Tuesday, September 28, 2010

THE JOSHUA TAPES - Sequel of Sorts to 'S'kali'

THE JOSHUA TAPES (local Malaysian drama)
Cast: Baki Zainal, Matthew Ho Tien Li, Phoon Chi Ho, Alfred Loh and Grace Ng Fei Fen
Directors: Arivind Abraham and Benji Lim
Writers: Benji Lim and Priya Kulasagaran from a story by Bahir Yeusuff and Keith Leong
Time: 93 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

Baki Zainal, Matthew Ho and Phoon Chi Ho in THE JOSHUA TAPES

PREAMBLE: First, I must declare a possible 'conflict of interest': I have a one-second cameo as the father of the title character of this indy movie. It is a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance. Other than that, I have no hand in its production. Thus, I leave it to the reader to decide if I am biased in this review.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The Joshua Tapes is the third feature of Arivind Abraham, after S'kali (2006) and 5:13 (2009). While S'kali, was about a group of friends facing the changeover from adolescence to adulthood, Joshua Tapes deals with three close friends as they set off on a road trip that takes them through the heartland of peninsular Malaysia. Parts of the trip are recorded on videotape, hence the title.

As Reza (Baki Zainal), Ryan (Phoon Chi Ho) and Ajeet (Matthew Ho Tien Li) head to the scenic East Coast in their Pajero, the journey takes a series of disturbing turns. Their own inner demons close in on them, the bonds of friendship that hold the boys together are tested to breaking point, leading them down a road of self-discovery.

HITS & MISSES: We are introduced to the so-called 'Joshua Tapes' early in the movie. These are shaky footages from a hand-held camera recording events involving the trio and the other members of their clique, Joshua (Alfred Loh) and Sam (Grace Ng Fei Fen). The footage helps to define the bonds of their friendship but the scenes may be rather confusing, given that they are also the pieces of the puzzle that make up the plot. Even so, many 'pieces' of the story are missing at the end, leaving us to guess what actually happened. And like in S'kali, many events happen off-camera (like the picnic at the river) and are left to our imagination.

Still, we feel the mounting pressure of the friendship as the road trip gets under way, when the inner demons surface. Again, one of the demons is alcoholism, as in S'kali. The performances by the lead cast are acceptable, since the boys are more or less playing themselves. Among them, Baki Zainal stands out as the 'joker' of the group. He gets most of our attention - and laughs. Phoon has a way with his eyes, especially when showing exasperation; Matthew Ho is a powder-keg waiting to explode, while Grace Ng plays the chirpy party hostess.

Those who have seen S'kali may recognise a certain 'waiter' (an uncredited Rohan Abraham) who seems to be moonlighting at every mamak shop. Co-director Benji Lim does a campy cameo as the grouchy owner of a sleazy 'motel', while Jaynarayan Menon provides comic relief as a talkative good Samaritan.

THE LOWDOWN: A suitable 'sequel' to S'kali.
(Picture: Director Arivind and 'Sound man' Sebastian Ng)


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