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Pendatang Is A Great Addition To Malaysia’s Film Library [Review]

Pendatang Is A Great Addition To Malaysia’s Film Library [Review]

The crowdfunded movie premiered on YouTube for free on 21 December, 2023.

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Directed by Ken Kin, Pendatang is the story of a Chinese family set in a dystopian Malaysia after a disastrous political referendum, similar to Brexit, has fractured the country into zones for each race.

Inhabitants are forbidden from interacting with races other than their own, but somehow the family finds themselves responsible for a mysterious young Malay girl.

Despite being silent for most of the film, Qaidah Marha is amazing in her role. (Pic screencapped from Pendatang by Kuman Pictures)

While the premise is contrived and somewhat unbelievable, it sets the stage for biting social commentary of Malaysians who differentiate “us” from “them” based on race.

The story moves quickly, taking place over just a few days, so it doesn’t feel slow or dragged out, but thanks to editor Chloe Yap Mun Ee it also doesn’t feel rushed.

The writing by Boon Siang Lim is solid and some of it is very sharp. For example, a standout scene about whether some food is halal is a direct reference to the prejudice still faced by some Malaysians, even those who are Muslims.

The art direction by Shazwan Khairuddin was amazing and I was hurled back to my kampung during many moments of the movie.

Every scene in the film is beautifully dressed, lit, and shot. (Pic screencapped from Pendatang by Kuman Pictures)

The wardrobe by Jessie Jok See Yeow was tasteful, and Tam Khalid’s production work made everything look “real”, though I think some of the roadblock barriers were recycled.

However, cinemaphotography by Teck Zee Tan started me off on the wrong foot with an early shot of the family together with their luggage. People don’t stand around like that, but it did signal that some realism would be sacrificed at the altar of artistic license.

A shot through a spiderweb framed by a cactus was also a very odd choice, but almost every shot in the movie is beautiful, with lots of depth, detail, and emotion. Even a shot of a man wiping down an old sofa was nostalgic and well done.

While most of the dramatic scenes, humor, and beauty shots were great, some of the action scenes weren’t as strong.

From left: Mayjune Tan, Kyzer Tou, Fredy Chan, and Shareen Yeo. (Pic screencapped from Pendatang by Kuman Pictures)

That said, Fredy Chan, Mayjune Tan, and Shareen Yeo, and the rest of the cast gave consistently solid performances. Young Qaidah Marha had few lines but managed to portray a lot of intensity with just her eyes.

The main antagonist played by a menacing Nicholas Liew Davis was among the standouts. He and the Kyzer Tou had a great scene together in particular that will have viewers at the edge of their seats.

Only Azman Hassan was a tiny bit of a caricature, but it’s hard to pinpoint whether the decision top play him that way was due to his own acting, the writing, or the directing.

That most of the movie was in Cantonese was a surprise for me, but quite aprppriate. I don’t think any other language and perspective would have had such an impact.

Nicholas Liew Davis is menacing as Ho. (Pic screencapped from Pendatang by Kuman Pictures)

However, the use of the word “Pendatang” is wrongly applied to a Malay character. When used against fellow Malaysians, it’s meant as a slur to denote an Immigrant. Used on a Malay, it just sounds odd.

The proper word would have been “Penceroboh”, but that might have been too much and deviated from a message I think the filmmakers were trying to convey.

While watching I was already thinking that I might want to see more stories set in this universe.

Whether that would dilute the movie’s strong message or serve to reinforce it, is a risk best left to Kuman Pictures.

A positive addition to Malaysia’s movie library, the filmmakers and those who crowdfunded them deserve our thanks and congratulations.

The movie is well worth a watch and you’re free to do that below.

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