Directors: Siti Kamaluddin & Chan Man Ching
Brunei is a tiny Islamic monarchy located on the northern tip of Borneo, an island it shares with Malaysia and Indonesia. There were not many films to choose from. Despite Brunei’s extreme wealth as a producer of oil, not to mention the popularity of film-going among Bruneians, there have been only three locally produced films in the country’s history history.
The one I’ve chosen is Yasmine, the first Bruneian film ever to get a full, commercial release in theatres. There’s some really interesting talent behind this one: Siti Kamaluddin is Brunei’s first female director, and Chan Man Ching, who directs the action scenes, is best known for his work with the legend Jackie Chan. Yasmine is Brunei’s answer to American films like The Karate Kid, or any other sports movie about a likable teenage protagonist striving to be the best in their chosen discipline. In this case, it’s the Southeast Asian martial-art of Silat.
Yasmine is a stubborn and willful young woman who lives with her father, and dreams of representing her school in Silat in order to impress her crush. Along the way, Yasmine learns valuable lessons about friendship, commitment, and sportsmanship from the supporting characters. Her coach is a goofy and inept comic-relief character. Her Silat team members are good natured but unambitious. And her father, a strict but well-meaning man who unbeknownst to Yasmine was once a Silat champion himself, tries to discourage her to save her from the same failure that he experienced.
The wholesome family-fun of Yasmine comes as a relief after the bleak and disturbing City of God from my last entry. Yasmine is a familiar story, even cliche. It’s told in a way that’s charming and inoffensive, from the catchy Malay pop songs and jangling acoustic guitar on the soundtrack to the clean, Disney channel-esque visuals. Some will find it bland and unoriginal, others comforting and wholesome. For me, the touches of local culture were interesting enough to set Yasmine apart from other films in its genre. Despite any shortcomings, it’s hard to dislike a film that presents itself so cheerfully.