Smorgasbord: A-Z of Spinning Gasing (Rampai Sari: “Spinning Gasing” dari A ke Z)

Klik di sini untuk versi Bahasa Malaysia yang diterjemahkan oleh Abd. Latiff Bidin.

A is for ARIFF. A campy Malay character played by Edwin Sumun, which explains why the campiness is more convincing than the Malayness. I kept waiting for him to come out with the revelation that he was an adopted child but no such disclosure was forthcoming.

B is for BUDGET. Sure, the price-tag is RM2.5 million, but compared to more expensive movies like “Syukur 21″(RM 3.5 million) and “Silat Legenda” (RM 5 million), the production values are a wow. The care and professionalism with which this film was made should be inspiring to all.

C is for CHANTAL. Spoiled French-Chinese chanteuse, played by Corinne Adri. Utters one of the film’s best lines (the witch-like ”You deserve to be punished by Allah!’) and also one of its worst (the thesaurus-like ”You two cannot campur, impossible to mix.’)

D is for DRUGS. Famed songwriter Loloq plays the first lovable drug-peddler I have seen in a Malaysian film. This embrace of a constituency that would otherwise be cast aside as a villainous Other is a tribute to the film’s generosity of spirit.

E is for ENGLISH. Finally, a big-budget Malaysian film in English! It feels more natural than “Mimpi Moon” but some of the phrasing is still awkward. ”You were named after a politician?” asks Yati incredulously. No Malaysian would refer to Lee Kwan Yew merely as “a politician.” Were lines like these meant more for clueless foreigners than for the rest of us?

F is for FOLEY. Pay attention to the way objects sound — a suitcase placed on the floor, a key twisting in the lock. These were done with great care in the post-production stage at a sound studio in Australia. The sound quality is top-notch since the foley-work is intricate and full, and the dialogue recorded on location rather than through hollow dubbing. It’s about time Malaysia produced films that were a treat for the ears.

G is for GANGSTERS. In black leather and pretty tattoos, they looked like they stepped off the set of the current Leon Lai movie “Bullets of Love.” The fact that they were stylised felt like a betrayal of the film’s tone, and their presence in the final reel was too much of a deus ex machina. I’m beginning to think that it’s too easy to use kooky villains (the dam-keeper in “Dari Jemapoh ke Manchestee”, the three-testicled guy in “Lips to Lips”) to get narrative closure.

H is for HARRY LEE. The leader of the band, a young Chinese man determined to prove his father wrong. Unfortunately the actor appears to be a graduate of the Keanu Reeves School of Dramatic Art.

I is for ISLAM. Yati’s line, “If you convert, you will no longer be you,” acknowledges the sterile and life-denying way our official religion is enshrined here. It’s a problem when converts are expected to ruthlessly cut off their pre-Islamic heritage, although the religion has historically proven, in this region, to be a heterogeneous and porous entity.

J is for JJ, an Indian man who is sort of the band mascot, much in the way that Chris Rock or Martin Lawrence will play the funny and non-threatening darkie. His Atomic Jaya-derived line “Indians always get the blame!” is sure to get one of the biggest laughs.

K is for KLCC. A visual trope in almost all local movies now. Here it’s the backdrop against which Yati sells fake watches. I very much like the mocking juxtaposition between grubby reality and shiny aspirations. A beautiful shot, in more ways than one.

L is for LEMBAGA PENAPISAN FILEM. Our censors have worked overtime in removing references to religion and sex from this film. In several instances, the cuts actually make the plot seem more lurid that it actually is. When Yati goes over to merely hug Harry, the hug is taken out, making us assume all manner of cross-cultural bodily builds were exchanged.

M is for MISCEGENATION. The theme of inter-racial romance has been handled before in films like ”Tsu-Feh Sofiah” and “Fenomena,” but “Spinning Gasing” is the first to highlight the incompatibility than can arise from religious beliefs. Although the treatment is not in-depth, it remains an important step in bringing our movies slightly closer to our real lives.

N is for NICOTINE. Erra Fazira only smokes in “Gerak Khas The Movie” when she’s pretending to be a hooker. Here, Yati smokes to show her nervousness while going to the airport to greet Harry. You might think it’s no big deal, but it’s a telling indication of the little things that separate this movie from the admittedly entertaining oeuvre of Yusof Haslam.

O is for OBVIOUSNESS. I can’t get over the way Ariff asks a boy who has a fishing rod dipped into the sea whether he is catching fish. Was Ariff too much of a dumb urbanite to know what’s going on, was he merely flirting, or was Teek Tan doing a Harith Iskander-style spoof of the way Malaysians always ask obvious questions? Similarly, although the Malaysian-born Harry spent 8 years overseas, is it possible that he would not know what khalwat means? These are the bits that seem more like cultural primers than story-telling.

P is for PHOTOGRAPHY. Teoh Gay Hian is the hottest cinematographer in our little world. The images look very good but there is a tendency towards postcard prettiness that is only offset when the shot, such as the KLCC one, has an internal irony. There are some moments in his earlier “Perempuan Melayu Terakhir” (such as Heikal rowing in front of the mosque) that I also liked a lot.

Q is for QUALITY. That elusive something that we always feel is lacking in local movies. “Spinning Gasing” has proven that production values can be bought with money, but I think that “Jogho” and “Dari Jemapoh ke Mancestee”, despite loose editing, stiff camera-work and bog-standard sound, had a greater sense of personality.

R is for ROLEX. This and Maggi Mee are the two products prominently named in the movie. I am not sure if they were sponsors, but the fact that one is famously expensive and foreign, while the other famously cheap and local, fits well into the theme of reconciling opposites.

S is for SPINNING GASING. The traditional top is given prominence in the title as a metaphor for life: once it stops moving, it falls down. A society in dynamic flux is preferable to a static orthodoxy of safe assumptions. The fact that the title has two languages is also a tribute to the polymorphousness that has the potential to become Malaysia’s greatest asset.

T is for TERENGGANU. This state has for some reason become a popular locale for stories of cultural conflict and religious fundamentalism (“Fenomena”, “Perempuan Melayu Terakhir”, “Syahadat.’) It’s a pity that in the scene with Yati’s family, everyone chooses to speak in bland KL accents rather than the “makang ikang” dialect, which would have added greater charm and verisimilitude.

U is for ULEK MAYANG. The haunting folk-song is given prominence in the soundtrack as a metaphor for impossible love. I found the actual full-dress dance rehearsal on the beach to be strained, especially when Yati goes into her Tourism Malaysia mode by explaining the meaning of the song. This same tune was used to subtler effect in the Malay movie “Fenomena”, where it was tied in with the healing power of nature.

V is for VAN. The poster looks like an ad for a miniature one.

W is for WAU. A traditional kite that is not given prominence as a metaphor for anything in “Spinning Gasing.”

X is for X-FACTOR. A Malay pop group, none of whose members are featured in “Spinning Gasing.” In fact, the film has no pop stars at all. It has been praised for this brave casting decision. But I wish it could also have dispensed with the ubiquitous Jalaluddin Hassan. Enough already!

Y is for YATI. The lead female character is also the emotional and moral centre of the film. Very well played by the expressive and under-stated Ellie Suriaty Omar. If there’s any justice, she will be a huge star.

Z is for ZAPIN. A traditional dance that is not given prominence as a metaphor for anything in “Spinning Gasing.”


First Published: 17.10.2001 on Kakiseni

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