Editor’s Note: There are spoilers in this review. If you haven’t watched the film, we recommend that you watch Hail, Driver! (Prebet Sapu) first before reading this review.
It took Muzammer Rahman close to three years to write and film Hail, Driver! (in Malaysia, Prebet Sapu). However, in actuality, the film was actually eight years in the making.
Inspired by Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver and the aftermath of the 13th General Elections, Prebet Sapu is about Aman, a Malay millennial from a village in Pahang and his friendship with Chinese Malaysian escort, Bella.
Aman’s character is played by the talented Amerul Affendi, who delivers an immaculate performance of desperate innocence in portraying a newly orphaned adult, trying to stand on his own by driving an illegal taxi service in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
Bella is stylishly represented by Lim Mei Fen, a seasoned theatre actress breaking out onto the film scene. Bella is also an orphan of the city, although both her parents are indicated to be alive.
While the film features two main actors, the city of Kuala Lumpur vividly comes alive as a third, and significant cast member.
Aman is colour blind, which explains why the film is black and white. Yet, in a philosophical sense, the creative decision can also represent the black, white, and grey socio-economic themes courageously explored in the film. The fact that the story takes place during a Malaysian general election, is another rare, almost taboo breakaway from Malaysian film traditions.
The central premise is about a sense of belonging – home – and it’s here that the low-budget film succeeds to deliver bold and nuanced punches that are in reference to the casual racism and classism in Malaysia, commonly left out in local films.
The sentiment of the marhaen or the common Malaysian comes through in the conversation Aman has with his passengers, who are KL dwellers, old and new.
The familiar sights and sounds of Kuala Lumpur are brought to life by Fairuz Ismail and Hafiz Rashid and strung together by Kamil Hashim’s edits.
At some level, the dialogues also hint at Malaysian sentiments on immigration that is commonly interlaced with disgruntlement towards the political powers that be.
Prebet Sapu wouldn’t have been as memorable if not for Reinchez Ng’s haunting film score and production designer, Edward Chee Boon’s eye for KL’s gritty landscape. Both creatives successfully distilled the haunting vibe of Kuala Lumpur into an audio-visual delight.
Prebet Sapu is a production by Azharul Azmir Kamarulzaman, Bebbra Mailin, and Muzammer, that holds high promise yet also comes with its set of flaws, a description that is also true of Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
Although the film presents a strong and mesmerizing audio-visual experience, with performance by solid actors, cliches in the script gave off an overall one-dimensional quality.
Perhaps a stronger script, even with sparse words, could have helped to flesh out the characters and bring out the many layers of Aman and Bella.
Having a better understanding of the character’s motivations would have lent more credibility to some of the character’s decisions, such as why would a young Chinese girl invite a strange Malay driver to be her roommate?
How did her sense of altruism triumph over every woman’s sense of self-preservation, what more in a city like Kuala Lumpur.
How does Aman, who reveals a pent-up rage and vengeful nature, readily accepts the predicament he is forced into by an escort pregnant with another man’s unborn child?
Despite the film’s stringent dialogue, however, Amerul and Mei Fen successfully draw in audiences to be invested in their fates.
If this reflects Muzammer’s intention to leave generous room for interpretation, then the director succeeds, as one leaves the cinema with some niggling questions.
Although, an example of that could be, “are young girls in KL truly selling their bodies and living in low-cost flats to survive?”
Such afterthoughts rupture the sense of relatability and realism that the film seemingly offers.
Our middle-class experience sows disbelief.
Yet, we also can’t help wonder if it could be true, that it could be more relatable for people in the lower rungs of the B40 experience.
Like Bella, our take is also that Aman’s life is quite “dramatic”.
Yet, perhaps our musings are only reflective of the very real chasm between the different classes in Malaysia. The fact is, Malaysia does have a class tier and a growing divide, and even discord, between the rich and the poor.
Finding a place to stay in KL and the expensive rates are definitely relatable. To some extent, so is sleeping in cars or laundromats and finding friendship and acceptance in the most unlikely of places.
Perhaps, KL is truly a city crawling with sugar daddies, sugar babies, and blameless humans engaging in illegal acts to get by.
Perhaps, the righteous anger of those living life in a Bangsar bubble is simply too black and white, and those from harsher backgrounds simply have to embrace it as a case of “colour blindness”.
One thing is for sure, Muzammer truly hits it on the head when he said his film will open the eyes of other filmmakers to the great potential of portraying Malaysia as is.
“This film is not perfect and has vast room for improvements, but I hope the future generation of filmmakers will see that it’s possible to make this kind of film, with its slow pace and interpretive storytelling style,” Muzzamer told audiences, during a surprise meet and greet at Seremban 2 recently.
The film is on the pulse of the current zeitgeist held by millennial Malaysians who struggle with the high cost of living and the unfulfilled promises of the politicians.
It’s a must-watch Malaysian film for the potential and creative inspiration it represents for local filmmakers interested to depict authentic slice-of lives. Its shortcomings can be easily forgiven due to the film’s courage to explore touchy subjects, where few Malaysians have gone before.
Prebet Sapu might be representing Malaysia for a bid at the Oscars, yet, at home, it has already won the hearts of many. Including ours.
Images for the review of Prebet Sapu (Hail, Driver!) were sourced from Far East Film Festival 24.