water if Madam X didn’t refer to the girls specifically as Angels in the film.
The VCD jumps from widescreen to very widescreen, so black bars will lower and raise between shots, sometimes back and forth in the same scene. Due to the lack of information in English about Malay stars, I couldn’t provide much interesting facts, and you will have to make do with what I could pull off of gossip sites. I am not learning Malay just to do one review, especially since there are about a dozen other languages that I need to learn first. The credits give the country of origin of the players who aren’t from Malaysia, so it would say “Tracy Trinita (Indonesia)”, as opposed to Tracy Trinita (Paraguay), I guess.
The Sultan is building a ship, called the Mendam Berahi – the ship of desires. It turns out that Malaysia is getting conquered by the Portuguese, allied with peasants rising up against their oppressive Sultan overlords. Maybe you should have been a good king. So the Sultan Mamak Khoja Hassan will retreat on ths ship with his treasure, except the ship sinks and the treasure is lost. Khoja Hassan was a real person who became a great knight of Johor-Riau (and later Melaka). But I am sure you are an expert in Malaysian history, so back to the movie…
Now it is modern day in the city of Kuala Lumpur. A lady named Madam X leading the search for the vessel, the name Madam X listed on her staff door. She is Malcolm X’s second cousin. Two girls are picked up at the airport for transport to Madam X’s company’s base (MIG is the company) but it turns out they aren’t really working for Madam X and were sent to kidnap the girls! A guy with a gun pops up in the back, and soon action begins! The fight somehow gets to be on foot in a construction warehouse, the girls beat up the baddies and they run.
Now, I know the actresses worked hard and trained in tae kwan do and karate to do the moves, the problem is the choreography is not very good. In fact, it will be inconsistent throughout the film, sometimes things look great, other times people move awkwardly, or the camera is positioned so backs are in the way of the action.
Next up a girl named Sara is driving in her car , when a tire is shot out. This causes her to drive the car all over the road before crashing into a tree. The baddies don’t bother to capitalize on their action by killing her, though. Totally lazy villains! We are told it has to be Datuk Azmi’s work! Yeah! Who is Datuk Azmi? He’s only Madam X’s rival in hunting down the boat treasure. Madam X ropes Sara into her team, along with the other two girls Tania and Edsa. As Datuk plots, it is training time for the girls, now decked out in camo and using guns to practice. They aren’t very good…yet.
Tania has a daughter with a Mr. Adam who is out of the country, so she sees her kid. When she returns, the father is all upset over his ex-wife taking the kid. The daughter Nini cries, something she’ll do in almost every scene she is in. As an aside, Mr. Adam’s new wife looks just like conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, and I was waiting for her to go off screeching about how illegal immigrants have ruined the Smurfs or something. More training, and attempted murder by land mine by the baddies (Commander Jiman spots it and sets it off via slingshot.)
You know what this film needs? A long karaoke sequence with the seven-year-old daughter Nina where she sings a sad song about how she misses her mom. That’s what all movies need. Luckily, dad yells at the daughter for talking about her mom. Too bad he doesn’t yell at the director for adding this pacing-killer stuff to the movie.
Madam X contacts her “angels” (she even says “Good morning, Angels”) via tv to tell them about another day of training. A really confusing action sequence happens at a bar afterwards. The three girls are there and someone comes in with a gun to shoot Jojo (???) and soon the girls are beating up several guys. Also, Edsa’s ex-boyfriend Zul just happens to be one of Datuk’s thugs! Some guy with Madam X gets blown up in a restaurant by an unrelated bombing event, even though Madam X left. It has nothing to do with anything, they just added an extra explosion to the film.
