Malaysia’s entry in the Silat martial arts action genre delivers, with heart and an abundance of fights to spare…
Due to the phenomenon that was the Raid franchise, the martial art silat has become popularised. The art is practised in the Indonesian archipelago, and one country within that which has a rich history of silat practitioners is Malaysia. I have to admit I’ve only seen a couple of Malaysian action films, the not so great Fly By Night and the entertaining Wira. Action film production in the country has gained pace in recent years, and now we have a proper Malaysian martial arts film that has silat as it’s core: Geran. A low budget production, the movie tries its hand at a few genres before settling into a rattling second half that delivers bone-crunching action. The film won the Daniel A. Craft Award for action at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival, the first Malaysian film to do so.
Mat Arip (Fad Anuar) is a young tearaway who gambles on whatever he can, including underground fights and car races. His family feel the brunt of his actions, with Gangsters bothering his father, sister and brother as he owes them money. One thing that centres him, and is a core value of the family, is the practice of silat. When Mat is kidnapped by the gang, his brother Ali and sister Fatimah beat a bloody path to get him back.
To be honest, I was a little concerned about the opening half of Geran. The film tries to be quite a few things in this section, and for me doesn’t achieve a good balance. One minute it’s a darkly lit gangster film, the next a martial arts film, the next has a low rent Fast and Furious style, the next a family drama. However, there are little pieces of fight action in there that tickled my fancy, with good brutal hits and unusual camerawork and editing that hints at real talent. Khoharullah Majid as Ali you just know is going to be a force to be reckoned with, and he only has one short fight during the first half. The tension build up to him finally breaking loose is a huge, satisfying payoff. Basically the whole of the second half of the film is a massive fight, with Ali working his way through underlings that build up in skills so he can rescue his brother.
Upon finishing the film I had a feeling that the action was a combination of Thai styles like the martial masterwork Ong Bak, and Indonesian action that reached its zenith with The Night Comes For Us. The bloodletting brutality of The Raid is not really present here, however; there is more of a concentration on hard hits and bone-breaking, like Ong Bak. The flow of the action is of a high standard, with longer takes looking natural and not forced, and there is a good combination of bootwork and hand forms. Invention in film-making during the fights is pretty high, with some unusual angles and camerawork, such as cuts between mid shots to long shots with upside down angles as the camera lurches quickly to follow the action. The sign that this kind of stuff doesn’t jar, and doesn’t feel gimmicky, is that the action continues with a good flow and intensity. Therefore huge props should be given to director Areel Abu Bakar and fight choreographer Azlan Komeng. They have studied the best of recent and old times to create something that gives me that adrenalin rush feeling, with action that builds us to exclamation points and is immensely satisfying.
Majid puts in a good performance, a quiet warrior who can explode when his family are threatened. He is one to look out for as an action lead, and has the requisite skills and screen presence. Anuar is a half-decent actor whose exploits in the first half can be a bit grating, but he has a few good silat moves. Feiyna Tajudin as the female member of the family is pleasingly wise, and she gets a good fight that moves from a market to the docks in the middle of the film.
Upon learning that the film was self-financed, and hearing the passion in the speech of those involved in our podcast (in which Andrew Heskins and James Mudge chatted to Komeng and Bakar) I gained a new appreciation for the film. Geran has flaws, but this kind of attitude is the one that really excites me, and gives me immense hope for the coming future of martial arts films produced from smaller Asian countries. The rough around the edges feel that lends itself brilliantly to the action-packed second half is welcome, and if like me you are constantly looking for your next fix of new or old martial arts action, Geran is a welcome addition to the genre that is well worth your time.