The Hands That Rattled The Queen: Bront Palarae to Direct Legendary 'Dawn Raid' Film Adaptation

Bront Palarae on the set of  Dawn Raid: The Hands That Rattled The Queen's trailer shoot

Set in the 1980s, Dawn Raid: The Hands That Rattled The Queen is veteran Malaysian actor-producer, Bront Palarae’s next big passion project, centred around the takeover of Guthrie Corporation Limited, the then premiere British rubber and oil palm conglomerate in Malaysia, by the Malaysian government in less than four hours during a ‘dawn raid’ on the London Stock Exchange on 7 September 1981.

Though the film has yet to go into pre-production, the teaser trailer is available online for one to get a quick feel of the film, which, at a glance, reveals a star-studded cast: Shaheizy Sam, Sofia Jane, Chew Kin Wah, Iedil Putra, Tuan ‘Tapai’ Faisal, and Redza Minhat to say the least.

“The trailer was shot in 2015 but Crossroads: One Two Jaga won a camera package sponsorship prize at the Southeast Asia Film Financing Forum at about the same time,” said Bront.

“The prize shelf life of a year so we had to proceed with shooting Crossroads first. With the film scheduled to be released this year, now is the perfect time to continue our journey with Dawn Raid.”

Bront first came across the story while reading a chapter in Tun Mahathir’s book, A Doctor in the House: The Memoirs of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that roughly described the Guthrie dawn raid incident.

“Reading it, I felt a sense of pride and then it evolved into a sudden urge of wanting to share this story with the world,” he explained. “There is no other better way to share the story than through a film.”

Even after 3 years since the trailer and the recent global reception of Crossroads, Bront said that the urge remains strong until today.

What is the Guthrie dawn raid?

Based and inspired by true events, Dawn Raid chronicles the planned attack on Britain’s biggest century-old firm, Guthrie Ltd at the London Stock Exchange in 1981 by Malaysia’s Permodalan Nasional Berhad (PNB).

It’s a high-tension story with a backdrop filled with international financial movements and boardroom deceptions,” explained Bront.

Bront directing the actors on set of the trailer shoot. At the table clockwise: Shaheizy Sam, Sofia Jane, Iedil Putra, and Tuan 'Tapai' Faisal

In 1981, Tun Mahathir Mohamad engineered a raid to take over the Guthrie group at the London Stock Exchange. In less than four hours, the British-owned company was taken into local control. Subsequently, the takeover allowed the return of ownership of some 200,000 acres or 800 km² of agricultural land back to Malaysians.

Bront further described the film as a pulse-racing thriller that presents a dramatic interpretation of one of the world’s most iconic corporate takeovers.

Spotlight on Malaysian stories

With Crossroads having travelled to the 20th Far East Film Festival (FEFF), the 21st Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF), and the 17th New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF), Bront’s storytelling instinct to centre his next film around a highpoint in Malaysian history underpins the international audience’s hunger for Malaysian stories.

“I honestly believe that there is a real curiosity and thirst from international community towards Malaysian stories,” he said.

However, it is often tricky to find the right material to present to the global audience. Bront explained that the question lies in finding a story that is uniquely Malaysian yet universal enough to be enjoyed by international viewers.

“So far we got lucky with Crossroads but I think it can get better with Dawn Raid,” stated Bront. “The early sign is there as Dawn Raid is selected for Bucheon Network of Fantastic Film under the Project Market programme.”

Besides bringing an exciting addition to the global film market, Dawn Raid is also adding colours to the gradually diversifying film spectrum in Malaysia. Bront pointed out that whenever a local filmmaker attempt to do a period-piece of any era, the presentation of the film takes a ‘museum tour’ or a ‘docu-drama re-enactment’ approach in terms of style.

From left: Shaheizy Sam, Sofia Jane, Iedil Putra, and Tuan 'Tapai' Faisal

“What I want to do is to tackle Dawn Raid as a genre film. I want to present the story in a fun and engaging way for the audience to enjoy,” he said.

Even though Dawn Raid is written as a heist film—not the first in Malaysian film history given the existence of Afdlin Shauki’s Baik Punya Cilok and Kabir Bhatia’s Setem—Bront explained that Dawn Raid will be slightly different for the fact that the film involves a big stake, which is the fate of a nation.

As a filmmaker, my intention of developing the film has always been about bringing back the mojo of serving the country again,” he said.

“The story was developed during the times when leeches were sucking the government’s coffers dry and when everyone we met only spoke about how they profited from having links to the corridor of power.”

Through Dawn Raid, Bront wants to remind people that those in the 1970s and the 1980s used to do things for national pride rather than for greed.

Keeping it real

While Bront anticipates serving the audience a thrilling ride with Dawn Raid, he and his team also want to keep the story as close to the truth as possible.

“We would love to spark the audience’s curiosity with the actual event but we don’t want the film to be too much of a documentary that chronicles the event with 100 per cent facts,” he said.

Bront Palarae's cameo

Bront explained that to fashion Dawn Raid as a heist film, they need to fulfil most, if not all, of the elements that come with making a heist film. Apart from that, he said that there is still plenty of room for them to play around with in terms of the narrative and character development.

“So we are taking a bit of creative licence to fill those spaces. But of course we are not going to bend the history too much like Inglorious Bastards,” he laughed.

Nevertheless, Bront revealed that they were unable to get both sides of the Dawn Raid story due to the limited access to certain organisations and related parties.

In order to fact check and get a bigger picture of the dawn raid, the actors are required to spend time with the individuals whom they will play in the film. Some of the important key figures interviewed were the then (and current) prime minister, Tun Mahathir Mohamad; Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim who lead the dawn raid in 1981 and who later became the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Malaysianised Guthrie, now known as Kumpulan Guthrie Berhad, from 1995 to 2003; and the first CEO of PNB, Tan Sri Desa Pachi.

Interview session with Tun Mahathir. Present: Bront Palarae and Chew Kin Wah (scriptwriter)
“At the moment, we are still finalising the script and we are still trying very hard at hit. Finding the right balance between hard facts, speculative facts, and drama is a major task,” he said.

“In terms of location scouting, there will be more sets built rather than shooting at actual locations. Some of the actual locations may need a lot of VFX manipulation to remove modern elements that were not there back in 1979 to 1981,” stated Bront. “For props and wardrobe, it is much easier to buy them from Indonesia.”

The next phase of the journey

Heading towards its pre-production stage in late September this year, Dawn Raid has got private investors lined-up alongside a pending production fund from the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (FINAS).

However, the recent election saw a change of government, which stalled the operation of FINAS.

“We turned to crowdfund as an alternative. It’s also a great groundwork marketing for the film,” said Bront. “Hopefully, this will translate into interest from brands and corporate sectors to come forward and be our sponsor-partners.”

Dawn Raid teaser poster

Dawn Raid’s crowdfund initiative offers backers a choice of contributing from as low as MYR5 to MYR250, with the latter giving backers a set of film merchandises, access to regular behind-the-scenes updates throughout the filmmaking process, and a reserved seat at Dawn Raid Gala Premiere on 23 August 2019 in Kuala Lumpur.

Dawn Raid targets to head into principal photography in mid-January next year and aims to be completed in time for Merdeka 2019 release.

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