Then Sara is shot dead! What??? Sara is replaced by Mimi the second Sara’s funeral ends. I guess Rita Rudaini wasn’t available immediately. The three girls (Mimi, Tania, and Edsa) go to the Philippines where the ship is rumored to be located and meet their contact Gloria and her boyfriend Robin. New villains also await them on the islands, they speak Filipino (thus adding Malay subtitles to the English subtitles) and are led by a woman named Lily Tiger played by Alu T. Gonzalez. The villains plant bombs in the hotel the girls are to stay at, and the girls are upset that all their clothes were blown up, but then are told that Gloria moved all their stuff to another hotel, so now they didn’t lose their stuff. Sure, just dozens of people killed in a hotel bombing, no big deal because our shoes are okay! “Now we’re at a new hotel. It means we should forget what happened this bloody evening” – Gloria.
They look on a map where to go tomorrow, but tonight they go out clubbing in Manila! Seconds later, they are under automatic weapons fire! Luckily, the girls are armed, so there is a firefight in the streets. Thank goodness it is too dark outside to see what is going on. A dude drives a bus at them, but he is shot and the bus flips and explodes. Public transportation is a death trap. Speaking of death traps, the girls get on their custom van, drive to some location, then leave it shooting while the bad guys shoot at them. I don’t know what is going on, but violence!
Zuk the ex-boyfriend is there, somehow Mimi also knows him, and he almost kills her but instead kills one of his own men, then goes to talk to Edsa. He puts a gun to her head and demand to know if she hates him, but she hates him and then she walks off. Commander Jiman arrives in the Philippines to help, while Zul and Mimi talk some more. Zul is all upset over Edsa, but Mimi is revealing she has liked Zul for years. That’s all well and good, but he is on the bad guy team. Not anymore, he shoots another guy and helps the girls escape from a waterfall.
Edsa just yells at Zul some more, because he deserves it! Stupid Zul! Zul is almost killed by one of the bad guys, but Mimi saves him. So suddenly he is putting the moves on Mimi, but says Madam X has it against the rules…they hug anyway. They even get their own music video where the two walk around, and Edsa sulks around. I guess Bollywood is leaking into Malaysia.
The girls and Zul escape on a boat, while Commander Jiman, Robin, and Gloria are caught by natives on the island Pulau Basilan. The others come ashore, meet their captive friends, and everyone parties. They find evidence of the missing boat by a sword the chief has.
Leaving the village, the team has a shootout with the bad guys as aspect ratios change every shot, most of the major baddies are killed, and Robin is shot also. He and Gloria then exit the movie and are never spoken of again. Zul goes to town to buy food, but ends up getting a lot of townspeople acting suspicious around him. Because they are all evil and working for Datuk Azmi somehow. More fighting, fighting, fighting… The best part is when Tania just murders a guy who can’t hurt her anymore. Then a chopper carrying Datuk Azmi approaches, he is armed with a rocket launcher
Mimi kills the lead henchman of Datuk’s, and also shoots Datuk Azmi right before he shoots Zul. Mimi is killing a lot of the main characters considering she isn’t in the first 30 minutes of the film. Then she grabs the rocket launcher and starts blowing up stuff all over the place.
At the end, they find out all that is left of the boat is a plank with its name on it. D’oh! Everyone is congratulated (for what?), Tania gets to spend time with her daughter, Zul gets with Mimi and thus has nailed 2/3 of this Angels team, and Edsa gets to scowl around. Everyone is happy! Except the characters they forgot about, and the widows of the dead.
The VCD also has a making of documentary, with interviews but no subtitles. Alu T. Gonzalez, who played an evil female named Lily Tiger, manages to come off as a very good actress in her few seconds of screen time in the documentary. A lot of hard work went into this film, which is only the second Malay film I have ever seen. Malay cinema seems to be influenced a lot more by Indian-style films than American films, though Cicak Man differs in that it is obviously largely influenced by western cinema. It was interesting to see a more native film that followed the basic outlines of a Western genre and just did what it wanted with it. Flaws from the lack of a history of Malay action cinema were apparent, but were less problamatic than the main flaw, which was the pacing problem. You could trim 15 minutes easily, and still not affect the characterization.
Rated 5/10 (Tongue love, Radar, Malkin goes crazy again!, masked villain, the sweat of a sweater)
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