J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, July 06, 2015

NYAFF ’15: Banglasia

All the offensive stuff must have been lost in translation. Like clockwork, the latest film from Namewee, the rapper, film director, and goofball government critic was banned by the Malaysian authorities, but for westerners, it is hard to fathom why. Sure, he shows his dependable reckless disregard for logic and decorum, but so what? Maybe you really have to be looking for it. Most viewers will simply try to keep their heads from spinning when Namewee’s multi-national, multi-ethnic cast starts ricocheting all over the place in Banglasia, which screens as part of the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival.

Dirty Harris is a poor, put-upon Bangladeshi migrant worker, who has come to Malaysian to earn enough money to marry his sweetheart. Unfortunately, Laboni’s latest letter announces her imminent arranged marriage. DH has two days to get back to Bangladesh to set things right, but rather inconveniently his scummy exploiter boss Omar holds passport as collateral, until he pays off his transit debt. Harris tries to talk things out with him, but a gunfight breaks out instead, as they will.

Through an odd (and we do mean odd) chain of events, Harris gets an amnesia inducing knock to the noggin and winds up on the run with Hanguren, a Malaysian anti-immigration rabble rouser, whose name translates to “Korean Man” in Mandarin, and Omar’s rebellious daughter Rina, a nurse who swoons at the sight of blood. Rina immediately has eyes for DH, but Hanguren’s befogged grandmother mistakes him for her long deceased husband to further complicate matters. Frankly, it is a logical misperception, since Namewee contrives a way to get DH into the dead man’s rhinestone cowboy outfit. Fortunately, it seems the amnesiac can also shoot, which will come in handy when the Luk-Luk army invades Malaysia, with the help of the treasonous Omar. Or something like that.

At some point in all that, the Malaysian government put its foot down and “oh, no you don’t.” Perhaps they did not appreciate the mockery of Hanguren’s border-closing rhetoric, but it is weak tea compared to vitriol directed at big, bad Donald Trump. Nor is it a glowing endorsement of the treatment immigrants typically receive, but Omar is not exactly a loyal patriotic Malaysian either.

So, whatever. If you enjoy wildly goofy comedy amped up on Red Bull and Pop Rocks than Namewee is your huckleberry. No gag is too goofy and no cast-member is privileged enough to wriggle out of taking some humiliation for the team. Yet, somehow Nirab Hossain maintain a sense of dignity as the utterly confused Dirty Harris. Naturally, Namewee hams it up something fierce as Hanguren, because somebody has to in a film like this. The elegant Atikah Sumaine is also a good sport dealing with a relatively tight wardrobe a spot of blood here and there as the besotted Rina, while Shashi Tharan is completely insane as Wira, the berserker cop.

There are a number of potshots taken at the increasing regional domination of Korean culture, so let’s take a moment to welcome our Korean friends to rest of the world’s jealousy party. Trust us, you’ll get used to it too. However, it is hard to imagine Namewee films ever feeling old hat. For those who saw his Nasi Lemak 2.0 a few years ago, Banglasia is even more barking mad. Recommended for those who dig truly outrageous comedy, Banglasia screens this Friday (7/10) at the SVA Theatre, as part of this year’s NYAFF.

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