Director: Adrian Teh
Cast: Hairul Azreen, Ammar Alfian, Henley Hii, Taufiq Hanafi, Gambit Saifullah, Hafizul Kamal, Theebaan G, Jasmine Suraya Chin
RunTime: 1 hr 55 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 11 October 2018
Synopsis: Lieutenant Commander Arman Anwar is a Tentera Laut Diraja Malaysia (TLDM) Special Force PASKAL Operative; One with an illustrious service history. Having lost Arman’s father to the same cause, his mother has always been bitter about Arman’s choices and predicament. In one of his dangerous mission, one of his teammate died and another one was dismissed. Just when Arman decided to ask for transfer he is needed for one last mission that would change his world forever.
Count us mightily impressed by ‘Paskal The Movie’, named after the elite Royal Malaysian Navy unit known as Pasukan Khas Laut and inspired by real-life events that the special operations force was involved in. Largely avoiding the sort of heavy-handed flag-waving patriotism which such military films are oft guilty of, it showcases the tactical precision of these highly-trained team of soldiers, and depicts their courage, heroism and sacrifice in the line of duty. These are in plain and even remarkable display in the elaborate set-pieces which bookend the film, which not only represent a high water mark for Malaysian action cinema, but also are no less worthy of regard as that of much more lavishly budgeted Hollywood and even Chinese films.
Hard to believe that the director is Adrian Teh, whose filmography before this consisted of comedies like ‘The Wedding Diary’ and ‘King of Mahjong’, but Teh signals unequivocally that he is perfectly comfortable in action-movie territory, kicking off with a high-octane sequence on the high seas. From the point the crew of the cargo vessel Laurel 11 in the Gulf of Aden spot the Somalian pirates on radar approaching on three separate skiffs, Teh builds up methodically the sequence of events: the communication between Laurel 11 and the Royal Malaysian Navy ship Bunga Mas 5; the emergency measures undertaken by the crew of the Laurel 11 to avoid being taken hostage; the seven-men Paskal team led by Arman Rahmat (Hairul Azreen) boarding Laurel 11 and taking out the pirates one by one; and last but not least, a brief hostage standoff that is over as quickly as it emerges.
As it turns out, Arman also happens to be the main character of the subsequent story, which establishes that he had followed his late father’s footsteps to join the Paskals, much to his mother’s chagrin, and after coming home to find his mother alone and passed out on the dining table, he decides to write to his commanding officer Marzan for a transfer. Marzan agrees to put in a word for Arman to be a trainer in Lumut henceforth, provided that Arman lead his men on one final mission to capture the notorious pirate Rudi at the Filipino Market in Kota Kinabalu. What was supposed to be a straightforward operation turns out anything but, when Arman spots his former Paskal team member Jeb (Ammar Alfian) in cahoots with Rudi, especially given Jeb’s knowledge of their protocols and SOPs.
Even before that fateful reunion, a series of flashbacks convey the backstory between Arman and Jeb, who were fellow Paskal trainees with another buddy Joshua (Henley Hii) and were chosen at the point of their graduation to undergo further training with the US Navy Seals. Together with the Chinese soldier Han (Hollywood veteran Tiger Chen Hu), Arman, Joshua and Jeb were deployed as UN peacekeepers in 2011; alas, a skirmish with some armed hostiles led to the impulsive and egoistic Jeb inadvertently causing Joshua’s death, and Jeb’s subsequent execution of one of the hostiles at point blank, which led Jeb to be given a dishonourable discharge. Still bitter and even less restrained than before, Jeb threatens to harm Joshua’s wife Lily (Jasmine Suraya Chin) and two-year-old son Joey unless Arman butts out from investigating him further.
Not surprisingly, that won’t be the last Arman crosses paths with Jeb; neither for that matter can Lily avoid getting into their crosshairs, culminating in a hostage situation at an offshore oil rig off the coast of Sabah where Lily works. To rescue Lily and the rest of the crew of the rig, two teams of Paskal men will launch a pre-dawn raid against the pirates. Among the notable scenes within the meticulously choreographed finale are an open shootout on the deck of the rig; another below deck along the narrow confines of a corridor; a booby-trapped room with multiple grenades connected to one another via taut wires attached to their firing pins; and last but not least, a mano-a-mano knife fight between Arman and Jeb on a narrow bridge atop the rig. That last half-hour is intense to say the very least, and certainly a noteworthy achievement for Teh and his crew in terms of design, planning and execution.
If it isn’t yet obvious, there isn’t much story or character development to speak of, both of which seem to be in service of the action. Oh yes, there are hardly any surprises in the narrative at all, or any sophistication in the delineation between hero and villain, so you can see right from the start where it’s all headed. Besides Arman and Jeb, there is little we learn about the rest of the supporting characters too, and we could certainly do more with the sort of scene where Arman goes out with Joshua and Lily to get her wedding ring that shows the brotherhood among the Paskal team members. That Arman and Jeb make much of an impression is in large part credit to Azreen and Alfian, who play their respective archetypes convincingly and charismatically.
But insofar as profiling the heretofore little-known Paskal, this movie certainly does these unsung heroes justice. Much has been said about the training which the actors went through to prepare for their roles in the movie, and that preparation definitely shows in both their physicality and agility. Teh’s emphasis on authenticity also pays off, such that one never feels at any point during the movie that the portrayals are inaccurate or less than realistic. Certainly, if one of his objectives is to raise the bar for action movies in Malaysia, Teh has accomplished it handily, beautifully and even outstandingly. The action is adrenaline-pumping all right, but well-choreographed, well-filmed and well-edited to ensure suspense, continuity and sheer thrill. As far as demonstrating the skill, grit and bravery of the Malaysian armed forces, it sure beats our ‘Ah Boys to Men’ hands down.
(An impressive display of courage, heroism and sacrifice of its titular elite special forces, 'Paskal The Movie' also sets a new high water mark for Malaysian action cinema)
Review by Gabriel Chong