Journey to the dark side

It’s got that old-time feeling: Kisah Paling Gengster is the kind of classic gangster movie that deals with corrupted innocence.

It’s got that old-time feeling: Kisah Paling Gengster is the kind of classic gangster movie that deals with corrupted innocence.

A gangster tale that’s both believable and emotional, Kisah Paling Gengster will pleasantly surprise you.

WHEN you’ve got eight or nine gangster-themed Malaysian movies already released in cinemas in 2013 alone, it’s probably not wrong to say that the market for Malaysian gangster films is kind of saturated at the moment. With overkill being a real danger to Kisah Paling Gengster, the latest in the genre to strut into town, what does star Shaheizy Sam – who has himself starred in other gangster flicks like Kongsi and 8 Jam – think makes this one special?

“It has to be the storyline, which I think is great,” said Shaheizy, who plays paramedic Remy in the film. “It’s a character-driven movie, and I like the fact that the storytelling is more nuanced and not so single-layered.”

In the film, Remy starts out as a shy, honest and innocent individual who slowly gets sucked into the violent and dark world of gangsterism because of an act of kindness on his part.

Director Brando Lee said he conceived the role with Shaheizy in mind and developed the character according to Shaheizy’s style of acting. Spending approximately four months to write the screenplay with co-writer Alfie Palermo, Lee believed that going back to basics and having a really strong story would make this movie stand out among the crowd, especially with the current gangster film craze and the seemingly endless news items involving gangsters and shootings that have seen the whole country taking an even more intense interest in the issue of gangsterism.

Taking inspiration from Korean films like Old Boy and modern Hollywood classics like Michael Mann’s Heat and The Godfather films, Lee said Kisah Paling Gengster initially started life more as an action-comedy, but gradually changed shape into the heavier terrain of the gangster drama as the writing process progressed. There are still sprinklings of comedy here and there to lighten things up – how can you not have those when Epy Raja Lawak has a supporting role as Remy’s best friend Jimmy? Still, this is one of the rare examples of a local film that faithfully and successfully follows the form and structure of a classic genre, resulting in an effort that may be familiar in terms of storyline, yet doesn’t lack emotional impact.

People often say that power corrupts, and watching Remy’s descent from being a sweet-natured innocent into the depths of violence and power, made more convincing by Shaheizy’s absolutely committed performance, was quite a pleasant surprise for this writer. In fact, believability is definitely this film’s strong suit as the majority of the characters do look authentic, as do the locations.

Supporting players like Wan Hanafi Su as godfather Ayah Megat, Zul Suphian as Ringo, Wawa Zainal as Remy’s sweetheart Rina, Mikail Andre as nemesis Romeo and Fyza Kadir as Ayah Megat’s daughter Sofea all gave suitably believable performances devoid of fake and exaggerated posing.

Even the shootouts and gun battles, usually a huge bone of contention for this writer when it comes to local films, are quite realistically staged and presented.

Having handled various weapons on his trips overseas, Lee explained that he more or less served as technical advisor as well when it came to the correct way of handling weapons, often showing the actors how to hold and position the weapons in order not to hurt themselves when firing them.

More impressive are the fight scenes, which, as Shaheizy rightly pointed out, are more “raw” and seem less choreographed than most films of this ilk. A particular standout is the scene where Remy “loses it” in a hand-to-hand fight against three gangsters who have been making trouble at a place under Ayah Megat’s protection, eloquently showing Remy’s first few baby steps on his plunge into darkness instead of explaining it through dialogue.

With film supposedly being a more visual medium, wherein it’s more important to show than to tell, it is gratifying to see a local production with more than a few examples of visually eloquent, meaningful moments like this. And all without sacrificing the entertainment factor which is the reason why most people pay to watch a movie.

The Bahasa Malaysia title may hint at another kind of film, but don’t let this dissuade you because it is at heart an old-fashioned gangster tale, one which never gets old – that of innocence corrupted.