Frontliner Is the Very Embodiment of Malaysian Mediocrity

Dept. of Malaysian Mediocrity


Frontliner could have, and probably should have, been an email. Maybe even a listicle. God knows that would have been more of a tribute to the tireless work that our frontliners have done over these last 18 months. In its current form, which can best be described as a series of bad public service announcements that have been strung together in order to make up a 90 minute runtime, the movie is more of an insult to the men and women who have put their lives on the line for ours.

It is inconsistent in its depiction of the work that frontliners actually do. It is factually inaccurate with regards to how the virus is transmitted. And it has absolutely no consideration for just how dangerous their lives have been throughout this pandemic, using their plight instead as the basis for cheap, clichéd, and emotionally manipulative melodrama.

The story (if we can even call it that) centers around the lives of three frontliners – a doctor and two policemen – and their respective families. We spend 90 minutes with them, being talked at about their individual struggles, and coerced into feeling their pain. Every single one of these characters are poorly drawn caricatures. Everyone speaks in platitudes, constantly reminding us at regular intervals about how hard their jobs are, and that this is a war against an invisible enemy. Their strife is so badly written, so poorly directed, and portrayed with such hamminess, that it ends up eliciting laughter rather than empathy. (There is one death at the end that is laugh out loud funny.)

Dan Lain-Lain?


And then there is the fact that Frontliner claims to provide a “Malaysian” perspective on the pandemic, but chooses to do so using only Malay faces, and tell Malay stories. The movie conveniently ignores us “dan lain-lains.” There is one Chinese name in the credits, but that actor has a bit part at best, and spends all of it covered from head to toe in protective clothing. The only Indian we see is a guy in the background receiving food aid during one of the movie’s many overwrought montages. Don’t even bother looking for a Sabahan or Sarawakian point of view.

Over the course of this pandemic, we have heard hundreds of stories from Malaysians of all castes and creeds, from East and West, and across all walks of life. Some of them tragic. Some of them heartwarming and life affirming. Stories of individuals striving against all odds to survive. Stories of Malaysians who have stepped up to help in any way they can.

Frontliner captures none of that.

Here’s a note. When telling a story that’s directly lifted from the headlines, it might be a good idea to read beyond just that headline.

This is the very embodiment of Malaysian mediocrity. These are filmmakers that expect your blind support. They want you to praise them for just how hard they worked at making this thing as opposed to the actual thing itself. Which is lazy, uninspired, and completely unaware of how movies should work.

The sad thing is that none of this is especially surprising. Remember that good Malaysian movies are the exception rather than the rule. So for all intents and purposes, Frontliner is pretty much exactly the kind of dreck you’d expect from a local production. It is also the kind of thing that would air the one time on RTM or TV3 and then disappear into that phantom zone where Malaysian telemovies go to die.

So why the fuck is it on Netflix?

Why, Netflix? Why?


I don’t know why streamers like Netflix and Disney Plus are so desperate for Malaysian content. Maybe they’re trying to bolster their stable of local movies and TV shows in case the government turns around and imposes content quotas and minimum spends. Maybe they feel the need to show their “support” for whatever market they’re in. Whatever their reasoning may be, it can’t possibly be rooted in the misguided notion that Malaysians actually give a shit. Surely not. Because let’s be fair, no one is paying for a Netflix subscription to watch Tangisan Akinabalu. Absolutely no one.

To be clear. We aren’t India. We don’t have a massive back catalogue of cinema and television that warrants celebrating. We don’t have an audience that loves local content, let alone anyone who is clamoring to consume it.

There seems to be zero discernment on Netflix’s part when aggregating Malaysian content. Which is fine really. If their end goal is to be a one stop shop for all of your entertainment needs, if their aim is to be the host with the most, then it makes sense to just throw anything they can get onto the service.

What doesn’t make sense, however, is why they don’t apply any kind of judgement or taste when it comes to acquiring Malaysian content.

I don’t believe that anyone at Netflix actually watched Frontliner before adding it to their service. They couldn’t have. There is no way that these “tastemakers” sat through this ill-conceived, half-baked, and poorly written bumph and thought to themselves: “This is amazing. Take our money.” We know that they know what movies actually are, and Frontliner barely qualifies as a PSA. God knows we’ve seen government propaganda that has more artistic merit.

Whenever a streamer like Netflix adds a movie that is this bad to their roster, it actually ends up doing the local film industry a disservice. It allows Malaysian filmmakers to believe they can continue to churn out such garbage and still have a platform for it. It further alienates an audience that is already utterly disillusioned with local movies and TV shows. By lending their credibility to movies like Frontliner and Pasal Kau, by assigning value where there is none, Netflix is doing far more harm than good.

Then again, maybe they subscribe to that old adage of there being no such thing as bad publicity. As I’m writing this, Frontliner is trending at #3 on Netflix’s Malaysian top 10. Maybe it’s all part of the plan. They know these movies are objectively terrible and are hoping for the inevitable hate watch and ensuing Twitter tirade. It’s a cunning strategy, but one that’s steeped in insincerity. Because then, it’s just Netflix is having a laugh at the sad state of Malaysian moviemaking.

An Utterly Shameful Movie


This entire experience was shameful. For me, for you, for the filmmakers, for Netflix, for the influencers on social media who were somehow suckered into saying nice things about it, for doctors and nurses, for policemen and policewomen, for mothers and fathers, for anyone suffering from anxiety, for everyone who has lost a loved one to COVID-19.

Frontliner is one of the most unpleasant, contrived, and artificial movies I’ve ever had the displeasure of watching. It is a simpering mess and offensive to anyone with half a brain. Don’t watch it. Instead, call up someone you know who is a frontliner – a healthcare worker, a member of the police force, anyone – thank them for everything they’re doing, and apologize for the fact that this movie exists.

Frontliner is (unfortunately for you, and me, and everyone involved) now streaming on Netflix. Don’t waste your time. It’s 90 minutes of your life that you’ll never get back.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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