7th Singapore Short Cuts - 'Baju' by Muhd Azhar Mohd Sjukor


'Baju' means clothing in Malay. But among the modern day Malay gangsters, it has come to mean something else - something that is still suggestive of having a layer over your body. And this is where the film has a subtle and quietly wise way of unveiling the specific meaning of the word in it context. It allows even non-Malay speaking viewers to appreciate the varied layers of the word 'Baju' without needing to define it clearly or specifically as a tattoo.

While it is easy to showcase raw, visceral energy in the world of gangs, it is less easy to offer an alternative angle that makes you see something poetic in the most barbaric of moments. In Baju, two men from rival gangs are enlisted into national service. Already the establishment of their rivalry and the slow build up of their hostile mutual glances makes it easy to guess what to expect next. In fact, when it cuts the shower room after the bottled-up tension in the hair-shaving scene, you somehow expect the cliche of the bathroom beat-up to happen. The fight did happen but it went off in a surprising track. It was graphic and the actors had to almost do it for real with little to hide due to the choice of a wide shot. Two belligerent (and completely nude) men wrestled on a wet toilet floor - somehow amounting to an accidental aesthetic.

While the film created a little visual niche for itself, it could put in more thought into the storytelling. Like many local gangster short films, it focussed on the muscle more than the mind - almost too keen to showcase a fight. It could use more context building and character development to add dimension to a largely linear presentation of brawn (and butt!). The grainy handphone videos of the gangs that opened the film was also a weak excuse for visual variation and seems independent of the film which could stand alone.

By the way, why is this film M18 when we could all see that part of the male anatomy?

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