×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Bunohan

With a list of ancestors that includes Shakespeare, Tran Anh Hung, "The Godfather" and the Bible, "Bunohan" serves up a feast of archetypes and violence amid a story that twines like a basketful of cobras to deliver a movie that's ripe as a mango for a U.S. remake.

With:
With: Faizal Hussein, Zahril Adzim, Pekin Ibrahim, Bront Palarae, Namron, Wan Hanafisu, Amerul Affendi, Hushairy Hussin.

With a list of ancestors that includes Shakespeare, Tran Anh Hung, “The Godfather” and the Bible, “Bunohan” serves up a feast of archetypes and violence amid a story that twines like a basketful of cobras to deliver a movie that’s ripe as a mango for a U.S. remake. The border-hopping Malaysian plotline defies pigeonholing — it’s a fight film with echoes of “King Lear,” and a ghost story about living people who occupy the edge of existence. Specialty bookers could well be turned off by the brutal violence, but a dose of visceral horror is well worth the trip to “Bunohan.”

Helmer Dain Said mixes together magical realism, the kind of shocking mayhem reminiscent of Tran’s “Cyclo” and philosophical digressions that might throw another movie off course. But “Bunohan” (both a village in backwater Malaysia and a word for “murder”) never loses the fluid momentum Said achieves right from the opening moments, featuring a vicious Muay Thai fight-to-the-death in Thailand, in which the badly outclassed Adil (Zahril Adzim) is rescued by his best friend Muski (Amerul Affendi). This sets in motion a labyrinthine series of narrative connections which again, thanks to Said’s command of his story and medium, only tighten the film’s grip on viewers.

Popular on Variety

Because he’s betrayed the terms of the match, Adil has to flee Thailand, but hot on his heels is hired killer Ilham (Faizal Hussein, the Jack Palance of Malaysia), who’s been hired by the crooked promoter Jokol (Hushairy Hussin) to kill Adil. Ilham left home as a youth, so he doesn’t realize that he and Adil are half-brothers. The pic’s themes of patriarchy, familial betrayal, adultery and despair are served up amid myriad plot twists: Jokol, who’s trying to get control of a local fight club, is in cahoots with Ilham’s other brother, Bakar (Pekin Ibrahim), who is trying to get possession of one remaining piece of their father’s land, the one connecting his own acreage to the sea. This will allow him  to build a development that has already led to the relocation of graves — including that of Ilham’s mother. Ilham’s grief and rage are biblical, as is his taste for retribution.

Acting is uniformly excellent. The arresting photography includes the occasional trip into hallucination — Ilham’s sequence with a possessed bird, for instance; or a ghostly woman in a gown, wading through an endless green expanse of reeds. The interrelationships are knotty but well defined, the many grudges and grievances always clear. It helps that Said is telling a tale rich in literary allusion, but it’s also one aided by its contemporary references: While brothers Adil and Ilham are men of action, violence and basic principles, the loathsome Bakar, the educated one, constantly has a cell phone to his ear and a polo shirt tucked into his Dockers. He’s easy to hate; Adil and Ilham, despite their outward simplicity, are captivatingly complex creatures.

Tech credits are superb, notably the work of d.p. Charin Pengpanich. For the record, the film’s English title according to press materials (but nowhere onscreen) is “Return to Murder.”

Bunohan

Malaysia

Production: An Apparat presentation. (International sales: Easternlight Films, Hong Kong.) Produced by Nandita Solomon. Executive producers, Dain Said, Nandita Solomon. Co-producer, Tim Kwok. Director, writer, Dain Said.

Crew: Camera (color), Charin Pengpanich; editor, H.K. Panca; production designer, Said; music, Tan Yan Wei; visual effects supervisor, Adam Kitingan. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery, Sept. 9, 2011. Running time: 97 MIN.

With: With: Faizal Hussein, Zahril Adzim, Pekin Ibrahim, Bront Palarae, Namron, Wan Hanafisu, Amerul Affendi, Hushairy Hussin.

More Film

  • Macao Project Market Participants

    ‘Dear Wormwood’ Claims Macao Project Market Prize

    Philippines director Dodo Dayao’s supernatural horror project “Dear Wormwood” claimed the top prize on Sunday at the IFFAM Project Market, part of the ongoing International Film Festival & Awards Macao. “Wormwood” is a tale of five women living together in a remote house in the forest, where a mystery illness strikes one of the quintet, [...]

  • International Film Festival and Awards Macao

    Macao Industry Debate: Streaming Not Done Reshaping Indie Film Business

    New viewing habits brought on by the rise of streaming have hastened the demise of the mid-budget American indie, changed the very definition of arthouse cinema, and shaken the indie distribution business. But theatrical is still here to stay, attendees of the Macao International Film Festival’s closed-door industry panels concluded Saturday. Panelists gathered to discuss [...]

  • Arab and African Filmmakers Are Increasingly

    Arab and African Filmmakers Are Increasingly Focusing on Genre Films and Series

    2019 has been an excellent year for films from Africa and the Middle East, with a higher presence in A-list festivals, and kudos for films such as Mati Diop’s “Atlantics,” which won the Grand Prix at Cannes. The “new wave” of Arab and African cinema includes a small group of films that explore links with [...]

  • Producer Said Hamich on 'Zanka Contact,'

    Producer Said Hamich on Atlas Workshop Winner 'Zanka Contact,' Upcoming Projects

    Two projects from Franco-Moroccan producer Saïd Hamich won big at the Marrakech Film Festival’s Atlas Workshop this year, with the upcoming Kamal Lazraq-directed feature “Les Meutes” nabbing a development prize and the recently wrapped “Zanka Contact” winning an $11,000 post-production grant. “Zanka Contact” director Ismaël El Iraki was on-hand to present 10 minutes of footage, [...]

  • Major Film Festivals Are Becoming Key

    Major Film Festivals Are Becoming Key in Promoting Films From the Arab World, Africa

    Looking back at the lineups of key festivals such as Cannes and Venice this year, 2019 stands out as a banner year for movies from the African continent and the Arab world. During a panel hosted at the Netflix-sponsored industry event Atlas Workshops during the Marrakech Film Festival, Rémi Bonhomme, who works at Cannes’ Critics’ [...]

  • Robert RedfordRobert Redford tribute, 18th Marrakech

    Robert Redford Talks About Potential Next Film, U.S. Politics, Life Philosophy

    During a 90-minute onstage conversation at the Marrakech Film Festival, where he received an honorary tribute, Robert Redford spoke about his life-long quest for truth and freedom, and his political engagement through films, as well as a long-gestating project he’s considering producing, despite having announced his retirement. When he has spoken about the project, “109 [...]

  • For Sama SXSW Cannes Documentary

    'For Sama' Wins Best Feature at International Documentary Association Awards

    Syrian Civil War diary “For Sama” has won the best feature award from the International Documentary Association for Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts. The award was presented by Frances Fisher on Saturday night at the 35th Annual IDA Documentary Awards at Paramount Studios in Los Angeles. The first-time award for Best Director went to Steven Bognar and Julia [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content