NYAFF 2021: Our Review of ‘Babi’

NYAFF 2021: Our Review of ‘Babi’

A Chinese principal, an Indian cop, and a Malay teacher walk into a bathroom. The cop, Inspector Kamar Singh (Parthasarathi A/L Sarathi) laments they can use the same washroom but not the same dining table. In fact, the students in their care can barely share the same school neither, which is more apparent since all three are investigating the death of a student. That’s the basic premise of Namewee’s Babi, a film that depicts, to its best of abilities, a real life Malaysian race riot that happened in a school that caused, so far into the film’s first act, one death. A Rashomon-style film, the three adults pull in kids from different racial backgrounds. All of them tell different stories with irreconcilable ‘facts’ but a few commonalities. The main suspect is Hasan (Muhammad Alif Haikal Bin Mohd Fadzil), who had an altercation with Ah Kiet (Vincent Yeap Soon Sheng).

There’s something admirable about a film that tells an obscure historical atrocity. This is also the kind of film that deserves back and forth debate. And viewers might have internal debates based on their own experiences in high school. Or the mistreatment that they got from their teachers and the police. A film like this can only succeed if the director pulls great performances from its actors, and it doesn’t. It forces back stories that feel like hearsay as opposed to fact. The same forceful approach in writing comes through in depicting these students’ relationships, some of whom look too young to be in high school. That’s especially true with Yasin (Muhammad Aidil), whose presence doesn’t suspend disbelief. They’re blameless though, which is something I can’t say about the adult actors, especially Mohd Hairul Bin Mohd Salleh who plays Mr. Nasir. This story deserves a more subtle storytelling hand.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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