Before I start this review, let me just formally apologise for being late to the party.
I know the hype of this movie is long gone by now but I feel like they should have just released it during Merdeka Day since it’s such a historical piece of film with a historical meaning behind it. Am I wrong? I don’t think so.
As such, I took it upon myself to post this a few days before Merdeka day. You’re welcome.
Anyway, the real reason I put the movie off for so long was because it’s RM24 for a ticket.
Now, I am lots of things, and a cheapskate is definitely one of them. Also, I’ve heard so many mixed reviews about this movie that it kind of made me procrastinate watching it. With some people saying it’s too overrated and others straight up pleading for you to “got to go see this masterpiece!”
So here I am. Months later and completely up to date with all the Mat Kilau hype. I have seen it, I have quite a lot of thoughts about it. I also feel the need to say that I only saw this movie once so I’m doing this review based on memory only. Because there’s no way I’m paying another RM24 to get any of the facts right so bear with me.
I’m also not going to mention that the movie broke records by being the highest paid movie of the year or something like that. That’s not the point of it. I’m just here to tell you my thoughts on the movie, that’s all.
Disclaimer: Spoilers ahead. Some, at least. So watch out and take care, folks!
The whole premise of this movie revolves around our main character, Mat Kilau (played by Adi Putra), who’s apparently deemed the best warrior his village has ever seen. Along with his other warrior friends, Wahid (played by Beto Kusyairi) and Awang (played by Fattah Amin), they try their hardest to defend their village and their people against the evil powers of the British colonists.
The movie starts off with a bunch of villagers minding their own business until a group of British soldiers ambushed them and demanded tax payments for their land. But since the villagers refused to pay them they get shot one by one, with the last person ruing their existence and pledging revenge.
After the screen fades to black, we move onto a Naruto-esque scene in the woods with a bunch of Malayan warriors practising their martial arts on each other, jumping through trees and attacking each other with keris and hand-to-hand combat. Here is where we first get introduced to the Mat Kilau gang.
And despite the sound effects of their martial activity completely busting my eardrums, I’d say it’s a pretty cool scene altogether. It shows the ways of Malayan martial arts that I’ve only ever heard of but never before seen properly. So it’s super interesting to watch and had me give my undivided attention to.
After the fight scene, we see that there’s conflict between the warriors. Especially a one sided conflict between Awang and Mat Kilau. It’s pretty basic in a sense that Awang thinks he’s the best warrior to ever live when everyone’s eyes were already on Mat Kilau since the beginning. So it makes sense that he has that sort of animosity and jealousy towards Mat Kilau and all the attention he’s getting.
The movie progresses with a lot more characters introduced. We see which characters would be the bane of our existence and we see ones that really didn’t matter in the first place (like that Chinese merchant man that played as the British’s confidant and those old men that are the village heads).
Annoying Characters Are What Makes A Movie Memorable
This is the part where I tell you that I despise the mere existence of Awang in this film.
You know in every movie there has to be a character that just can’t and won’t listen to anybody but themselves and in the end gets everyone killed? Well, that’s Awang for you. This little loser just had to go out of his way to “prove himself worthy” and in the middle of his self-titled mission got a whole bunch of people killed.
And he wanted to fix that mistake he made by saying that they can take his life as repayment? Boy, please. You were reckless and your friends suffered the consequences of your actions. Do more than offer yourself as sacrifice.
If there’s one thing that I took away from this movie is that there were a lot of them that were annoying and unnecessary to start off with.
The village heads and even the Sultan in the movie did absolutely nothing to help their people fight off the British army invasion. They just sat there in their brooding frowns and serious faces and talked bad about Mat Kilau (who was the only one that actually did help!). It’s actually amazing that a movie can have so many unlikeable characters and still make you pay attention to it.
Mat Kilau ni pun satu. Never have I seen such a trusting and well-meaning person. Sometimes his husnuzon behaviour (always thinking good of people) gets on my nerves. But he redeemed himself in the end when he gave into his anger and just full-on massacres the army. It’s very satisfying to see.
I’m not going to get into the British army soldiers and the leader of the gang, Captain Syers (played by Geoff Andre Feyaerts) because an overwhelming feeling of anger for that character just takes over my body and I feel like this review would just be a 10-page rant on how annoying that British man is. The guy that plays him isn’t even British. But kudos to him for being able to pull it off — even though the bleach dye was a dead giveaway.
Another thing is that Captain Syers had help from someone that’s from Borneo named Toga (played by Yayan Ruhian) and there’s something weirdly homoerotic going on there because I don’t know anyone who would lay down their own life for just a singular person. A person that doesn’t care if you lived or died, in fact. But I have to admit, he was actually the most interesting character in the movie.
Worded Poetry Can Only Get You So Far
Moving on, the script could have used a little help though. All those flowery and poetic words just feels like a pep-talk before a big game. The characters are all very patriotic, that’s definitely something that’s not sugar coated at all. But sometimes, the words don’t hit as hard because they’re just said to make the viewers angry at certain characters.
Like the British were given dialogues that either make your vein burst from clenching your jaw so hard in anger or they make you roll your eyes at every entry. It almost seemed comical how blatantly racist and ignorant their words are.
The lines between the warriors, although said in a language that’s old and beautiful and filled with flowered poetry, sometimes lacks context and character. They’re just said very robotically and I feel like the only character that emotes well was Wahid — even though his dialogues are said in anger half of the time.
This is definitely one movie that embodies “action speaks louder than words”, where we have a bunch of characters just brooding at each other throughout the whole two hours.
It’s also uncomfortably in your face about how patriotic they were. Is that alright to say? There were a lot of words like “semangat Malayu” thrown around but we’re not going to get into any of that. That seems like another article altogether.
This is also the part where I’m going to be completely honest and say that I don’t remember much of the movie. The parts that I do take away from it is that it has pretty good pacing and it doesn’t really dilly dally on one part of a scene for too long so it’s easy to watch. I’ve heard complaints of the movie being too fast-paced and gives the characters no room to grow but to me, it was alright. I like fast-paced films, it keeps me focused for the most part.
I do have complaints about the sound effects though. It’s so loud. And the exaggeration of the sound effects grates on my ears after a while.
But overall, I’d give the movie a 7 out of 10.
I took points off of some plot holes, weird one liners and the ending but otherwise, I’d say this movie was pretty good. It’s a great movie to watch with family and to invoke a sense of pride and appreciation for your Malaysian heritage and the sacrifices your ancestors went through to make the country into what it is today. It also helps you learn history in a more… fun setting, I would say.
There’s More To Come… Probably
So the movie ended in sort of like a cliffhanger. The bad guy got away while the good guys suffered injuries and deaths on their side of the fence. There wasn’t a definite ending, I would say. Definitely not an ending that people (read: me) are pleased with. It just leaves you hanging and forces you to make up your own conclusion. I don’t know, it just feels like there should be more to it than just death and cowardly escape plans, you know?
Or are they relating this to how real life actually is? That sometimes there’s just no happy ending at all and filled with cliffhangers. Who can really tell?
If you haven’t seen this movie yet, I’m sure it’ll be up on Netflix later this year or something. So there’s no need to feel any FOMO. A movie like this isn’t going to just fade away in time. There will also be sequels in the future, probably.
Anyway, it was fun. That’s it. It’s not a movie that you’d take too seriously, in my opinion. It’s just a very good one to watch when you’re in a patriotic mood.
If you’re in for a more comedic Merdeka movie, we have another Malaysian hero that you might find more interesting: