So, now we have an all-new box-office champ of all time. It begs the question: what next?
Because we have a culture of following whatever template has been successful, the joke going around is that soon there will be films like “Rempit Evo,” “Suamiku Evo,” “Pontianak Evo,” and such. The scary thing is, that might actually come true!
But seriously, what does it really mean, now that Polis Evo has surpassed The Journey to become the biggest hit of all time?
I think two things might happen. Copycat films will turn up (but, of course, not with “Evo” in the title). Secondly – and this is a hopeful thing – filmmakers might begin to pay more attention to production values. But the latter is a difficult thing for most local productions, as it involves the willingness to pump money into whatever it takes to make a film look good and play well.
I had a conversation recently with a friend who is an experienced screenwriter, and his main complaint was that even if he turns in a good script, the end result always leaves much to be desired because budget constraints regularly cut out the good stuff. But this, of course, doesn’t mean that a good film needs a big budget. But if you want to make a film that has big, flashy commercial elements, that always needs money. From what I’ve heard, Polis Evo held nothing back, even doing reshoots, which is nearly unheard of in Malaysia. And the result has paid off handsomely.
What Polis Evo is, is a game-changer. I’ve complained about its lack of originality, but it has action that is a notch above local standards (definitely no awful, pesudo-shaky cam there), humour that is smarter than the average Malaysian comedy, acting that’s not telemovie-like, and dialogue that cuts to the chase without any fillers. And much attention was paid to creating nice visuals, obviously, even by just the opening sequence with Wan Hanafi Su and the rainy back alley and the van and shophouse interiors.
I believe audiences perceive all this. I think too many local films fail because the filmmakers think they can hoodwink the audience with a sub-par product, the mentality that such-and-such is what people want, so let’s just give it to them, to hell with real quality.
Which is why I think Polis Evo is a game-changer, because it’s not going to work that way anymore from now on. The film has set a benchmark, raised the blue ribbon, created a new yardstick.
But why only now with Polis Evo? Why didn’t it happen with The Journey a year ago?
Mind your language
To address that, we need to talk about demographics. Yes, that dreaded cliche. But that’s the way it’s got to be.
The Journey is, at its core, a Chinese movie, concerned with Chinese culture and heritage, even though in a larger context it aims to be a film about racial unity. It was definitely a draw for Chinese audiences, its humour and concerns speaking directly to the Chinese, even though those elements can be broadly applied to any other clash of cultures. But no film in Malaysia can become the biggest all-time hit without also drawing in the Malay audiences who make up the bulk of cinemagoers here, owing to the fact that they are the majority of our population. This has to do with nothing else but logic and simple mathematics.
Now, I don’t have the statistics or information of who exactly went to see The Journey (and I doubt anybody has), but the hard truth remains that audiences here are drawn to films according to language. Unless it’s a Jackie Chan or Donnie Yen or Jet Li movie, Chinese movies mostly attract only Chinese audiences. (You might be surprised to hear this, but Jack Neo’s films also attract a good multiracial crowd.) Somehow, The Journey managed to attract multiracial audiences. Well, it was partly due to clever marketing and promotion.
But the point here is, The Journey is perceived as a Chinese (language) movie.
Polis Evo, on the other hand, is a Malay (language) movie, attracting the biggest group of local moviegoers. Again, I don’t have the statistics to back it up, but I would imagine moviegoers of other ethnicities also went to see the film. But it’s mostly repeat viewings that led to Polis Evo smashing the record held by The Journey.
Now, the difference between the two films’ box-office collections isn’t too big, with Polis Evo at RM17.3 mil at last count, and The Journey at RM17.16 mil. Compare that to the record holder before these two, Skop Production’s KL Gangster at RM11.74 mil. We can make all sorts of assumptions and draw all kinds of conclusions from this. But the basic one would be that just by mere logic, The Journey‘s much more diverse audiences, in comparison to Polis Evo‘s, would mean that a truly massive box-office hit would be a movie that attracts all Malaysians.
And we still haven’t had one for decades.
Times they are a-changing
Now, this is where I think we’re at with our cinema, after Polis Evo‘s success.
We always love to talk about how P. Ramlee’s films used to be loved by Malaysians of all ethnicities. It’s important to note that P. Ramlee’s films were all in Malay. But the stories were mostly concerned with the human condition regardless of religion or ethnicity. And sometimes with his fantasy comedies, you don’t even really know the origin or ethnicity of the characters.
If this is not proof enough that our cinema can be a big success by being boundless, then consider that our cinema has always been multiracial. The first film directors came to Malaya from India, the owners of major studios were from Hong Kong, and even in recent times, Metrowealth’s David Teo was instrumental in making some of Malay cinema’s biggest hits. Also take into account Yusof Haslam’s Gerak Khas, one of the longest-running TV series. People malign that show all the time but fail to realise that it has a truly multiracial cast. Of course, there’s also Othman Hafsham who made multiracial comedies in the 80s, and the late Yasmin Ahmad with her pluralistic idealisms. However it’s not so often that actors of different ethnicities share top billing. Yasmin’s films had that, and so did Shamyl Othman’s recent Rembat.
Polis Evo, meanwhile, has a trio of young talents of different ethnicities working behind the scenes making the film a success. Anwari Ashraf Hashim, Kyle Goonting and Joel Soh wrote the film, while Soh also produced it.
Now, who says Malaysian cinema isn’t multiracial?
Both The Journey and Polis Evo were produced by Astro Shaw. Hence, the ball now is very much in Astro Shaw’s court. Producing two record-holders within the space of a year is no mean feat – Metrowealth did that with Kongsi and Ngangkung previously. But for Astro Shaw, one is a Chinese-language film and the other is a Malay-language one, and they grossed surprisingly high amounts during a slump in the industry.
Thus, the time and condition are ripe for Astro Shaw to create something for our cinema that is truly Malaysian. The branding is strongly established now, and the draw potential cuts across ethnic boundaries. The news is that Astro Shaw’s next big release – apart from Langit Cinta, Aliff Dalam 7 Dimensi, Dukun Doktor Dani and Hantu Rumah Sakit Jiwa – is OlaBola, directed by The Journey‘s Chiu Keng Guan, described as an inspirational film for Malaysians, with its catchphrase “You will believe again.”
Perviously we had much debate over the tax rebate system that was largely seen as discriminatory, and which was replaced with the producer’s incentive plan in 2011. Meanwhile, the debate still rages on, about why there is still a “non-Malay language films” category in the Festival Filem Malaysia, when today all local films should be considered as “Malaysian films.” Kamil Othman, the director-general of Finas, the National Film Development Corporation, is working hard to change perceptions and create a more diverse filmmaking scene (this year’s Oscar submission is a Malay-language film by a Chinese director, a sense of deja vu considering this happened before with Saw Teong Hin’s Puteri Gunung Ledang in 2004).
With Kamil and Finas doing their best, and Astro Shaw having the potential to blur the lines of division, it looks like an opportunity has presented itself, to create a truly Malaysian cinema. And it would seem Astro Shaw is at the forefront, the most equipped right now to do this.
But will Astro Shaw take up the mantle?
TRIVIA: Shaheizy Sam is in four of the 10 highest-grossing Malaysian films of all time – Polis Evo, Ngangkung, Adnan Semp-it and Kongsi.
NOTE: The crazy guys at Fat Bidin Film Club have finally seen Polis Evo and chime in with their podcast and video.