Paskal: The Movie (2018) Review

Most of us have grown accustomed to watching Hollywood military action movies about special elite forces with the likes of Navy SEALs (1990), Black Hawk Down (2001) and Act of Valor (2012).

And now, it’s about time we finally get our very own and first special elite forces movie ever made in Malaysia. The result is Paskal: The Movie, where the title actually refers to the special elite forces of Pasukan Khas Laut (Naval Special Warfare Forces) operated under the Royal Malaysian Navy units. The movie itself is inspired by true events of Paskal’s two successful missions in Angola back in 1998, as well as the MT Bunga Laurel hijacking in the Gulf of Aden in 2011.

It’s hard to believe that Adrian Teh is calling the shots as the director of this movie. After all, we are talking about the same filmmaker whose forte mainly lies on comedy such as Ice Kacang Puppy Love (2010), The Wedding Diary (2012) and King of Mahjong (2015).

But he proves to be quite adept at directing his first action movie ever. Given its ample budget of RM10 million, I appreciate the way he aims as much realism as possible in every aspect of technicality to mirror the real-life operation and standard protocol of the Paskal team. This is particularly evident during the thrilling final action set-piece set in the oil rig, which also happens to be the biggest highlight of the movie. Teh also manages to capture the intensity of the Paskal training sequence, even though he shouldn’t have reduced them into a filler-like montage.

Now, for the story. I’m glad that Paskal: The Movie neither suffers from the cringe factor on national pride nor the heavy-handed, flag-waving patriotism commonly associated with the military action movie. Except for the fact that it lacks character development — something that Adrian Teh should have spent more time polishing Hairul Azreen’s leading role of Lt. Commander Arman Anwar as well as his fellow teammates. Which is why it’s hard for me to root with any of them, even when one of the characters sacrificed himself to save others.

Hairul Azreen looks the part as a Paskal soldier and certainly gave his all in his physically-demanding role, where he performed most of his own stunts. This actually isn’t surprising, given the fact that Hairul started out as a stuntman. And while he excels in the action department, Hairul’s acting is somewhat wooden whenever he requires to emote or engage in a dramatic scene.

As for the rest of the actors, Ammar Alfian and Jasmine Suraya Chin both deliver respectively adequate supports as the arrogant Paskal soldier, Jeb and one of the soldier’s (Henley Hii’s Joshua) wife, Lily. Namron, who can be currently seen in One Two Jaga, manages to leave a lasting impression in his otherwise minor role as Paskal’s no-nonsense commanding officer, Maznan. Too bad the otherwise talented Amerul Affendi is wasted in a thankless role as one of the movie’s main antagonists.

Despite some of the shortcomings, Paskal: The Movie remains quite an achievement and decent enough for a first-ever Malaysian movie about the nation’s special elite forces.

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