Saturday, December 03, 2011

Nasi Lemak 2.0 (辣死你媽! / La Si Ni Ma!)

Namewee gained notoriety when his song Negara-kuku rapped about the true state of affairs in his homeland as faced by himself and many others about the lack of opportunities and intolerance, which of course was found to be politically unacceptable by the powers that be. Fast forward to today, the adage of any publicity is better than no publicity cannot be more true, since then he had a lot of doors opened, and now Namewee, whose real name is Huang Ming Zhi, has now ventured from music to film, putting on multiple hats to write, direct and star in his debut feature film that garnered respectable box office attention despite being funded independently and modestly.

Written, directed and produced by Namewee, he too stars in his debut feature as the protagonist Chef Huang, a folk hero of his district where scores of Chinese come knocking at his door to seek the justice the country's police never seem to provide for. Having studied the culinary art of Chinese cooking in China under the tutelage of a Pai Mei knockoff (Ho Yuhang hiding behind long brows and beard), Huang gets enlisted by Xiao K (Karen Kong) to help in her family fued where the victor between her father's camp and her aunt's would mean control over the Gong Xi Restoran, erm, Restaurant. But little does he know that his competitor will be none other than the chef who had beaten him in school, and thus begins a road trip quest around Malaysia to seek out new truths and inspiration for a rice dish.

That's about summing the entire plot up, with the direct reference being that of Stephen Chow's God of Cookery, right down to the cook off in the finale. And in many ways this Malaysian film mimics the good old heydays of Hong Kong's mo-lei-tau (nonsensical) comedy era, that Namewee seems to get the knack of in keeping true to the spirit of things. While Chow doesn't keep to being political correct all of the time in this films, you can bet your dollar on all things topical across the Causeway to be given some air time here, utilizing humour to show just how silly sometimes things can get especially when they are stranger than fiction.

It's none too surprising that the narrative contains just about the same themes that Namewee raps about, from social inequality right down to the threat posed by foreign talent, which will resonate with audiences here. After all, his main rival is a Chinese national, and everywhere Huang goes in search of a job, he's being compared to foreign workers who can afford to demand a lot less wages since currency conversion would mean a king's ransom by the time they return home, whereas the locals would need something a lot more substantial to combat the rising cost of living. Chef Huang begins the story in very prejudicial ways, such as his treatment of the Nasi Lemak hawker stalled makcik (played by Adibah Noor) and that of the Nepalese security guard who becomes the inevitable cannon fodder in this comedy, before his eye-opening trip starts to chip at that racist in him, as he gets exposed to a melting pot of cultures from the Peranakan, the Malay and the Indian community, seeking out the essence of sambal and curry.

It's a funny film that doesn't take itself too seriously, complete with subtle and none too subtle jibes at the establishment, and at the caricatures themselves each representing the respective segments of society whose eccentricities gets made the mickey out of. Just like how his songs so accurately pin pricks where it hurts, so does this social commentary of a film that's hidden behind the veneer of comedy, and Namewee had employed a broad range from sight jokes to language to elicit laughter from any audience. What I particularly enjoyed is the ridiculous use of Manglish (Malaysian English) that has to be seen and heard to be believed (and enjoyed, and you think Singlish was bad), and some bawdy cheeky jokes such as the orgasmic "Walaueh" sounds Chef Huang lapses into when he's in the tantric zone of whipping up a dish.

Nasi Lemak 2.0 covers a lot of ground in its story and has a multi-ethnic cast to boast of. And true to the musician core within him, Namewee provides plenty of songs for the soundtrack, with every opportunity for a music video inserted somewhere along the narrative never passed up. Fellow filmmakers and artistes in the entertainment industry also lent a hand in appearing in the film as caricatures, from the likes of Ho Yuhang, Liew Seng Tat as a street peddler hawking pin hole cameras, Pete Teo as a gangster and many others, even Miss Malaysia Nadine Ann Thomas playing a role whose character aspires to be erm, Miss Malaysia.

Sure this is unpolished at different junctures and can never pass with any artistic merit, but the film never made any qualms of wanting to do so in the first place. It entertains as well as comments on the state of affairs of any multi-racial, multi-cultural society in the modern age of global competition, and for Namewee an outlet to vent as well as to remind himself just how the differences in society makes it truly unique, social injustices aside to fight another day. Walaueh, indeed.

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