Don't let "Hanyut" drown in the box office.
Made in 2012 and was meant to be released in 2013, it has been three years since "Hanyut" was to make its Malaysian debut.
Nearly a decade since his last film, "Hanyut" is director U-Wei Haji Saari's most expensive production to date, and also the glossiest with all the stars, script and setting to tell a compelling story.
Ever since it was having trouble releasing on Malaysian screens in 2013, "Hanyut" had nearly drowned under the sea of sub-par local movies, but it floating back to the surface of public conscious has thankfully made it more delightful and anticipated to be seen.
Now that the prodigal son of Malaysian movies is coming to Malaysian screens on 24 November 2016, here are five reasons to remind you on why you should see it at your nearest screen.
Director U-Wei Haji Saari may not be a director that the most casual of Malaysian moviegoers would remember, even if they had seen "Buai Laju-Laju" back in 2004. But mention "Perempuan, Isteri, dan..." from 1993, then you would know that U-Wei Haji Saari is one of the most highly respected filmmakers in Malaysia, who carries that moniker without any irony. U-Wei is one of the rare bona-fide auteurs that Malaysian cinema has to offer, and has been at it longer than the new wave of promising directors who came after him. His films are provocative, thoughtful, and challenge our social dilemmas, with "Kaki Bakar" having the distinction of being the first Malaysian film to be invited to Cannes, in the Un Certain Regard section.
The Source Material
Like "Kaki Bakar", "Hanyut" is also an adaptation of a novel, it being Joseph Conrad's "Almayer's Folly". For the literary illiterate, Joseph Conrad is also the author of "Heart of Darkness", which was more famously adapted by director Francis Ford Coppola as "Apocalypse Now". "Almayer's Folly", which revolves around a Dutch trader's foolish search for gold in the mountains and jungles of Borneo, is Conrad's first novel. U-Wei first read the novel some 20 years ago, and was gripped by its honest depiction of Malaya at the time, which led him to take another 10 years to develop a script for it. The director has stated that "Hanyut" is not a faithful adaptation of Conrad's work, but will encapsulate the spirit of sacrificing family, love and trust, in order to search for something that doesn't exist.
Casting for "Hanyut" started as early as 2009 and the actors who fronted it have since become some of the most respected actors who are working in Malaysian cinema today. Starring Diana Danielle as Nina, the daughter of the Dutch trader who goes to great length to ensure her happiness, other notable local cast members are Sofie Jane as Nina's mother, Adi Putra, Khalid Salleh, Sabri Yunus, Bront Palare, and Patrick Teoh. It also includes the late Alex Komang and Ramli Hassan.
The main leading role is carried by Australian actor Peter O'Brien, whose most prolific outing in "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" may be an understatement to his performance, but is key in depicting a man gone mad by greed and grief. Other foreign talent involved in "Hanyut" is Indonesian actress Rahayu Saraswati, who was instrumental in bringing "Hanyut" to Indonesia.
Made with a lavish budget of RM18 million from loans, grants, and investments, "Hanyut" is arguably the most expensive Malaysian production to edge over "Puteri Gunung Ledang". Shot in the jungles at Kuala Lipis and Pekan, with an elaborate set to recreate 19th century Malaya, "Hanyut" is also the first Malaysian film to be shot in Panavision, and also the last to be shot on film before the digital era. "Hanyut" is a case of good storytelling being able to be told with the right budget, we'd expect the result to only be more liberating than bogged down visuals.
It is the Malaysian film to support
"Hanyut", perhaps more than any other, is the Malaysian film that truly needs our support to show that we want the quality of our Malaysian films to improve. As one of the more expensive Malaysian production mainly made up of loans, the investors and producer have already taken a tremendous risk into making what would set new heights in Malaysian cinema, and that such risks are worth taking in order for serious Malaysian filmmakers to be considered commercially and critically viable. Sofea Jane has roughly estimated that "Hanyut" would need to make RM20 million in the box officer to recover the loan and that's not even to break even for the production cost.
"Hanyut" is in an even more precarious position to succeed, not only because it could spell a financial disaster for the filmmakers should it fail, but there is also the creative confidence at stake as well. It would all have been for nothing when "Hanyut" was unable to secure additional funds for its marketing and distribution after its completion, but its wide release in Indonesia has proven that it has some marketability to be critically accepted to the right audience. "Hanyut" has already earned its stripes in the festival circuits in Australia, Singapore, America, and the recent Moscow Film Festival, but it is another sad story of well-made Malaysian works of storytelling that have to find love outside of the home country where it should be appreciated more. 2015 had its "Lelaki Harapan Dunia" and "Terbaik Dari Langit", and it would be a devastating end for 2016 if the same had happened to "Hanyut", when hope for change in the Malaysian film industry is slowly shining at the end of a long dark tunnel of creativity and vision.
This is the time for solidarity to show that we care about our films and we need filmmakers like U-Wei, Dain Said, Liew Seng Tat and the cadre of visionary filmmakers, who are serious in their craft to be able to flourish and produce even more works. U-Wei has already said that "Hanyut" would not be his best work, but the one that comes after it, and whether he gets to make that or not would be in no immeasurable way be affected by how well "Hanyut" does at the box office.
For better or for worse, U-Wei's "Kaki Bakar" and "Jogho" already are two strikes at the local box office, and if "Hanyut" fails too, it would our folly that in our search for that elusive dream of better Malaysian films while destroying another voice that could change the Malaysian storytelling scene.
Cinema Online, 20 November 2016