I had great expectations and hopes for this movie. Maybe it was the hyped-up marketing, as one CinemaOnline reviewer puts it, maybe because I’d enjoyed Afdlin Shauki’s previous movies and stage acts, maybe because for nationalism purposes I’d wanted it to be so good to sweep me off my heavy feet.
To call a spade a spade, I unfortunately left the cinema hall rather unimpressed, and I’ll tell you why.
Ramlee ( Afdlin Shauki ), a down and out loser accepted a challenge to finish 20 plates of sushi within one minute. He lost the bet, and had to work in the Japanese restaurant ‘Boleh Sushi’ headed by Honda ( Patrick Teoh ) to pay off his debt. Soon he was friends with his colleagues, Haris ( Awie ) and Andy ( Radhi Khalid ), learnt values of hard work and even fall head over heels with Honda’s half-Malay, half-Japanese daughter, Siti ( Inthira Charoenpura ).
Soon Ramlee realised he had been tricked to be the 3rd member of Boleh Sushi’s sumo team, and had to take part in the Malaysian Sushi Association Amateur Sumo Wrestling Championship (MSAASWC). During training, he had an encounter with a member of a rival sumo team, Akira ( Gurmit Singh ) who was also Siti’s ex-flame. Will Ramlee be discouraged, or would he embrace the spirit of ‘nokotta‘ so pimped out in the movie?
The Good: Afdlin Shauki is an awesome comedian. His timing is always spot on, and he played to the stereotypical expectations of a fat person. I liked the introduction to sumo; not sure how accurate it is, but it was interesting to learn something new. The trip to Japan was lovely, but I suppose the credit goes to Japan for having all these bootiful sceneries. But overall I find the movie colourful.
Kartina Aziz as Ramlee’s long-suffering mother was aptly casted. The easy chemistry between Ramlee and Akira (even though they were rivals) was noticeable, maybe because Afdlin and Gurmit had worked before on other projects. I liked their sharp exchanges, had me LOL-ed at times.
Gavin Yap’s portrayal of a damn skinny but punk crazy sumo fighter was funny. I can’t make up my mind if he was maybe out of place, but he definitely provided comic relief. Maybe unintentionally? I don’t know, but the whole cinema LOL-ed at his antics.
The OK: Patrick Teoh’s portrayal as a Japanese dude who made Malaysia his home wasn’t as memorable as I’d hoped it would be, sometimes even frustrating. Reason = they had him speak English like a typical Chinaman, something I thought that could have been done without. I didn’t think it added value to the movie, him enunciating the way he did. Performance-wise, he delivered according to his given role.
Gurmit Singh was funny at times. But during certain scenes when he was acting smug or arrogant, I almost expected him to break out, “DONCH PRAY PRAY AR!!!!!!” I grew up watching this man on Channel/TCS 5 ok.
Everything else: if I didn’t put it in ‘The Good’ or ‘The Bad’, they all fall under ‘The OK’ category.
The Bad: I have a major, major grip with sound. Someone explained to me before how Afdlin directs/ acts in his movies, and does not record sound on-location. I think it is a serious overlook in any movie-making attempts, because IMHO sound is critical and crucial in the deliverance of a movie. I really, really dislike lip-syncing in movies, and throughout Sumolah! I couldn’t help but to wonder how much more I’d enjoyed the movie if it weren’t for the bad sound parts. Lip-syncing is bad. Lip-syncing is annoying. Lip-syncing is fake. Lip-syncing derives the audience of emotional connection with the characters. Nothing can replace sound/ dialogue recorded the same time the roles were acted out. It is just not the same.
Plus if sound was recorded real-time, they could have made do without the extra ‘er… err… heh.. hehh.. ermm..’ produced when they record it in the studio. Acting shy, uncertain and abashed need not be so painful to hear.
Props to Inthira for having to learn and memorise her lines in Malay at such short time, but I thought her character was quite redundant. She is pretty, she looks hot in a kimono, but I’d have preferred her to be given a stronger role. Not to say that being a morally righteous, culturally-aware, hardcore motivator is something to be dissed, but… that’s it? Also her performance was too subdued; perhaps due to her role, but I’d seen Nang-nak and she was brilliant. Erm, you make the connection lah
I also felt Sumolah! tried too hard to emphasise certain moral values, especially at the end of the film. Too much, beb, too much. It was also too long lah… 2 hours 20 minutes… as lengthy as Spiderman 3 but not as much ‘isi-isi penting’ because they were repeated over and over again.
I know that Celcom and Ogawa are the main sponsors of Sumolah! They were also heavily pimped throughout the movie, and at times it was just too much lor. Some parts were like pure advertisements for both Celcom and Ogawa — so much that when Haris was on video-call with his sweetie, I’d expected something like ‘Celcom 3G brings you closer to family and loved ones’. Blah.
I don’t even want to talk about Ogawa’s blatant, in-your-face product placement. Just a note to all advertisers: yes you poured in/ will continue to pour in money to the movie industries, local movies need more support, but please leave the creative control alone kthx.
Overall: Like I’d said, I’d expected better. I hope whatever I’d written will not discourage the people who worked so hard to bring Sumolah! to screen. I know Zona put a lot into the production, you can read their production diaries here. There’s always room for improvement, kan?
In that case, Sumo-lah! wins the best movie of the year, y’all!
(Sumo-lah! is showing in Malaysian cinemas now. Go catch it if you want to, before it is too late, i.e. Pirates 3 coming out and the cinemas get overcrowded.)