Capsule Review: Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang (2023)

Is it me or Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang somewhat lacking promotion and awareness? I went to watch the movie on the opening day and there were only four audiences including me in the cinema. I originally have little expectation for Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang, especially after what I witnessed in the trailer sure felt like it was trying to capitalise on the success of Paskal: The Movie (2018) and Air Force The Movie: Selagi Bernyawa (2022).

But the movie turns out to be better than I expected. The story may have been deceptively simple: A team of Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) officers led by two lieutenants-in-commands, Hafiz (Saharul Ridzwan) and Melati (Julia Farhana) fighting against a group of pirates. And yet, these are not just your average vicious pirates. We first learn the pirates ambushed Hafiz and his fiancee, Nurul’s engagement party, killing some of the guests as well as kidnapping them and her family. This leads to a struggle, which ends up with Hafiz getting shot and falling into the sea. After he is rescued and nursed back to health, he subsequently heads the team on a search-and-rescue mission to save Nurul and her family.

Up until then, the story sure looks straightforward enough except for the late Pitt Hanif and his screenwriting team choose to navigate the plot further in a few unexpected directions. The pirates aren’t there for the sake of ransom as they have another ulterior motive and this is where the movie gets interesting. Using the sly concept of a bait-and-switch narrative, let’s just say nothing is what it seems. Frankly, such an approach feels familiar if you have seen some of the Hollywood movies in the past that the movie — indirectly or otherwise — pays homage to the likes of The Usual Suspects (1995) and even Skyfall (2012), just to name a few.

A scene from "Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang" (2023)

The movie is also pacey enough to keep you intrigued throughout its 90-minute runtime, even though there are some questionable moments including a product placement that you have to see to believe it and a suspension-of-disbelief scene involving one of the characters. The action may suffer from the usual shaky-cam approach but at least Pitt Hanif does a surprisingly good job — this is his first but sadly final directorial debut after his tragic drowning incident on October 26, 2019 — in giving them a palpable sense of visceral and energetic flair. And best of all, it doesn’t annoy as much as the nausea-inducing camerawork seen in the overhyped Air Force The Movie: Selagi Bernyawa.

The cast deserves equal mention as well. This includes Saharul Ridzwan and Julia Farhana in their respective commanding performances as Lieutenant Hafiz and Lieutenant Melati. Adlin Aman Ramlie delivers a solid supporting turn as the psychopathic pirate leader, Samat while screen veteran Sabri Yunus steals most of the show as the cook in the maritime mothership.

Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang reportedly cost RM13 million to make and it shows, notably the extensive use of the military assets belonging to MMEA, which adds realism to the movie.