All for nothing

Indie movie becomes very successful, but still has many flaws


photo courtesy of IMDB

“Mat Kilau” could have been something great, but it wasn’t.

Jacob Hargens, Staff Reporter

It’s no surprise that indie movies have a smaller reach than the movies that are made by the biggest directors and companies. But when Malaysian director and actor Syamsul Yusof got his second movie on Netflix, it was a huge deal. The only other movie of his on Netflix is “Munafik 2.

Released on Netflix in June of 2022, “Mat Kilau” is a mature action movie based on a true story, and produced by Studio Kembara. Mat Kilau was a real person who lived from 1866 to 1970, however, no other character in the film is based on a real person.

[Spoilers ahead]

The movie takes place in Pahang, which is a peninsula in Malaysia and immediately a small village gets invaded by the British. Toga (Yayan Ruhian), who is a native working for the British, says he’s looking for three people in the village, but there is no one there with those names. Those three men were lying but eventually surrendered themselves, two lives were lost in the end. Multiple people are protesting the British in the village but anyone who is protesting is getting shot immediately. I thought this was an extreme start to the movie, I wish I knew the names of these characters at this time so I could remember them when they show up again.

We move to a house with Usup (Khir Rahman), telling Mat Kilau (Adi Putra), Usup’s son, and his comrades that the British have been very greedy lately with Malaysia and they want to colonize them. There is a cut with the British leaders talking to the man who is being deployed in Malaysia, Captain Seyers (Geoff Andre Feyarets). Then it cuts to Seyers in Malaysia talking to Toga about their plan. I find it strange that while Toga speaks in a foreign language, Seyers speaks in English, yet they still understand each other. However, throughout the movie, Seyers speaks less and less English around Toga.

There is now a meeting with many powerful people in Malaysia discussing what to do with the British. Some want to fight them, others know that it is too dangerous. One man mentions that the one who should lead the warriors is Kilau because he is capable of doing so. But others think he’s too young for that kind of responsibility, when the movie takes place, Kilau is only 26. Ultimately, they choose Kilau to be the leader. Later that night, Awang (Fattah Amin), one of Kilau’s close comrades, was taking a walk by himself when he sees the British and their entire camp.

We cut to another village that the British are trying to take over but Kilau is there and we finally get to see him in action for the first time. I was a big fan of the fight scene here and Kilau was able to take down about 10 of the British soldiers. However, Awang tried to stop Kilau from fighting because he believes they shouldn’t be violent and try to “use their words.”

The British return to find out who was the one that took down their army because they don’t know who Kilau is. A fight eventually breaks out and Kilau and another comrade are both able to have Seyers and Toga by their necks. Awang shows up just as Kilau is about to kill Seyers telling him that they have no problem with the British. I’ve found Awang to be pretty annoying since he keeps trying to convince everyone not to fight the British, I think they should be fighting back.

Kilau and his group are wondering if Awang is being paid by the British since they never see him anymore aside from when they have to fight. Then, the British invade Wahid’s (Beto Kusyariy) house, where his pregnant wife lives. Before he and Kilau get there, the British kill his wife and child. They are just barely late, too, as Wahid was able to see it happen in real-time.

Kilau returns to Awang and asks if he’s happy now that the British killed Wahid’s wife. Kilau puts his knife up to Awang’s neck and Awang is willing to take his life. However, Kilau refuses and they make up, they are now ready to fight the British for the Malaysian land.

Kilau and his clan started with a sneak attack on a British base and eventually blew up dynamite they had which stirred into a huge fight. Toga runs to this base to start fighting Kilau’s clan. Unfortunately, Toga kills Usup, it doesn’t leave them at a disadvantage, but now a huge army of the British start coming. We don’t see any fight with them, as it cuts to Kilau and the others in a cave. This seemed very confusing to me, I don’t know how they got there or what happened to that base.

We come to a scene in a forest where many British soldiers are patrolling an area that turns out to have many traps set up by Kilau’s squad. All the British soldiers become victims and no one escapes alive. Only one comes back to Seyers with an arrow in his arm, warning him of Kilau.

Right after, Kilau and the rest come straight for the British for the last time. Out of nowhere, on both sides of the battlefield, British soldiers and Malaysian villagers come to help to fight in what is now a big war. Seyers tries to escape but Kilau is quickly following, not before being stopped by Toga, who manages to kill Yasin (Johan As’ari), right after dying to Kilau. Thankfully, after this, the war is over and the British lost. Then the movie ends with Seyers escaping.

Overall, my biggest gripe with Mat Kilau was the length. The movie is two hours long, which is way longer than it needs to be. Throughout the entire movie, the scenes cycle from the British talking, going to a battle, and then Kilau’s clan talking. This got extremely repetitive. I also found it very hard to remember who was who as there was nothing to distinguish between all the men. 

However, this movie was a huge success for both Studio Kembara as well as Syamsul Yusof as Mat Kilau has become the highest-grossing movie in Malaysia of all time. This is due in part to it releasing on Netflix, gaining a huge audience. So I hope in the future, Yusof can improve with their next movie, as this is the start of something great.