Review: HIKAYAT MERONG MAHAWANGSA (2011) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 3 April 2011



Billed as KRU Studio's flagship production, the highly-anticipated HIKAYAT MERONG MAHAWANGSA (or known internationally as THE MALAY CHRONICLES: BLOODLINES) is the studio's first historical epic adventure with a whopping budget of RM8 million (making this the second most expensive local picture ever made behind 2004's PUTERI GUNUNG LEDANG) to make. Now the biggest question is: how does this movie fares? Two words to describe here: wannabe and disappointing.

Based on the 16th century historical document Sejarah Melayu, the movie takes place circa 120CE where we learn that the Roman Empire is under the rule of Hadrian and in China, it is the Han Dynasty that reigns supreme. Two empires are about to strengthen their political relationship as the Prince of the Roman Empire, Marcus (Gavin Stenhouse) is send over to Langkasuka to wed a beautiful Chinese princess named Meng Li Hua (Jing Lusi).

While repairing their vessel in Goa, the Roman army requests help from an outcast naval captain Merong Mahawangsa (Stephen Rahman-Hughes) to escort the Roman prince to Langkasuka. But pirates of the Geruda clan, lead by Taji (W. Hanafi W. Su) and his vicious apprentice, Kamawas (Khir Rahman), plans to kidnap the princess and held her for ransom.

After defeating Merong and his fleet at the end of the Straits of Malacca, Merong is being nursed under care by a shaman named Pak Kesum (Dato' Haji Rahim Razali, in a bad white wig). As Merong slowly recovered from his wound, he is granted a keris from Pak Kesum and at the same time, he also learns the truth from his childhood past when his mother, Lang (Umie Aida), died battling against the Garuda clan. Merong eventually recovers, and reunites with the Roman prince as well as Liu Yun (Craig Robert Fong), the Admiral of China to join forces to rescue the princess and fight back against the Geruda clan once and for all.

Director Yusry Abdul Halim, who previously responsible for the CICAKMAN movies, has spent two years of his life working on the project. All the hard works aside, the result here is terribly mixed. Yusry's direction is haphazard, as he juggles uncomfortably between historical subtext, action-adventure, drama, romance, mystical elements, and comedy.

The plot, written by Amir Hanifi and Yusry, is another weakening factor as they don't invest enough time to develop their story further. For example, we actually learns little about Merong Mahawangsa who claims himself as the descendant of Alexander the Great. That's not all -- the romance between Merong and Embok (Ummi Nazeera) feels rushed, while the one involving Marcus and Meng Li Hua is terribly awkward. Not to mention the draggy part in the scene where Merong is nursing his recovery process.

But the most disappointing of all is their decision to inject comedy element as well. Frankly, there's nothing wrong with the comedy as long as it flows naturally but here, it feels forceful. All the comic reliefs from the princess' maid, Ying Ying (Nell Ng) is terribly out of place and her character should have been edited out altogether. If that's not insulting enough -- how about this particular scene as well? Towards the climactic finale, two Merong's warriors decide to drop their swords and hug each other rather than fight to their death as more Geruda clan are approaching. (No kidding, it is that cringeworthy). And speaking of cringeworthy, the voiceover from the narrator of the Sultan that plays throughout the movie is simply annoying.

Despite casting an international range of actors, their performances are ranging from mere average to downright amateurish. British-born Stephen Rahman-Hughes' first big-screen performance is supposed to be his breakthrough but his acting feels too stagy, while his spoken Malay language is heavily-accented. The rest of the supporting actors are equally as mixed, with most of them are downright laughable the way they speak broken English either in wrong or annoying accent (e.g. Mano Maniam who plays the host in Goa, or Gavin Stenhouse's role as the Roman Prince of Marcus).

The least saving grace here is the technical value. Yusry made a smart move of enlisting Jackie Chan's stunt crew who previously worked on 2008's HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY to choreograph the fight sequence. Not surprisingly, the action are fluid and reasonably exciting. But here's the thing that really annoys me -- cinematographer Mohd Nor needs to balance the extended usage of fluttering shutter speed and strobe effect pioneered by Janusz Kaminski in SAVING PRIVATE RYAN (1998). At times, there are certain action sequences that looks awkwardly speed-up in motion. As an epic movie, Mohd Nor's camerawork is also strangely constrained with lack of wide-angle shot and majestic point-of-view.

The music, orchestrated by the renowned Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra (MPO), is decent enough although the supposedly epic-quality score hampered by lack of personality. Production design and elaborate sets with the help of CG are exceptionally good, at least by local standard.

Make no mistake, HIKAYAT MERONG MAHAWANGSA is certainly a hugely ambitious production but all the patchy results here makes this a disappointed outcome.

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