J2: J Retribusi

J2: J Retribusi Really Wants to Be Die Hard in a Berjaya Hotel

Dept. of Hotstar's Hot Stars


J2: J Retribusi, the sequel to 2017’s J Revolusi, is one of three Malaysian movies that will skip cinemas and premiere exclusively on Disney Plus Hotstar. (The other two being Woo Ming Jin’s Zombitopia and Hairul Azreen’s Ada Hantu.) The movie sees the return of Zul Arifin as Jay Zulkarnain, an ex-UTK operative turned private bodyguard, who finds himself caught up in a terrorist attack at a hotel in Johor Bahru. And… and that’s about it really. This is a movie that doesn’t do anything beyond its one sentence elevator pitch. Which, in this case, is “Die Hard at a Berjaya hotel?”

Umapagan Ampikaipakan: J2: J Retribusi really wants to be Die Hard at a Berjaya hotel. What it is, however, is something far less exciting. This is a paint-by-numbers sequel that shoehorns a plot around a series of really uninspiring action set pieces, in some misplaced attempt at forcing an action franchise. There is nothing here that’s special in any way. This is as direct-to-video as they come.

Bahir Yeusuff: BUT, if you consider the last action movie we got from Malaysia that went to a giant international streaming service (*cough* Pasal Kau *cough*), this wasn’t “bad.” And do you know how I know? I wasn’t angry at the end of this movie.

You’re right, there is nothing new here. This is absolutely a paint-by-numbers action movie. BUT, at the risk of running your analogy to the ground, at least these guys painted within the borders and knew the right approximate colours. They didn’t try anything new or try to do TOO much. I was mildly entertained. I was mostly bored. But at least I wasn’t angry.

J2: J Retribusi

UA: Unfortunately, this is the bar by which we seem to judge all Malaysian movies. It passes muster as long as it doesn’t have us raging by the end of it. 

The first movie, J Revolusi, was terrible. It was an expected response to the success of Polis Evo, but one that failed to do what that movie did, which was borrow from the best, be aware of its limitations, and work within them to craft something that, while derivative, was incredibly accomplished and entertaining.

J Revolusi tried to ride that movie’s box office coattails, but the end result was a movie that had a muddled plot, terrible editing, and uninspiring action sequences. The production was so poor that the final set piece goes from bright evening sun to the murky grey of dusk in about five minutes. 

This movie is definitely an improvement on all of that. Though not by much. 

BY: Hey, small wins man! Small wins. Now, I didn’t watch J Revolusi (which is also available on Disney Plus Hotstar Malaysia), but I didn’t feel like I missed out on anything. Jay Zulkarnain is an accomplished body guard tasked with protecting the young daughter of a Datuk businessman, who happens to own the hotel where all this action is going down. Whatever.

I’m not quite sure how this movie both gets to the action quick while still feeling like it is three hours too long. There isn’t a lot of unnecessary set up, and the main plot kicks off about 15 minutes into the movie. That being said, once the action does start, there is some pretty good ass kicking. Again, I get what you mean by not being anything special, but at this point, all I want a Malaysian movie to do is to be competent. And J2: J Retribusi is competent. It’s nowhere near good, but it’s pretty close to good enough. Again, I wasn’t angry at the end of the movie. Low bar? Sure. But it’s a bar not many Malaysian productions meet.

Shooty Shooty Kabooms

J2: J Retribusi

UA: For me, Polis Evo and Polis Evo 2 are currently the standard bearers for Malaysian action movies. Both those movies weren’t afraid to challenge audience expectations. The writers spent time developing character. There was humour and heart. And the action sequences didn’t just devolve into two groups standing on opposite sides of the screen shooting at each other.

J2 – like so many of our movies – suffers from a failure of writing. And I don’t mean the dialogue or even the plot (both of which are incredibly basic by the way), but rather with its narrative arc as an action movie. This movie makes the cardinal mistake of action for the sake of action. There is no story to it.

When you watch something like Die Hard for example, or John Wick, or even a lesser example like Taken, there is a journey with regards to how your protagonist is brutalised as he makes his way through these bad guys. It’s not just violence for the sake of it. It’s violence as action, and agency, and character. It progresses the plot. And every one of those moments teaches you something new about the people on screen. 

