To be honest, I don’t usually watch Malaysian films. When Masumi asked me to recommend her any Malaysian films at the DVD store, I told her I don’t know what to recommend because as far as I could tell, contemporary Malaysian films are limited to sappy romance, silly comedy or horror. Some even combine the 3 genres into one story.
Today was different though. I had some time to kill and I thought, maybe I could watch a Malaysian film. After browsing on Iflix for a bit, I decided to settle on “29 Februari”.
29 Februari is a love story/musical directed by Edry Abdul Halim about a man who was born on the 29th of February, and only ages once every four years. It’s like the opposite of the movie Jack (1996), where Jack would age 4 times faster each year. 29 Februari was able to hold my attention for the whole 1 ½ hours. Okay, I took a nap in between because I was sick but that doesn’t count!
The story started in 1896, when Budi (played by Remy Ishak) was born. His father is working for the British in Kuala Lumpur. We view the world from Budi’s point of view, when even after 40 years, he looks like he’s 10 and was shunned by the other children for being “old”. In 1941, the Japanese invaded Malaya, the British forces were called to Singapore, Budi’s father was entrusted with the property left by the British.
What came next is perhaps the most devastating part of the movie, his father is captured and beheaded by the Nippon army. Budi is then raised in an orphanage and sells woven baskets for a living. One fateful day, on 31 August 1957 (he’s 61 at this point), he meets the love of his life, a Chinese girl called Lily (played by Jojo Goh). In case you haven’t noticed, this date was also the Independence Day for Malaya.
Budi and Lily fall in love and dated over the next few years. Interracial marriage was uncommon at that time and with strong opposition from Lily’s family, they were separated. Iflix didn’t have subtitles so I couldn’t really understand the dialogue between Lilly and her family.
Not wanting to go through the arranged marriage to another man, Lily runs away from home. Budi spends the rest of his life looking for her and eventually finds her in 2012 (he’s 116).
One look at this and you could see that it has a high production value. The setting, the backdrop, the props and costumes was on point. Even the insertion of the actual colorized footage from the formal declaration of independence was brilliantly done. I have not seen a lot of local films that are under the “Fantasy” genre so this was like a breath of fresh air.
My pet peeves about Malaysian films is the dubbing quality. Sometimes I can’t tell whether the characters are actually talking or the voices that we hear are just internal monologues. Sometimes their mouths don’t move but they are actually talking to another character.
Next, this is supposed to be a musical. And a musical it is just because the main characters sang a few songs. Or was it the same number over and over, I’m not so sure. The numbers were nothing memorable but it wasn’t as cringy as I thought it would be.
I just wished that there is more storytelling, like how did Budi end up opening a flower shop, or did he have any other girlfriends after that, or how did his close friend die. I don’t know, it just felt like Budi was a bit one-dimensional. And just when I thought that this story is going to be different, they gave me a typical Malaysian film tragedy ending.
Or as my mom would say “Sudah jatuh ditimpa tangga”.
I thought it was well-made but there are always room for improvement. So yes, I would recommend this to Masumi and watch her reaction to it.