Review: Konpaku (2018)

Have you ever gone about your day and accidentally run into a small dying animal? Something that’s been wounded and helpless. When confronted with such an image, you run through a gauntlet mix of sadness, disgust, confusion and anger.

That pretty much summarises my personal experience with Konpaku, directed by Remi M Sali. From hearing about it last year, to finally watching it for this review as it readies itself for its international premiere at Udine Far East Film Festival 2019. 

By the way, you’ll have to search ‘Konpaku: The Movie’, if you actually want to know anything about the film, since just searching Konpaku won’t bring you close to finding the website, its marketing materials or a trailer. Therefore, nobody can really blame you if you’ve never heard of Konpaku, since the film’s publicity isn’t really a strong point here. I only heard of it since I’m a Malay filmmaker, and it’s a small community. 

Since we’re on marketing, I find the title itself to be an odd choice. Konpaku can mean soul or spirit in Japanese, however, I don’t ever think this film would screen in Japan, nor does it have any co-production with Japan. So therefore, you’re going to assume its main market is Singapore.

Only Japanese-speakers in Singapore will know what Konpaku even means or its relation to the film’s premise. Translating your title for foreign audiences is extremely common. Take for example the recent James Wan produced horror film, The Curse of La Llorona. Singaporeans won’t really know that film, because it was retitled The Curse of the Weeping Woman here in Singapore, the main reason being that nobody in Singapore would know who or what La Llorona isa female spirit of vengeance, whose calling card is her distinct cry.

Konpaku flips that around. It forcibly chooses to distance itself from most markets and audiences. I don’t know if anyone making this film had noticed but there’s only one country that mainly speaks Japanese and I’m not sure there is any viable plan that it’ll be distributed there, in comparison to the 3-4 countries that speak Malay.

At the end of the day though, the title and the marketing of the film is a separate issue. The heart of a film is what truly matters, and Konpaku is a stuttering, twitchy, patched up film that’s in a constant state of flailing disarray. I do feel that the filmmakers are genuine in an attempt to tell this story, which is allegedly based on real life events. There is some genuine care to connect these events to the audience. Sadly, however, the film barely manages to connect two shots together.

In just the third scene, the film showcases a complete lack of understanding of film form for a simple conversation between four friends. It's a basic film school exercise. Yet, the shots and editing grammar look as if they are trying to fight one another, constantly shifting perspective, shot size and screen direction, jump cutting, breaking 180 degree rules for no discernible cause or intentional effect within the scope of the story, because ultimately the shots are not staged with any sense of emotive, storytelling direction. It’s simply done with simplistic coverage and stitched together in post-production. 

Due to a lack of any direction, the only way to keep things interesting, since the performance and direction isn’t interesting, is to keep switching between shots, erratically. Ultimately, most of Konpaku feels twitchy, syncopated and incoherent.

The film tries to follow Haqim and his chance encounter with a strange Japanese woman, Midori, that leads to supernatural encounters that affect him and those around him. It’s a simple enough setup, but nothing in Konpaku is done with any sense of simplicity or elegance. 

Plot and characters lumber clumsily from scene to scene, in a film that’s unrelentingly sloppy in its craft and substance. It’s not an exaggeration to say that most of Konpaku is exposition, and mostly through phone conversations between Haqim and Midori. In one instance however, it is an online video call between Haqim’s mother and sister which turns both supernatural and oddly sexual.

There are a few scares in Konpaku, but most come from loud jump scares and it largely works because everything else in between is so achingly dull, it lulls you into a near comatose condition such that you’re more surprised than scared that something, anything has happened at all. The execution of these scares tends to be devoid of any real stakes and tension, and does border on the unfortunately hilarious. 

Ultimately, the film traps its audiences in a limp lover’s embrace that is mercilessly cloddish and ungainly. It becomes easy to shrug off with a laugh. Trust me, there’s a lot of laughs to be had here, I just don't think they were intentional. 

Konpaku will premiere at the Udine Far East Film Festival 2019.

Written by Rifyal Giffari
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