Review: Kolumpo (2013)

Kolumpo Poster
Whenever I think of Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur, the glass-and-steel-clad Twin Towers come to mind, hovering over the city like a glittering promise. But Kolumpo is a reminder that life and its minutiae happens on the ground, for “What is the city but the people?” Screening in collaboration with the Asian Film Archive at the annual READ! Fest, Kolumpo is a collection of three short (30-minute) films focusing on a variety of characters and aspects of living in Malaysia’s largest city. It is directed by Bront Palarae, Sheikh Munasar, and Rozi Izma.

Within three disparate storylines, Kolumpo captures a sense of city life being fluid and unstable, made up of bubbles of community which shift and occasionally merge. Different facets of the city are highlighted, such as the plight of illegal immigrants, the displacement of the elderly due to rapid urban development, and the awakening of an apathetic young man who is drawn into twilight shenanigans on the city streets.  

Like Potatoes

In the first story, Mumbai-born Rahul (Azad Jazmin) comes to Kuala Lumpur to start a new job, but his dreams of a better life are dashed when he finds that the company that hired him has closed down. It seems that Rahul’s only fault is a naive optimism and misplaced trust in the goodness of people, and he ends up living with his “potato brothers”, other Indian illegal immigrants lured to Malaysia and made to work for peanuts, trapped in the country without access to their passports. They live—though live is too strong a term, more like subsist—in a cramped room and eat rice with a side of potatoes for dinner every night.

Such a sober subject matter is mostly well-handled, with an injection of humour and a very light touch. Sometimes it feels too restrained, like the director is dancing around the subject rather than addressing it directly, but I suppose the focus is less on justice, and more on the potato community that stems from shared hardship. One nice bait-and-switch at the beginning is the authority’s use of “illegal immigrants” to describe the Indian men, as the film instead offers the perspective of illegal immigrants as scam victims who, ironically, would love to go back to their home countries but are unable to.  

There is also a cameo from Malaysian actor Farid Kamil, whose onscreen character is Fared Kamil.

Bird Cage

Gienna (Nell Ng) not only shuns her mother’s phone calls, but also society’s expectations of a 35-year-old woman. She’s an artist (strike one), single (strike two) and has no kids (strike three). One afternoon, she finds herself saddled with an old woman, Nek Wok (played charmingly by Ruminah Sidek), who she has to help find a way home. Although it is somewhat of a grind, with Gienna facing road blocks the whole way getting Nek Wok home, it does offer a glimpse into the more suburban side of the city. There are some subtle tensions between Gienna and a group of Malay men, where she clams up and grasps her collar really tight, but it’s not really explained in the film.

This story will no doubt feel familiar to Singaporeans, as it deals with themes of displacement and feeling like a stranger in your own country. Perhaps one of the hidden costs of progress is how it makes a city unrecognisable to its oldest inhabitants, and how nostalgia and memory can form an inter-generational disconnect. 

Not Men

“Am I not a man?” Straight-edged Hafidd (Amirul Ariff) is not questioning his gender, but is asking this question of the viewer in a montage of him being, well, not like other guys. He doesn’t like fights and rock music, and he also doesn’t have a girlfriend. Like many young adults, he’s filled with all sorts of fears and anxieties holding him back from being who he is.

Hafidd’s world, with its protagonist decked out in monochrome, explodes into colour when quirky and energetic Hayy (Sharifah Amani) appears from magical unicorn dust and asks him to hang out with her. She’s supposedly getting over a break up and wants some company, but I declare this suspect because she seems to get over it within two bites of a street snack and never mentions it again. The two of them spend the night wandering the streets, talking and meeting all sorts of night owls. Clearly, the lesson here is: when a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG) shows up, you don’t question her motives, you just go with the flow.

A MPDG is defined as a character whose purpose is to “teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures" (Nathan Rabin, American film critic). Hafidd is very broodingly soulful (to the point of, perhaps, being vapid) and Hayy set off major fireworks on my MPDG radar, but to be fair, her character is given a lot more nuance than Hafidd. We learn more about her than we do about Hafidd, and for that reason, she feels more real and fleshed out than he does.

If you like that vibe of barreling into the night looking for adventure and chance encounters, this may be the film for you, and one that I think ends the anthology on a note full of possibilities.

Kolumpo will be screened for free on Wed, 18 Jul, 2018, 7:30 PM - 9:30 PM at the National Library as part of READ! Fest '18. For screening details and registration (required), please click on this link.

Written by Jacqueline Lee

Jacqueline writes bite-sized reviews encompassing all genres of films on Instagram at @filmage. She was a part of the SGIFF Youth Jury in 2015. She likes cats and Creepypasta.
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