“Crossroads: One Two Jaga” – 2018 Udine Far East Film Festival Review

Ostensibly the first serious Malaysian cinematic attempt at tackling the endemic corruption issue running through the social fabric of the country, “Crossroads: One Two Jaga” by screen veteran Namron is an interesting, though occasionally uneven, take on culpability, civil discontent, and the plights of those trying to survive in a broken system.

The film loosely follows an Indonesian immigrant family, focusing on their struggles while maintaining a close look on the intersecting paths of others, as the fates of all unfurl into a tragedy.  Sugiman (Aryo Bayu) is an immigrant from Indonesia living in the slums of Kuala Lumpur with his young son Joko (Izuan Fitri) and his teenage sister Sumiyati (Asmara Abigail).  He works as a handyman for a construction company under Pak Sarip (Azman Hassan), while Sumiyati works as a live-in maid for a local household. Detesting her poor treatment and lack of freedom in Malaysia, Sumiyati escapes her employers and returns to her brother, who now also has the additional woes of bringing her back to Indonesia – illegally, since she left her passport in her employer’s possession. Joko, who sticks around Pak Sarip’s ne’er-do-well son Adi (Amerul Affendi), looks up to him and his volatile ways, deriding the police as dogs and dreaming of taking down the system.

Amidst all these, we also have snapshots of other lives: straight-laced rookie Hussein (Zahiril Adzim), who discovers that his superior Hassan (Rosdeen Suboh) is as corrupt as they come and subsists on bribes from petty criminals, and Rico (Timothy Castillo), an undocumented Filipino immigrant on the run for stealing from his criminal boss James (Chew Kin Wah).  While investigating Rico’s case, Hussein and Hassan stumble upon Sumiyati, and start a chain of events that leads irrevocably into bloodshed and violence, punctuated by a car chase at Pak Sarip’s garage and an ultimate showdown between cops and criminals, with the innocents swept into the mix. Somewhat curiously, this narrative downward spiral is precipitated more by Hussein’s zealotry at upholding justice and shame at his bitter tolerance of his corrupt partner more than anything else; things had remained in a dreadlocked, uneasy though stable, peace before it was disrupted.

While only clocking in a trim 80 minutes, “Crossroads: One Two Jaga” suffers from uneven pacing and a shaky script that squanders its talented cast, a mix of veterans and promising up-and-comers. Despite an uplifting “justice prevails” ending, the treacly plot development means that much of the emotional bite has been defanged; when Hussein deliberates his statement at the end that concerns the lives of innocents, his internal turmoil does not come across as so much moral re-orientation as petulance.  A scene takes place where Sugiman has to reluctantly dispose of a matter of great emotional weight.  However, while Namron may have aimed for a stab at the complexities surrounding the contentious that is nuanced and understanding of moral grey areas, it falls a little short because of the effusive relationships that populate the film—more contrived than organic.

Though not without its occasional visual flourish, it is hard to discern whether the film’s general gracelessness is a result of a commitment to grit or a genuine lack of visual concern: the lighting is tinted in varying degrees of garish tones, the choreography of the melee sequences is jagged and animalistic, and the colours are muted without enough definition to make a statement.

Ultimately though, for all its cinematic foibles, “Crossroads: One Two Jaga” is a welcoming call to arms for more social indictments that need to be shown and watched. As a pioneer of its kind, hopefully a film such as this will go on to reflect and help to improve the realities from whence it was inspired.