One Two Jaga (2018) Review

From TV’s long-running Gerak Khas to the recent KL Special Force, the oft-told subject of Royal Malaysia Police has been one of our local movie industry’s genre favourites for decades. But Nam Ron’s One Two Jaga marks a significant change of pace than your usual Malaysian police dramas. Believe it or not, this is the first time ever that we finally get to see the taboo subject of police corruption on the big screen — something that has been previously unheard of, particularly given our strict local censorship board.

The title, which actually refers to the local kids game involving cops and robbers, tells an interconnected storyline beginning with Sugiman (Ario Bayu), a single-parent Indonesian construction worker trying to help his domestic-helper sister Sumiyati (Asmara Abigail), who fled from her employer’s home and now desperately wanted to return to Indonesia.

Meanwhile, Hassan (Rosdeen Suboh) is a corrupted police officer who’s been secretly taken bribe money to pay his household bills and other hefty expenses. But it doesn’t take long before he gets caught red-handed by his newly-assigned rookie partner, Hussein (Zahiril Adzim).

Finally, there’s Rico (Timothy Castillo), a Filipino fixer who gets himself into trouble when his boss Datuk (Nam Ron) suspected he and his buddy, Marzuki (Iedil Putra) stolen some of his money.

This is not the first time that  Nam Ron handled a controversial subject matter, given his prior experience back in 2009 when he co-directed with Brenda Danker in the little-seen school drama Gadoh, which was banned for public screenings in local cinemas due to the taboo issue of racism.

In One Two Jaga, co-writer and director Nam Ron offers a stark contrast that made good use of its title to explore the meaning beyond the sole purpose of the otherwise harmless “cops and robbers” kids game. If you play the game before in the past, you know the rule is supposed to be as simple as black and white where kids pretend to be “cops catching the robbers”. But none of this is clear-cut in the movie, only morally grey areas and state of despair. In fact, this reminds me of Alex Cheung’s then-landmark 1979 Hong Kong gritty police drama known as Cops and Robbers, which also echoes the similarity between the two movies’ pessimistic depictions of their respective titles.

But as much as I appreciate Nam Ron’s effort for being daring enough to deal with the controversial police corruption in Malaysia, it’s a pity that the subject itself is mostly surface-level. This obviously has to do with our strict guidelines and creative limitations from both of our local censorship board as well as the Royal Malaysian Police on how a corrupted police officer should be presented on the big screen.

The story also feels rough around the edges and uneven at times, with some of the interconnected stories and multiple characters tend to be resolved in a hasty manner.

Still, One Two Jaga remains admirable enough for a local movie explored such a subject matter for the first time. The cast helps to offset most of the movie’s shortcomings with strong performances all around, particularly the two actors. This includes Rosdeen Suboh’s layered portrayal as the corrupted and morally-conflicted senior police officer, Hassan. Zahiril Adzim, who can be recently seen in the well-received iflix series KL Gangster Underworld, is perfectly cast as the brooding, straight-arrow rookie Hussein.

Helmi Yusof’s atmospherically bleak cinematography is equally praiseworthy, as he successfully captured the grits and grim outlook of the otherwise vibrant city of Kuala Lumpur, which perfectly mirrors the theme of police corruption as well as illegal immigrants.

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