A Blundering Satire Of Malaysia
By Casey Lee
When Banglasia was released in 2014, times were different in Malaysia. The 13th General Election had just ended in favour of the ruling party, hate against foreign phantom voters was high, Sabah was invaded, and the early cracks of 1MDB were starting to reveal the deep-seated corruption within the government. Despite Banglasia's good intentions of trying to humanize the foreign workers as victims of a corrupted system rather than a concerted effort to destabilise the country, it was not looked upon too kindly by the Film Censorship Board. Slapped with a ridiculous amount of changes that was effectively a soft ban on the movie to be shown in Malaysian cinemas, it would take a miracle (or a change of government) for Malaysians to watch Banglasia.
While Banglasia had to find notoriety elsewhere, including the New York Asian Film Festival, a miracle did happen at the 14th General Election and Namewee resubmitted his film for the approval of the new government. Despite suffering fewer cuts from a seemingly more liberal Censorship Board, Banglasia 2.0 was now ready to be seen by its intended audience with its intended message.
The movie centres on Harris (or Dirty Harris after the Clint Eastwood movies), a poor police sharpshooter from Bangladesh who decides to work in Malaysia so that he can marry the woman of his life. When news that the aforementioned woman was to be married to someone else, Harris desperately seeks to return home. This brings him on a collision course with Malaysian supremacist Han Guo Ren (a pun for Korean in Mandarin), the daughter of Harris' employer, and an army intending to invade Malaysia on Chinese New Year.
Namewee once again takes it upon himself to be the hateful and dismissive supremacist, this time representing the average Malaysians, who has to find a way to evacuate his demented mother, trapped in a village that has seen the destruction by the invading army. His journey with Harris, who has smitten Atikah Suhamie's hemophobic nurse and gangster's daughter, is ripe for a simple redemption arc, as both Malaysian and foreigner learn to appreciate each other and form a bond.
Unfortunately, we know Harris as much as the average Malaysian who do not interact with Bangladeshis. Through uncontrolled flashbacks of Harris, we are supposed to see a different side of these foreigners; their hardships in their home country, the difficult choices they have to make, the opportunity presented to them by coming here, and even more hardships as they survive in Malaysia while being mistreated by their employers and those around them. Instead, Banglasia doesn't miss a beat to slot in a gag, soliciting for cheap laughs. Even the dialogues are riddled with puns, and those that aren’t are cues for Saiful Apek to reenact old commercials or sing a Malay pop song that goes from tiresome to embarrassing. Banglasia is filled with cliches, stereotypes and old fashioned references.
Its political jabs suffer. Time has been unkind to the movie's relevance, especially one that was made to critique and reference a specific time. Short-term memories of Malaysians may not be able to recall how funny it was to joke about the plump hair and the magical blackouts. It also doesn't help that interests in similar issues have also shifted in the intervening time; the person with the plump hair is now awaiting trial, xenophobia has turned to sympathy for Muslim refugees that have come to our doorstep, and the national tragedy is a missing plane rather than a failed invasion.
It is the reliance on being relevant that adds to the muddled message of the movie. The characters are more of stand-ins for cheap comedy than being onscreen personas that have motivation and purpose to build a plot that carries the message. Rather than sending the message through subtle character development, narrative points, and maybe even a few cheeky dialogues, Banglasia 2.0 is a radioactive spew of visual gags and cringe-worthy puns that not only is less effective in sending the message it wants, but trivializes the issues it seems to be representing altogether. This is Namewee being mostly self-indulgent and feeling that he has to turn up the shock value and use the most direct techniques to get his point across to his dumbest audience, rather than practising symbolism, smart lines and a thought-out script that could have been his crowning glory as a satirist.