Oct 21, 2018
We’re breaking format a bit this week to get caught up on an avalanche of unannounced Netflix Original titles that have mysteriously shown up on their service. I have been taking great care to try and review every Netflix Original film this year, and it has been a challenge to keep up. So, no Sponsor Sunday this week, but if you are interested in contributing to the podcast, head over to patreon.com/onemoviepunch and check out our sponsorship opportunities.
Today’s movie is “Pulang” (2018), the Netflix Original Malaysian drama directed by Kabir Bhatia and written for the screen by Mira Mustaffa and Ahmad Izham Omar. The film follows the story of Othman (Remy Ishak), a Malay fisherman, and his wife Thom (Puteri Aishah), from their beginnings, through World War II, and the mysterious events that occur when Othman sets sail to earn his family money and never returns home. Now, as Thom is nearing death, she asked her grandson Ahmad (Erwin Dawson) to track down what happened to Othman.
This was the first Malaysian film I have ever seen, and honestly, aside from knowing the name of the city of Kuala Lumpur, I know very little about Malaysia. So, this film was a delight for me to learn more about Malaysia, its majority Muslim population, and its very dynamic history between the end of colonization and up to the secession of Singapore. It’s important to note that this feature was a major investment for the Malaysian film scene, and is the family story of Primeworks Studios’ CEO Ahmad Izham Omar, the same grandson depicted in today’s movie. The film itself is not completely faithful to the actual story, but it is most definitely a well-made introduction to both the country and the film scene.
“Pulang” starts in the modern day, with Thom reflecting back on the first day she met Othman while caring for her dying aunt in the village of Serkam, beginning the first major act of the film, which serves as an overview of their courtship, marriage, a brief interlude in avoiding the Japanese during occupation, the birth of their son Omar, and eventually Othman’s decision to earn money abroad while sailing. It moves very nicely into a second act, when modern day Ahmad starts to put the pieces together, despite his father Omar’s dementia, based on some letters and writings he left behind. It’s an interesting mystery, set during a time when traveling abroad as a sailor or merchant marine was a long-term commitment, but one that paid very well for someone from Serkam, and with only scraps of paper to follow, we suddenly find out that Othman was living in Liverpool, England within a Malaysian sailors community in the 1960s. The first two acts are filled with sweeping shots, great effects, decent action, and keeps the mystery alive, including a harrowing trip by Thom to Hong Kong where she’s kept from being trafficked by Othman’s Chinese friend and fellow sailor, Lum (Alvin Wong), who also shows up in various parts of the story.
It’s when we get to the third act that the film begins to accelerate and unravel at the same time. Ahmad’s journey takes him to Liverpool, and he uncovers new and profound family secrets, as Thom’s health begins to further decline back in Serkam. It creates a melodramatic race against time, to uncover the whereabouts or the remains of Othman before Thom passes away, and when Ahmad returns with the truth, we have every single thread coming together in an almost saccharine manner, a little too Hollywood for its own good, and thematically out of step with the rest of the film. I only wish it had happened slower, so that the focus could be on the relationship between Othman and Thom, and not an attempt to beat the reaper.
“Pulang” (2018) is an epic Malaysian tragedy of errors, a story of a relationship between two people during a time of great upheaval, told across time and oceans. While it struggles with the ending, it does provide an inviting look into Malaysian culture and history, while delivering a dramatic story about life and love. Fans of international or historical dramas should definitely check out this film, and maybe a few other films in the Malaysian film scene if they can find them on streaming services.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 7.2/10
“Pulang” (2018) is rated TV-14 and is currently streaming on Netflix.