Dukun (2018) Review

Loosely inspired by the 1993 high-profile case of Mona Fandey, Dukun (or “Shaman” in Malay) follows the trial of Diana Dahlan (Umie Aida), a beautiful shaman who is charged for the murder of a wealthy businessman Datuk Jefri (Adlin Aman Ramlie) during a black magic ritual. Karim (Faizal Hussein) is later assigned as Diana’s lawyer and soon discovers her missing daughter, Nadia (Elyana) has something to do with the case.

12 years. That’s exactly how long most of us Malaysians have to wait to finally watch Dukun in the cinemas. In case you have been missing out, Dukun was originally set for release in December 2006. But the movie was ultimately banned due to the controversial nature of the story close to the high-profile case of Mona Fandey, which in turn, offended the Fandey family. The case famously shook the nation when the notorious shaman Mona Fandey brutally murdered local politician Datuk Mazlan Idris back in 1993. She was sentenced to death in November 2001.

Now that the movie has finally seen the light of day, here comes the all-important question: is Dukun worth the wait after a 12-year ban? Having seen the leaked version earlier this year, I would say Dukun was indeed a promising horror-thriller for Dain Said, who was then making his feature-length directorial debut back in 2006. But the leaked version wasn’t even complete, particularly the absence of a proper ending during the third act. As for the proper theatrical cut that currently shown in the local cinemas, it’s more or less the same. The only differences here are the minor cut of a gory scene (those who have seen the leaked version online would probably know what I’m talking about) and additional scenes that led to a proper ending previously missing from the leaked version.

What I liked about this movie is how Dain Said incorporated a courtroom drama rarely seen in a Malaysian movie in this otherwise straightforward horror-thriller. The numerous courtroom scenes are deftly handled, thanks to excellent performances from Faizal Hussein and Chew Kin Wah, who made quite an impression playing a no-nonsense prosecutor. The horror elements are mostly shown during the flashbacks, detailing on how Diana performing the black magic ritual with his assistant, Fadzli (Sofi Jikan, in a terrific minor role) which resulted in the brutal death of Datuk Jefri. Speaking of death, Dain Said alongside cinematographer Cheong Yuk Hoy successfully captured the macabre feeling and atmosphere as well as a foreboding sense of dread with moody lighting. Even some of the gory set-pieces and gruesome crime scenes look convincing enough for a local movie that was already 12 years old.

However, I have a mixed feeling for Huzir Sulaiman’s screenplay. The movie tries to juggle multiple plot strands, alternating between the courtroom trial of Diana Dahlan as well as Karim’s personal quest to locate his missing daughter and a police procedural involving two police detectives (Namron and Bront Palarae) trying to piece the puzzle together on Diana’s case. Individually speaking, these scenes are competently executed. But seeing them as a coherent whole is entirely a different story altogether. Certain scenes either feel patchy or incomplete, with case in point being the late Ramli Hassan, who plays a private investigator assisting Karim to locate Nadia’s whereabouts.

Acting-wise, Dain Said successfully bring out the best in his cast. Apart from Faizal Hussein’s top-notch performance playing a conflicted lawyer and a struggling father trying to make things right, Umie Aida delivers a bravura performance as the manipulative convicted shaman, Diana Dahlan. She is definitely the scene-stealer of this movie and I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets nominated for Best Actress for the Malaysian Film Festival awards (FFM). Singer-actress Elyana, who was only 18 years old at the time of the production, also does a good job playing Karim’s troubled missing daughter, Nadia. As for some of the other supporting roles, Namron deserves an equal praise as ASP Talib while Bront Palarie brings a welcome comic relief (but thankfully, not over-the-top!) as Talib’s police partner.

Kudos also go to Umie Aida and Elyana’s “Merana Jiwa” (literally translated as “Suffering Soul” in Malay), a well-composed haunting theme song that perfectly complemented the tone of the movie. Although the massive anticipation surrounding the release of Dukun is actually overrated, the movie remains — as mentioned earlier — a promising effort from Dain Said.

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