Saturday, April 30, 2011

Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa (Chronicles Of Merong Mahawangsa aka The Malay Chronicles: Bloodlines)

I Need a Multi-Lingual Hero

Other than the horror and comedy films that get churned out on a regular basis by Malaysia's mainstream film industry (who is going into 3D too by the way), KRU Studios showed that it had ambitious plans to make a big budgeted action spectacle that have some legs to travel the world, crafting a tale from centuries past loosely based on The Malay Chronicles involving a melting pot of Roman soldiers, Chinese warriors of the Han Dynasty, and natives of the land of Langkasuka in a joint battle against pirates of the marauding Geruda tribe. It's noisy, it's epic looking, and it features characters and a cast that would make the United Nations proud, speaking in English, Bahasa and Mandarin to highlight multple cultures.

The story is told in simple terms, with a Roman Prince Marcus Carprenius (Gavin Stenhouse) set to wed the Chinese Princess Meng Li Hua (Jing Lusi) in a deal to seal two separate empires into an alliance. The wedding is to take place at the mid point between the east-west sea routes of the empires, which would be where modern day Peninsular Malaysia is but of course. However, the young royals fail to see the merits of any loveless, arranged marriage, before finally casting their eye on each other and discovering they share similar long term ideals. But the Geruda tribe is to gatecrash the wedding day with plans of their own for riches by capturing and holding the Princess hostage, and it's up to our heroes to train, form an armada of brave men to take the enemy down within two moons, or risk having the Princess violated then killed.

While it's a film that features an ensemble cast of heroic characters such as the Chinese Admiral Liu Yun (Craig Robert Fong) and the Roman Prince Marcus, the main protagonist is that of Merong Mahawangsa (Stephen Rahman-Hughes), whom you can picture as a Captain Jack Sparrow equivalent, minus the comedic banter and attitude, with stronger physique and better fighting skills to boot. A wandering soul himself, his amorous exploits in various lands allowed an opportunity to meet Prince Marcus and his entourage in Goa, where the Prince saves his life from the mob and having Merong promising to take him back to his homeland in Langkasuka where the wedding will be, being late meaning an insult shown to the Chinese emperor. And it becomes a prophecy (as always) fulfilled when Merong makes land, being the chosen one to unite and lead his people to battle against their joint enemy, falling in love in the process and with an added objective to restore the honours of loved ones.

This is an action adventure, so what mattered are the big fight sequences, filled with plenty of swords and sorcery, CG blood spewing all over the place, and what I thought to be admirable fight choreography to rival some of the best available out there, despite having some cringe-inducing acting from faceless extras who had to be various goons to fall in battle. The story doesn't waste time in presenting Merong Mahawangsa as a battle-weary individual, and launches into huge beachfront assaults that got repeated again as the finale battle, albeit on a different side with slightly different players. One thing's for sure though, that Malaysia has got the know how and capability to stage rather convincingly fights that combine choreography and CG (albeit some aspects of it requiring some polish), no longer having to play catch up with the more established film industries.

What I would have enjoyed a lot more would be stronger opponents, who possess some degree of sorcery to control the weather, though nothing else which blunted their supposedly mean and ruthless reputation of continuous victory. With bomohs and warlocks, it could have been more of a fantastical action flick with magical amulets, a mean looking kris and an Archimedes inspired device that looked a little bit puny due to a lack of budget. I do not have issues with the many languages used in the film since the country of origin of the film is multi-cultural, at least characters speak to each other in the same set of language rather than a mishmash of sorts, although you do have to stretch that believability a little in having almost all the characters in the film educated in more than one tongue for narrative convenience.

It may not be a classic, but it sure is quite a fun ride from the film industry of a neighbour that I'm recommending as worthy of your time during the weekend even. Now why couldn't we make a film as fun, loud and brash as this one here?

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