Ever since Dain Said's highly-anticipated sophomore effort BUNOHAN (known internationally as RETURN TO MURDER) has made fascinating round in last year's prestigious Toronto Film Festival, this locally-made movie had been earning high praise from reputable top critics especially Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. And here it is -- let me just say BUNOHAN is simply a unique effort unlike most locally-made movie you often seen in the cinema. It's a kind of genre-defying movie that is deeply poetic and not the kind of a typical kickboxing movie you might expect at the first place (thanks to the misleading trailer campaign). Mind you, BUNOHAN is strictly an arthouse effort that is hardly mainstream and might bore off many casual viewers who are particularly impatient with meditative plot structure. It's certainly admirable, but not nearly enough to rank this as one of the best Malaysian movies ever made. More on that later.
BUNOHAN begins with a kickboxer named Adil (Zahril Adzim), who is badly beaten by a vicious opponent in a Muay Thai fight-to-the-death match somewhere in Thailand. Halfway throughout the brutal fight, Adil is quickly rescued by his best friend Muski (Amerul Affendi) and escapes to a nearby border back to Malaysia where they are subsequently seeks refuge in his hometown of Bunohan.
In the meantime, corrupted promoter Jokol (Hushairy Hussin) hired a killer named Ilham (Faizal Hussein) to track down Adil and kill him at all cost. Nevertheless, Ilham also ends up at Bunohan and subsequently discovers that he and Adil are actually half-brothers, which eventually made things all the more complicated.
Lastly, there is another brother named Bakar (Pekin Ibrahim), a slick businessman who is trying to get possession of one remaining piece of their father's (Wan Hanafi Su) land for property development purpose.
All three of these brothers are eventually crosses path against each other in Bunohan where family secrets, betrayal and conflicts come in place.
On paper, BUNOHAN sounds very ambitious enough but writer-director Dain Said, whose highly-controversial debut on 2007's DUKUN is banned in Malaysia due to its taboo subject matter on black magic, is sadly lackluster the way he weaves out his own labyrinth plot. Even though this movie meant to be very artistic, the overall narrative structure is haphazardly told while the slack pacing (especially in the middle) is painfully excruciating to sit through. There are some scenes which seriously needs a suspension of disbelief. Take this one for instance, when either of these three long-lost brothers are finally crosses path, we hardly see any surprises in their expressions -- which is frankly unconvincing. The kickboxing scene, in the meantime, is choppily edited and it seems that Said has little interest to craft out any sense of kinetic excitement at all.
Despite most of the glaring flaws, BUNOHAN remains worthwhile enough to watch for. Acting are top-notch, with Faizal Hussein gives a tour de force performance as a vicious killer who is subsequently reveals his soft side of human conscience once he returns to Bunohan to hunt down Adil. As for Adil, Zahril Adzim is similarly excellent while Pekin Ibrahim almost steals the show from everyone with his perfectly sly performance as the self-centered Bakar. The rest of the supporting cast are equally great as well.
Let's not forget also is superbly expressive cinematography by Charin Pengpanich who brilliantly captured the sense of uncertain danger and despair by making full use of monsoon season in the rural countryside of Kelantan.
While BUNOHAN is far from a great movie one might expected it to be, there's no doubt Dain Said proves himself as one of the most exciting local filmmakers to watch for in the future.