Review: ‘The Big Durian’

Ambitious, sleek-looking B&W docu examines wide array of ethnic, religious and political divisions in modern Malaysia. Clever picmaker Amir Muhammad also narrates and appears onscreen. Will make good programming at any fests favoring Asian fare or boundary-pushing docus.

Ambitious, sleek-looking B&W docu examines wide array of ethnic, religious and political divisions in modern Malaysia. Clever picmaker Amir Muhammad, who also narrates and appears onscreen, pegs effort to October 1987 event in which a young Malay soldier, called Private Adam, shot up downtown Kuala Lumpur. Combining eyewitness accounts, talking-head observers of current life and stylistic space-fillers, such as self-referencing asides and animated segs, helmer casts net so wide he’s sure to lose some outside viewers. But “The Big Durian,” now having a Sundance bow, will make good programming at any fests favoring Asian fare or boundary-pushing docus.

Title, which refers to a large Southeast Asian tree with smelly but appetizing fruit, is applied by Malays to their capital — although the same is done by Singaporeans and Jakartans to their cities. Here, the title reps a messy tent holding natives together with Chinese, Indian and other communities, often with brief outbursts of violence. “Amok,” in fact, turns out to be a Malay word, and that concept permeates the pic, with its disorderly mix of straight-ahead chatter over-the-top visits from actors masquerading as private citizens.

The Big Durian

Malaysia

Production

A Doghouse 73 (Kuala Lumpur) production. Produced by James Lee. Executive producer, Sylvia Tan. Directed, written by Amir Muhammad.

Crew

Camera (B&W, BetaSP), Woo Ming Jin; editor, Terence Raj; music, Hardesh Singh; animation, Deepak Kumaran Menon. Reviewed on videocassette at Hawaii Film Festival (Cinema Asia), Nov. 9, 2003. (Also in Sundance Film Festival -- World Documentaries.) (Malay, Cantonese and English dialogue.) Running time: 74 MIN.

With

Amir Muhammad, Anne James, Farish Noor, Rashid Salleh, Nell Ng, Zaifeena Wan Nasir.
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