For movies aiming to share the transformative story of a child or teenager searching to showing their worth in a specific sport and learn some life lessons along the way, The Karate Kid is among the templates to abide by: from novice to champion, all with a little help from a charismatic trainer, and a dash of romance on the side. There is little doubt as to why the film is still cited today, especially by those from the generation that grew up with it. Brunei, a country not exactly known for a flourishing film industry, recently produced its very first effort that aspires to mainstream commercial success. Helmed by writer-director Siti Kamaluddin, Yasmine invites viewers to a familiar, heartwarming coming-of-age tale set in the world of the martial art silat.
The titular Yasmine (Liyana Yus) is a tempestuous young woman living in a single parent home with her loving if stern father Fahri (Reza Rahadian). With high school behind her, Yasmine hopes to be attending the same college as her best friends, until learning from Fahri that they lack the proper funds to send her to the coveted private school. Stuck in a public institution and having to make new acquaintances, the plucky protagonist discovers silat, a visually attractive form of martial arts through which she can finally express herself. Despite her father’s stern warnings against it, Yasmine enlists in her school’s amateur silat club managed by the aloof and lazy Jamal (Agus Kuncoro). With her two new partners (Roy Sungkono and Nadiah Wahid), Yasmine comes to rekindle her strained relationship with her father, learn the true meaning of silat, and come to better appreciate the power of friendship.
In all fairness, it’s natural for the filmmakers to have chosen to play thing safely with Yasmine. After all, this is the very first time that a Brunei film has made a legitimate attempt to capture and captivate a wide international audience. The idea was to make the best, most charming film they could whilst adhering to a story structure that many filmgoers can instantly recognize and feel at ease with. For what it’s worth, the people behind the movie understand what most audiences want, that being familiar stories that entertain and are simple to digest. While those seeking audacious, bold new entries in the action genre — and rightfully so — will be left wanting more after having seeing Yasmine, the plain and honest truth is that Kamaluddin’s picture is hard to resist.
Putting aside the plot of the film that can easily be predicted by even the most average movie fans, the film is buoyed by a charming gusto highlighted, for the most part, via its excellent cast. Liyana Yus is a captivating young actress, capable of convincingly balancing the many complicated facets of teenage and young adulthood. She gives in to a rebellious side but is also mindful of being respectful of her family and friends. When the prospect of actually winning an amateur silat tournament grows ever more prominent, her head is filled with steely determination to improve her skills, and she temporarily risks breaking the bonds she has formed with her new-found friends and seriously angering her father. It remains to be seen whether the actress or the film itself will reach enough considerable success for longevity, but it’s suffice to say that she equips herself nicely here. Much of the same can be said for her co-stars, chiefly Roy Sungkono as headstrong potential love interest Ali, Reza Rahadian as her father Fahri, and, most notably, Agus Kuncoro as the lackadaisical, aloof Jamal, the first of many silat instructors Yasmine crosses paths with. It quickly becomes apparent that Jamal hasn’t the slightest intent of actually demonstrating any silat knowledge, hinting at the increasing likelihood that he might not even know much about the sport at all. He is more comfortable when lying down with a paper fan and monotonously sharing extremely nebulous concepts that may or may not have anything to do with the sport at hand. As comic relief characters go, Jamal is aces.
On the topic of silat, the director pulled off a great coup by hiring Hong Kong action choreographer Chan Man Ching, known for handling set-pieces on films such as Supercop and Drunken Master 2. His presence on set definitely gives the film a significant boost for all scenes featuring the young stars performing martial arts maneuvers that balance grace and power. Silat is a form that encourages a lot of posing, lending it an attractive balletic identity. That said, when the time comes to land a punch or a kick it looks like being on the receiving end hurts like hell. Granted, this is not a film where characters kill each other but one where youths engage in a friendly competition. Still, the youth factor in no way takes away from the ferociousness of the contests themselves, as Yasmine sports some genuinely impressive battles that brilliantly communicate the intensity of the organized competition and the pressure such a stage puts on the shoulders of the hopefuls.
Archetypal characters, an easy to follow story, emotions that are worn on the film’s sleeve, and a soundtrack with easy listening pop rock are all featured prominently in Siti Kamaluddin’s Yasmine. Most have seen this sort of movie before, probably more than once. Credit where credit is due, however, as it should be argued that the filmmakers at least do a very nice job at making a film that can win over an audience, something not all films that follow such tropes accomplish. It’s like a familiar tune one has heard a number of times already but still puts a smile on one’s face.