Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday Movie Theater: Ali Baba Bujang Lapok (1960)

Ridiculous slapstick fun

It has been almost a month since the last visit to Sunday Movie Theater. ^^; The return of this special segment this time will not only be about a really old Malay movie, it's pretty much a trip down nostalgia lane as well. ^^

Movie poster is from Wikipedia.

How to walk like a rich man? XD - One of the many funny scenes from the movie.
Video clip is from Youtube. Follow this link to the website if you can't see anything.

"Ali Baba Bujang Lapok", a 1960 Malaysian movie directed by P. Ramlee. Technical movie details can be seen on IMDB.

I first watched this movie when I first knew what a television is I suppose. XD Until now, it has to be one of my most repeated watches, which amazingly, is still fun and enjoyable each time I watch it. ^^ It's that magical charm that makes me feel "obligated" to include the movie in this segment.

As its name suggests, "Ali Baba Bujang Lapok" is based off the classic Arabic story of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves". Ali Baba the protagonist of the movie (played by Aziz Sattar) is not just a pauper, but a useless, lazy bum as well, who gets by in his life by constantly borrowing food from his greedy brother Kassim Baba (played by S. Shamsuddin). After his wife (played by K. Fatimah) threatened to work to support the family, Ali Baba travels to the mountain to gather wood (following the real occupation of the character in the original story) when he stumbled upon forty robbers lead by the "Chief" (played by P. Ramlee) who return with their loot to a magical cave that opens only a certain funny song is sang. Learning the song from the head robber himself, Ali Baba is able to enter the cave and returns home with a chest of gold coins enough to make him a rich man in the city. Upon learning the secret from his brother, Kassim Baba goes and greedily sack the treasure cave. With the cave closed by the returning band of robbers, Kassim Baba was beheaded. His body was eventually retrieved by Ali Baba, but the robbers has plan to eliminate Kassim Baba's family as well. After two failed attempts, the head robber disguises himself as an oil merchant and visits Ali Baba. His plan of having all forty robbers hidden in oil jars placed behind the house to strike at twelve midnight was foiled by the ladies of the house. The head robber himself was eventually killed by Kassim Baba's clever servant girl, Marjina (played by Sarimah).

Instead of following the the exact setting, the movie contains tons of slapstick humor inserted in the character design, dialogue, props - pretty much everything. XD There are many deviations from the original story, which are all done for the funny aesthetic of the movie itself. Regardless of the year the movie was first released, I could understand the humor very well and certainly enjoy it very much, and I'm pretty sure average normal audience could too. ^^ In the odd universe of this movie, there are modern vehicles like bicycle, scooter and lorry. Among the robbers is clearly a Japanese who dons World War 2 Japanese infantry uniform as his casual wear, carry a Samurai Sword no less. There are telephones as well, and oddly enough, many rich people know the robbers' "office number" so that they could arrange for planned robberies and kidnapping to run away from their creditors and even wives. XD The robbers work half day on Saturday and rest on Sunday. XD

Even for the city where the story took place in, if it's not mentioned towards the end of the entire movie, the whole story seemed like it could be set in old Peninsular Malaysia instead of Baghdad where the original story took place. ^^

Because of the nature of the story, which is just ridiculous jokes from the beginning till the end, there are many things which don't make sense, and I don't mean the anachronisms mentioned earlier on. Certain plots are just too odd: the scenes where the head robber flat out tells Ali Baba how to open and close the cave door on their first encounter, just because Ali Baba tells him that he's a reporter (Yup, you read that right, a reporter in Medieval Baghdad XD) is very strange. The ignorance of the head robber that Ali Baba won't use the chant to steal some treasures for himself is part of the jokes too I guess. Interestingly, that prior meeting does set up for two characters' "friendly" encounter at the end when the head robber disguises himself as an oil merchant. It's really not much of a disguise really, since Ali Baba still recognizes him as the head robber, yet naively invited him into his house. ^^ Those seemingly strange and unrelated events were linked together very well to support the entire story. This really showed the movie-making talent of P. Ramlee who wrote and directed this movie.

The mentioning of Ali Baba setting the servant girl, Marjina free because of her brave action at the end of the movie feels really odd to me as well, since she is shown to be treated with great care by the entire family, even by the greedy Kassim Baba himself, and she seems genuinely happy working for them. That could be omitted without changing the happy ending of the movie I think.

Together with some of the odd plot points, there are many scenes which are designed to be just funny and nothing else I think. The scene with Kassim Baba pretending to train with a barbell and the constant mentioning of belacan - a local shrimp paste throughout the movie certainly stand out as those moments. It can be a bit tiring to watch if you're not a fan of such excessive humor, but since the movie is just ridiculous through and through, I don't think it would be fair to nitpick on them by looking at the movie from a more serious perspective. It's not supposed to be serious - there's certainly no barbell or belacan in the actual story, so their existence in the movie is already a joke to begin with. ^^

Not mentioned earlier on, this is one of the four "Bujang Lapok" movies featuring P. Ramlee, S. Shamsuddin and Aziz Sattar. After watching the other three movies, "Bujang Lapok" (1957), "Pendekar Bujang Lapok" (1959) and "Seniman Bujang Lapok" (1961), my personal favorite is still "Bujang Lapok" (1957), as the three main characters' status as "overage singles" (the meaning of Bujang Lapok) is most prominently and funnily "exploited". XD For this movie, the "Bujang Lapok" title is clearly just referring to the three main actors who play the movies in the series, since Ali Baba and Kassim Baba are both married in this movie. ^^

On a more serious tone, since this is one of his many work, there's no way not to mention about P. Ramlee, the actor who played the head robber who is also the director of this movie. I always believe that Tan Sri P. Ramlee is the greatest Malaysian artist of all time. He was not just an actor and director, he was a movie writer, composer, songwriter, musician and singer as well, and he excelled in all those areas. He untimely death at the young age of 44 was a great loss to the nation. While it's true that he was suffering from a period of bottleneck in the last few years before his death, many artists managed to bounce back, stronger than before and shine again. Unfortunately for P. Ramlee, time wasn't kind in giving him that opportunity. It's very unfortunate for the great artist and those who enjoy his work.

Personally, I have pretty much watched all of P. Ramlee's movies throughout the years, with some stood out more vividly in my memory than the others. For his acting talent, I think "Anakku Sazali" (1956) in which he played both the father and the son is a highlight. For his performance in comedies like "Ali Baba Bujang Lapok", his portrayal as the lazy and downright useless Pak Belalang in "Nujum Pak Belalang" (1959) is my favorite. Not surprisingly, many of the cast members in this movie also showed up in "Nujum Pak Belalang", which was directed by P. Ramlee as well.

"Ali Baba Bujang Lapok" is not the best of movies in terms of artistic contribution, but a tremendously funny and enjoyable one undiminished by time and color (technology). XD I watched it many, many times in the past, and will definitely watch it many, many more times in the future. ^^

1 comment:

GunplaReboot said...

yat in sun mata kaji semar ngee seng!

rapo ngee seng smar ti lemmm!

don't forget the chants for opening the cave door