There’s a soft spot I hold for indie-films, especially the ones that have to work with a limited budget. Some of them are misses, but the ones that hit the mark truly shine like Juno or Boyhood.
Making an indie film is the fiery crucible of what marks a true visionary. Strip away the Disney-sized blank cheques and meandering market forces, and we will see how well one fairs under pressure. Improvisation and creativity are essential if one wishes to survive long and well in this industry.
Independent filmmaker James Lee has thrown his hat in the ring, or art circle, with his latest film project, KL24: Zombies. Continuing the proud tradition of crowdfunding, he raised over RM200,000 for his most recent endeavour.
Joining him on the director’s chair and also co-writing the storylines are Gavin Yap and Shamaine Othman.
James is no stranger to filmmaking with works The Beautiful Washing Machine and Before We Fall in Love Again under his belt.
Zombies have been fixture in films for a long time. The genre trails all the way back to 1932’s White Zombie, was refined and popularised by 1968’s Night of the Living Dead and now applied to almost every spectrum of the media. The undead can be seen in comedies, fantasies, romances and action flicks.
So what does KL24: Zombies have going for it if it isn’t exactly breaking new ground?
It isn’t Malaysia’s first foray into this long decaying genre with films like KL Zombi in recent memory. It’s bright, it’s fun and it’s familiar.
The premise of the film overall is how Malaysians would handle the situation of a zombie epidemic. James makes a smart decision of breaking up the film’s plot into multiple sub-plots that slowly converge into the main narrative, making use of non-linear sequences and flashbacks to flesh the characters’ backstory and motivations.
One subplot follows the walking One-Malaysiaesque trio as they’re trapped in the middle of KL due to monster of a boss (*cough* foreshadowing).
Another follows the escapades of a dysfunctional nuclear family having an awkward dinner before finding relief in the midst of the carnage and chaos.
And for the most part this works very well in the film’s favour, giving enough time for the audience to connect and empathise with each of the cast members. Though the subject matter may seem grim, the film is still very much a comedy.
All the classical Malaysian tropes and local laughs can be found here, from kiasu bosses to awkward family reunions to stereotypical struggles of an interracial couple in 21st century Malaysia to the life and times of multiple wives.
The editing style and the tone of the film mesh well together. The film adopts at times an Edgar Wright-like approach to the way it cuts scenes together at breakneck pace that is juxtaposed by silliness of mundane situations much like scenes in Shaun of the Dead.
The film is on a budget and the visual effects show that. The wounds upon further inspection do have a papier-mâché quality to it and the blood a cherry red gloss.
Though the action at times can seem a little stiff, they are zombies after all; it is commendable that most of it is captured on screen in long, unbroken scenes with minimal uses of jump cuts and shaky cams.
This gives the audience enough time to soak in the gravity of the situation, something big-budget Hollywood films can learn from. The humour can feel heavy-handed at times but it never detracts from the main plot of the film.
James uses the scenes and subplots as form of social commentary of Malaysian life without ever sounding too preachy or irreverent. The tendency for some the cast to overact or behave goofily will require some suspension of disbelief.
Nonetheless, the cast give their all and you can clearly tell that they’re having fun with this project. That in turn makes all these little gripes bearable.
KL24: Zombies isn’t just another by-the-number creature-feature film. The charm and wit of the screenplay and cast more than make up for some of its performative and technical issues.
This isn’t 28 Days Later and it doesn’t have to be. All things considered, this is very impressive. It is films like these that make me proud to be Malaysian. You can catch it on YouTube here.
Feature Image Credit Screenshot From KL24: Zombies.