Kala Malam Bulan Mangambang

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Udine Far East Film Festival

UDINE, Italy -- As the first black-and-white Malay-language film in 30 years, "Kala Malam Bulan Mangambang" aspires to be a stylish homage-cum-pastiche of the Golden Age of Malay Cinema. Yet, despite glorious chiaroscuro cinematography, brilliant replica of the '50s studio set feel and a giddy whirl of genre elements from thriller and musical to horror and political satire, director Mamat Khalid seems content to imitate rather than subvert or offer any interesting perspective on the era. With incoherent scenes stirred into a plot as thick and an ending as cloying as coconut milk, it becomes what it parodies.

The film did poorly in the domestic market where audiences are most likely to pick up on his film and period references, so overseas appeal is even lower, except to scholars of Malay film classics or culture.

The title means "Night of the Full Moon," which is when men disappear in a village. Arriving to solve the mystery is Saleh (Rosyam Nor), a laid-off reporter who stumbles on two intertwined leads. The first spoofs noir detective and spy thrillers with as much subtlety as "Austin Powers" with comic timing too slow for anyone used to TV skits and mainstream farces.

The inclusion of a Communist conspiracy also colors the film with an ideological stance out of place with its tone of mindless tomfoolery. Another supernatural subplot about a phantom's curse imitates low tech effects and make-up of old horror films with affection, but there is little self-conscious humor to distinguish the overblown ending from the real McCoy.

For those who know who P. Ramlee is, the modeling of Saleh on the legendary Malay entertainer's screen personas yields some in-jokes. The film's biggest charm factor comes from its femme fatales -- a sultry Chinese songstress (Corinne Adrienne), a nubile hostess (Avaa Vanja) and a sweet Malay village girl (Umie Aida), all of whom radiate more charisma and personality than their gender and ethnic stereotypes require.


Cast: Rosyam Nor; Umie Aida; Avaa Vanja; Corinne Adrienne. Writer-director: Mamat Khalid. Producer: Gayatri Su-lin Pillai. Directors of photography: Y.M. Raja Mukhriz, Raja Ahmad Kamaruddin. Art Director: Wan Nazrul Asraff. No MPAA rating, 110 minutes.


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