If you feel that the Kelantanese dialect in ‘Bunohan’ impedes your understanding of the film, you don’t deserve to sit in that cinema hall at all. Not because there are blatant subtitles running at the bottom of the screen. But it’s an insult to the filmmaker, the crew as well as discerning moviegoers who believe that language (a Kelantanese dialect for that matter) buttresses and gives identity to a film. So to the guy sitting behind us who made susurrant comments about the use of an unfamiliar dialect, we say… shut up and go watch ‘Breaking Dawn’.
The film begins with the ending. And it’s all dead reckoning for the first 30 minutes. Several scattered scenes of the brothers – Adil, Ilham and Bakar – zig in and out of the screen but all these footages pivot on the crux of the story: the bloodspilling family drama. The kickboxer Adil, who goes by the moniker Bunga Lalang, escapes death when a friend pulls him out of a losing match. The club owner throws a fit and hires assassin Ilham to kill Adil, who in fact, is his brother. And then there is the clean-looking Bakar, the ‘banality of evil’ as described by the director Dain Said. Bakar’s role in the film is associated with every barbarous crime possible: corruption, deceit and dupery – all to grift his old man out of his land.
To describe the characters any more would be to give too much away because their roles are closely tethered to the plots. In a seemingly straightforward film, ‘Bunohan’ doesn’t try to educate you on the skirmishes in Kelantan or Thailand. It doesn’t charm you with gory carnages or witty dialogues, although some conversations and antics are risible. Most of the time, the film’s message is gesticulated through visuals, action and a bit of fantasy. The film was shot in swamplands during the monsoon. Thus, the mood is sombre, making the setting in the film even more dangerous, assailable and unpredictable. Violence is successfully depicted by strong acting, and beautifully-captured with the help of cinematographer Charin Pengpanich who breathes life into the film’s locations.
It’s amazing how the storyline gently eases from one frame to another although the plot takes a tiresome journey to reach the climax. But the film pauses intermittently, letting the audience sink into the lives and activities of the characters; whether it’s Ilham digging graves or Bakar just pondering aimlessly, plotting his malefic plans. We still think that the characters in the film could work a little harder on the chemistry (long-lost brothers not a bit shocked to meet each after many years seem rather unconvincing) and the strange appearance of a certain woman might prove unnecessary.
‘Bunohan’ is hardly a mystery, and the brothers’ relationship may have presaged how the film will progress and conclude eventually. But of course, Dain Said doesn’t end things so predictably. You’ll just have to grip tight to your seats, let him meddle with your imaginations and see the magic of his work move mountains.
Author: Kong Wai Yeng