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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The premise adopts from legend where Emperor Jianwen of the Ming
Dynasty fled to this part of the world, in exile from his uncle who had
usurped the throne, and ties in with the voyages of Admiral Zheng He,
who had for many voyages here may be on a secret imperial quest to seek
out the descendants of Jianwen. Who knows that one such bloodline
happens to be that of Shi Duyao (Mark Lee), who is of royal blood that
he isn't really aware of, but having secret bodyguards surrounding him
in the form of wife Lichun (Yeo Yann Yann) whom he hasn't consummated
his marriage of 2 years, and other formidable warriors in the form of
fellow street hawkers Liu Kun (Namewee) and Wilson (Sunny Pang).
It's just the turn of the century, and in the olden days, hawkers in general have to pay protection fees to gangsters to ensure they get left alone. The opening is quite the hoot, with Duyao relying on his little street smarts to try and outwit a trio known as the Three Knives Gang with cameos led by prominent Malaysian director Ho Yuhang (as he did in Namewee's Nasi Lemak 2.0), and other dialect based gangsters like the Hokkien Gang (leader played by John Cheng) and the Cantonese Gang (leader played by Brandon Yuen). From then on the story took on proportions of its own, dabbling with casinos (boss played by Henry Thia), brothels (mamasan played by Berg Lee), two no good friends in Rajoo (Ramasundran Rengan) and Yong Kok (Alvin Wong), Japanese ninjas led by Xiaoju (Chris Tong) in an effort to seduce Duyao, corrupt English policemen such as Captain McBribe (Nick Dorian) and many more. Heck, they even threw in Dr Sun Yat Sen (Rayson Tan) for good measure!
And uniting all the plot threads and ensemble characters inhabiting this small town is none other than the evergreen, simplistic plot of having buried treasure and a treasure map that Duyao seems to possess, with everyone scheming and plotting to get their hands on, culminating in a multi-way full on battle sequence involving ninjas, a corrupt eunuch of the Imperial Emperor, and the ineptness of the British led police force in Malaya. At times the scenes led nowhere except to elicit some laughter, and for that purpose, most of the gags succeeded, relying on mo-lei-tau (nonsensical) moments, a very ADR-ed parrot, and the very overused catchphrase of "chi-tut".
Petaling Street Warriors may not seem much from the trailer, but this Malaysian film is steep in political and social allusions if you dig beyond its entertaining surface, and doing so without being overtly offensive in the points its trying to make, falling back on good ol' humour to diffuse any potential unhappiness. And casting is what this film had aced in its assembly of some of the best and brightest talents on both sides of the Causeway, with Mark Lee continuing to score as one of Singapore's best comedians with his pitch perfect comic timing and delivery, making him one of our best exports to the film market up north, with his mentor Jack Neo in one of countless of cameos by prominent filmmakers and actors, doing what he does best while he lies low after his fiasco - cross dressing, twice in the same movie.
Yeo Yann Yann had prosthetics to help make her more chesty and deserving a gag on its own early on, and plays a more serious character in the film compared to the others, having primary responsibility of caring for Duyao, as well as to secretly ensure he gets his nourishment (and chastity protection) for his self defense mechanism to kick in when required. Namewee in his first cinematic outing (Nasi Lemak 2.0 was made after this) played a martial arts exponent with a short tongue, being that tongue in cheek jibe for this professional rapper who had to stay silent for most parts of the first half. I had expected a lot more from Sunny Pang though, being a real life exponent to finally find a film outlet to showcase his martial arts talent (his Knife got stuck in development hell for the longest time) but alas didn't have much to do nor to show which is a pity. Perhaps there will be more luck in his other project with James Lee that I hope to see being released in the near future.
But that didn't mean that the action sequences were lacking. You can see influences from Hong Kong due to its choreography by Ma Yuk-Sing and the stunt crew from both Hong Kong and Malaysia, and the film's ambition isn't something to scoff at. There were times when the camera was pulled a little too close to the action to capture it effectively though, but on the whole, everything turned out quite decent rather than to look cheap with the employ of either too much wire work, or badly done CG. One may find qualms about the storyline bearing some shadowy semblance to Stephen Chow's Kung Fu with a good-for-nothing turned martial arts master and being in a setting where characters are more than meets the eye, but that aside, Petaling Street Warriors still managed to pull off something unique and Malaysian through its many visual references (oily man, anyone?) of its own, as well as implied criticisms, and self-deprecating moments.
Which brings me back to wonder whimsically when will Singapore be able to come up with something so effectively fun in our local productions this year. The gauntlet has been thrown. Recommended!
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