Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nasi Lemak 2.0 packed with the necessary ingredients

I FIRST met Namewee (Wee Meng Chee) last year, at the preview of the local film Ice Kacang Puppy Love.
Unlike how some organisations have portrayed him, he appeared to be full of good manners, humility and down-to-earth practicality.
So when news of his debut film Nasi Lemak 2.0 surfaced, I thought, “Wow, good for him. Let’s see how this goes.”
And then came the controversies. But above it all, came the huge number of praises the film received after its special screening in Melbourne on Merdeka Day and after opening night in Malaysia.
So I had to go watch it. And watch it, I did.
Never mind that this movie is primarily in Mandarin and I barely understood five words of it.

Never mind that I barely got any of the Chinese jokes that were told and thank heavens for the subtitles!
But at least there were different languages spoken in the movie, such as English, Malay, Tamil and several other Chinese dialects.
Namewee’s social commentary was brought to cinemas via a food-themed comedy celebrating Malaysia’s famous dish.
The comedy gives an unflinching but ultimately endearing perspective of the racial stereotypes that Malaysians are accustomed to.
The film’s plot is anchored in Malaysia’s undisputed common cultural touchstone: love of the country’s diverse and spicy cuisine.
Take that: (From left) Afdlin Shauki, Karen Kong, Reshmonu and
Namewee in a dream sequence.
Namewee plays Chef Huang, who studied Chinese cooking in China and is unable to adapt to the ‘localised’ versions of Chinese food, something his Malaysian customers prefer.
In order to get his life and the restaurant business back on track, Chef Huang must now seek help from a mysterious hawker stall lady who summons him to embark on the extraordinary journey of his life.
During this self-enlightenment experience, he meets many ‘local heroes’ — including a Malay man with four wives and an Indian man who dances around trees and bushes, Bollywood-style — to create a delicious new version of nasi lemak.
They each lend their support to help him re-discover his roots and the real hidden message of Nasi Lemak.
This film is not out to be artful, nor to win awards or rave reviews from uptight film critics.
It is a show full of racial gags and cultural nuances that Malaysians are all too familiar with, but done with a fresh perspective.
Here are my top five favourite parts of the film I am excited to share:
5) Karen Kong and Namewee’s characters singing in a Chinese kopitiam, in hope of getting more flower garlands from Pete Teo’s character.
4) Afdlin Shauki’s character with his four hilarious wives in the kampung.
3) Datuk David Arumugam hiding behind the tree, Bollywood style.
2) The famous Baba Nyonya characters played by Kenny and Chee, from my favourite local 90s sitcom, Onde Onde.
1) The finale song, aptly named Rasa Sayang 2.0, which is still ringing in my head to this day.
Nasi Lemak 2.0 was made on less than RM1mil, after failing to obtain funding from the National Film Development Corporation Malaysia (Finas) and Creative Industries Fund (CIF), who were supposed to be supporting the local arts and entertainment scene.
For a film that faced all these obstacles, it has currently made over RM4.5mil in box office sales alone.
I also got a big shock when Namewee told me over the phone that this film did not get “Wajib Tayang” approval, which is supposed to guarantee a local film is shown at cinemas nationwide for 14 days.
Speaking in a serious tone, Namewee told me that he hoped that his movie does its bit to help stop racism in Malaysia.
For all that it’s worth, I believe that it’s an unusually daring exploration of the racial ties that bind us all and I applaud the film for its success in doing so.
Watching Nasi Lemak 2.0 will make Malaysians (those who possess some sense of humour anyway) take a good look at themselves in the mirror and laugh.
This film is produced by Fred Chong and Sylvia Lim.
The cast includes comedian and singer Adibah Noor, Karen Kong, Afdlin Shauki, Kenny & Chee, Reshmonu, Dennis Lau, Nur Fathia, Nadine Thomas, Pete Teo, Ho Yuhang, Dian Sharlin and Felixia Yap.

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