Malaysian helmer Bade Haji Azmi’s souped-up actioner superficially resembles “The Fast and the Furious” with a touch of “Crash.” But tawdry multi-strander “Gangster” is rooted in native terrain: Dragsters race like a form of madness through the arteries of Kuala Lumpur for no discernable reason. Indeed, all the characters are carried away by one form of recklessness or another, the hectic, anxiety-ridden pace of the modern city sweeping away patience, process and logic. Lacking the elegance or irony of its brethren in the Hong Kong gangster genre, pic’s raw desperation seems unlikely to travel far.
The film, constructed as a flashback, opens on a traffic accident that directly or indirectly impacts all the characters, creating a point of intersection for their apparently unrelated stories. Glimpsed in brief shorthand, each plot barely registers.
In one, a rich kid is goaded into pouring more and more money into turbo-tuning his sports car for illegal races through the highways of the capital. In another, a ruthless loan shark pleads with a doctor to save his wife. In yet another, a young bartender falls for a drug dealer’s fatalistic girlfriend and tries to run away with her.
Bade’s emphasis is less on individual characters than on snatches of attitude and social revelations — recognitions of off-kilter situations and lives gone awry. A dying man asks for help and a desperate man takes his money. Only when it is too late are questions asked and choices reconsidered.
In the lurid nightscapes of Kuala Lumpur with its fantastical skyscrapers girded by fast-moving freeways, all human drama becomes diminished, the city’s heroes and villains interchangeable. Indeed, three of the key roles are played by the same man, Malaysian star Rosyam Nor.
Bade’s action scenes benefit greatly from the pic’s snapshot collage structure that does away with any contextualizing on-ramps or aftermaths to the big set pieces, presenting the meetings, chases, confrontations, gun downs and auto races head-on and virtually in media res. Decidedly kinetic, if not particularly inventively shot or edited, all action interludes convey a pressured, breathless, running-out-of time quality.
In “Gangster,” daytime scenes play like mere rehearsals or dry-runs for the neon-lit night. Tech credits are effective, pic’s garish palette and driving techno-beat at one with the coolly observed hysteria of its characters.