After spending a great deal behind the camera for a number of projects in the past decade, action movie audiences might have another prospect on their hands with Areel Abu Bakar, having since emerged last October in Malaysia and Brunei directing his feature debut, Geran. Close to a year later thanks to the efforts of Samuel Jamier and his team, the film now gets its day in the West for its premiere at the 19th virtual New York Asian Film Festival this weekend.
Pak Nayon (Namron) is the patriarch of his devout family of silat Gayong practitioners who live a spiritual lifestyle in their rural home. Sadly, the family bond that once kept it all together has long dissolved for at least one sibling, Mat Arip (Fad Anuar), a gambling-addicted illegal street racer whose surmounting debts have cornered him into stealing his family’s land inheritance, and turning it over to, Haji Daud (Faizal Hussein) the local mafia boss who’s been using his wealth to exploit the poor for more than thirty years.
Thus, the story begins when Daud’s enforcer, Kahar (Azlan Komeng), incurs on Arip’s home where he confronts both Pak Nayon, and daughter, Fatimah (Feiyna Tajudin), who proves to be just as fierce in her training as she is in her brusque, no-nonsense demeanor, just before brother, ex-gangster Ali (Khoharullah) arrives to their aid. With the family given a week to come up with what Arip owes, the runaway son has already begun immersing himself in gritty street life, betting on illegal fights, playing pool, and waging his belongings in illegal street races with garrulous best friend Mi Piang (Taiyuddin Bakar) riding shotgun.
One such bet soon puts Arip in the throes of Man Bangla (Megat Shahrizal), adding even more unwanted debt with not one but two of the village’s biggest sharks. With Arip blind to the danger he’s putting his family in, it’s only when it’s too late that Arip finally sees the con happening before him, forcing all three siblings to defend themselves with Kahar and his men on the prowl. With Arip soon missing, Ali takes on the matter in his own hands, leaving no stone unturned as he puts all the faith he can muster in his fists to find and rescue his brother.
If there was ever a place in the world to discover talent in the world of action on film in the last ten years, Malaysia would be a fair place to start given its regional output of movies much like the rest of Southeast Asia. With this, Bakar’s entry bodes as more of a challenge than anything as a filmmaker with his finger on the pulse of the genre and a willingness to adhere and adapt to the work of some of today’s most-suited cinematographers such as Matt Flannery (The Raid, The Raid 2) and Godefroy Ryckewaert (Jailbreak). Given his extenuating experience behind the lens, the challenge is a welcome one, much to the delight of the niche.
Geran runs high on emotive drama when actor Namron is on screen, portraying stoic father who regrets spoiling Arip as a child, but would also do anything in the world to make sure Arip knew he loved him as he does Ali and Fatimah. He gives a much more standout dramatic performance among the cast who all do generally well to each play their respective parts, in addition to performing the action for each of their scenes, all coordinated by actor Azlan Komeng who takes on the role of Kahar.
The action is the film’s second-biggest centerpiece throughout the first half of the movie, eventually picking things up well past the one-hour mark with Khoharullah and Anuar, and actress Tajudin putting on a grand showcase of Silat fight action. There’s also a moment during Fatimah’s fight scene in a street market near a pier where one of the boothmen and three other kids have a go at the henchmen, which definitely draws some excitement toward the action.
The remainder of the film hinges on Khoharullah who delivers the final half hour of the film in total one-man army fashion, right down to the final fight with Kahar. By this time, the film has gone on full action overload, and really, you’re either into it, or you’re not. One thing is definitely clear though, and that’s the striking potential for someone like Bakar to possibly help bring Malaysian action cinema further onto the world stage, following in the footsteps of local success story, Adrian Teh and his success of late with military action drama, Paskal, and martial arts thriller, Wira.
Five years in the making and bookended from top to bottom with a spiritual air to its martial arts and crime drama brood, Geran is nascent bit of work that caters to fans of the genre with vigor. The dialogue tends to tread on tedious ground at times and almost numbingly hinges on screenfighting spectacle by the third act, but nonetheless puts its best faces forward with an amply talented cast on hand, and a story that ultimately holds its own.
Film Combat Syndicate congratulates Areel Abu Bakar and the team behind Geran, NYAFF’s 2020 recipient for the Daniel A. Craft Award for Action Cinema.
NYAFF streams for its 19th installment from August 28 through September 12. Click here to learn more!