Prebet Sapu (Hail, Driver!) (2021) Review

The typically vibrant and bustling capital city of Kuala Lumpur gets a monochromatic visual treatment through the lens of Muzzamer Rahman, which marks his first feature-length debut (even though his supposedly second feature, a horror-comedy called Takut Ke Tak ended up released in the local cinemas over a year earlier in August 2020). The film is also selected as Malaysia’s official entry in the Best International Feature Film category in hope of being shortlisted for next year’s Oscars (94th Academy Awards).

In Prebet Sapu or internationally known as Hail, Driver!, the film follows the daily routines of Aman (Amerul Affendi), who arrives in Kuala Lumpur from his Pahang hometown to make a living. His recently-deceased father only left him an old car, where he decided to make good use of it to become an e-hailing driver for Toompang. Problem is, his car doesn’t meet the required standards and he has no official driver’s licence. He ends up paying a middleman (Bront Palarae) to obtain the fake documents so he can register the aforementioned e-hailing company illegally. Aman begins to work hard and one night, he meets a passenger named Bella (Lim Mei Fen) and they unexpectedly become friends.

Muzzamer Rahman’s decision to shoot his film in black and white not only reflects Aman’s colour-blind vision but also captures the urban despair and hopelessness of Kuala Lumpur city. No doubt that Fairuz Ismail and Hafiz Rashid’s atmospheric monochrome cinematography is worth praising here. Other than its cinematography, the film deserves credit for Reinchez Ng’s spot-on moody musical composition that complements the pessimistic tone of Prebet Sapu.

The film also reminds me of the kind that involves immigrant(s) or outsider(s) arriving in the US searching for the American dream. Except in the case of Prebet Sapu, we see how these two respective “outsiders” (Amerul Affendi’s Aman and Lim Mei Fen’s Bella) from Pahang and Penang trying their lucks in Kuala Lumpur. They hope for a better future, only to find their dreams are broken and unfulfilled. Take Aman, for instance. We learn he used to work as a writer for a publishing company but now, he has to settle earning a living as an illegal e-hailing driver.

Rahman, who wrote the screenplay as well, doesn’t shy away from depicting the harsh reality of the country we are living in these days. Relatable scenes involved everything from the unfair minimum wage to the exorbitant property prices and the impact of foreign workers dominating several job markets is simply too close to home.

Amerul Affendi and Lim Mei Fen in "Prebet Sapu" (2021)

If that’s not enough, the film happens to take place against the backdrop of the 2018 general election and the fact that whoever wins at the end of the day hardly matters. It’s all a smoke-and-mirrors political ploy that those with power and the rich rule while the poor ones, as in the case of Aman and Bella have to put up with whatever dire situations they are facing right now.

I also love how Rahman frame his characters against all the high residential buildings and skyscrapers seemingly dwarfed them. At one point, there’s even an expressionistic F.W. Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924)-like scene, where Aman becomes momentarily claustrophobic looking at the surrounding buildings in front of his car’s windshield.

Prebet Sapu benefits from the two central performances, where Amerul Affendi — in his rare leading role — and Lim Mei Fen as two unfortunate lonely souls struggling to survive in the big city. Not to mention they share great chemistry too.

As much as I admire Muzzamer Rahman’s promising debut, the film somehow loses its edge during the disappointingly rushed third act. Let’s just say the resolutions between Aman and Bella felt jarring and frankly, a half-baked result that should have been handled better. Perhaps the film’s otherwise compact 85-minute length could have used some additional scenes — and no, I don’t mean by spoonfeeding the audiences — to justify both Aman and Bella’s otherwise drastic decisions (again, you have to see it to know what I’m talking about here).

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