We saw some of that in Polis Evo. More of it in Polis Evo 2. So it’s not outside the realm of what we’re capable of. This movie, however, felt like one flat note. Every character remained exactly the same from beginning to end. We knew everything we needed to about them from the first 15 minutes. There were absolutely no surprises. 

Now, I’m not saying I expected more. We’ve both been heartbroken enough times by local movies to know better. I’m just saying that it feels like we never learn.

Let Them Eat Cake!

J2: J Retribusi

BY: This goes back to what you and I hear from established filmmakers all the time. This is what the audience wants. This is what they respond to. And I get that, but at some point there is a diminishing return to this. And we see it happen. The successful ghost movie spawns a massive number of ghost movies until the next race movie brings us all the other racing movies. And then the action movie, the rock comedy, and the action comedy. I have no doubt that J2: J Retribusi would have done well in cinemas. It may have even broken some box office numbers. But it would never ever make that crossover to different audiences.

In Hollywood, there is an expected breakdown of audiences, sometimes referred to as the four quadrant model. Boys, men, girls, women. Generally. Here in Malaysia, we have much smaller quadrants, and those are broken down by race/language, gender, and age. A movie like this will be primarily for the Malay market. But why not strive to be halfway decent and make something that will attract a few more quadrants.

J2 just doesn’t do enough in it’s writing. It isn’t skilled enough to have superfluous characters. A good writer would be able to have a pretty girl for no other reason than to have a pretty girl and make it work. Here, she’s just unnecessary filler. Jay Zulkarnain never loses. He doesn’t have “a walk on broken glass barefoot” moment. Hell, his shirt doesn’t really even get dirty!

J2 is competent, but I don’t know for how much longer that will be enough.

UA: Which feels like such a waste doesn’t it? Zul Arifin is charming enough on screen. Ashraf Sinclair seems like he was really enjoying himself chewing on the scenery. It feels like in the hands of better writers, you would have the makings of something that was, god forbid, fun.

Wither Local Content?

UA: You’re right about J2 being competent. And in any other circumstance, it would probably have come, made some decent money at the box office, and be forgotten almost as quickly. But with all the fanfare surrounding Disney Plus Hotstar, I think the question for me is why this platform needs to peddle the same mediocrity as every other local platform? It’s just more of the same. And we find ourselves stuck in an endless loop.

BY: At this point, I think it’s just Disney Plus Hotstar buying up whatever is available. It’s fairly obvious that the current line up is just content that is ready to go now. Populating the service with stuff that we already see on TV just screams desperation. Will all that change once they have to make some actual Hotstar Originals? I doubt it, but I sure as hell can hope.

At the moment, it feels like the people in charge at Disney Plus Hotstar really want to have Malaysian content on there just so they can say they have Malaysian content on there. So that they have some kind of a differentiating factor between them and the other international streamers. The short sightedness of that situation is that if they keep putting in bad content, then it will just end up like another tonton

UA: I think that’s where the outside perspective is necessary. I think most of us have lost faith in the idea that our local production houses are capable of giving us new and challenging content. They’re too afraid to take risks. And they’re too caught up in some outmoded notion of what our audiences want. 

If people like Disney Plus Hotstar, and Netflix, and Viu really want to blow Malaysian audiences away, they can’t just be yet another platform that houses exactly the same middling, uninspired nonsense we’ve been sold for decades. They’ve got to step up and push that envelope. 

And it’s not something that hasn’t been done before. Just look at Netflix in India. They tapped into a creative market there that was tired of the same old same old. They used the freedom afforded by their platform to tell stories that no one else in India was telling. (Sacred Games. Selection Day. White Tiger. It’s a very long list!) And audiences have responded. Not just Indian ones, but from all around the world.

BY: It is strange that Netflix Malaysia hasn’t tried to replicate the Netflix India model. Why not reach out to the Kuman Pictures guys? Their film Roh (which is excellent by the way) is on the site now and getting some good reviews internationally. Liew Seng Tat’s Lelaki Harapan Dunia is also an example of a great local production that should be given a chance.

UA: I think that might boil down to market size. 1 billion Indians, all of whom raised on a steady diet of movies and television, is enough to get any Hollywood executive frothing at the mouth.

BY: That’s true.

UA: So what do you think is next? I think it might be J3: J Revelasi. Nadi is now a teenager and heading off to university, and Jay is a lonely empty nester who gets dragged back into the game when his past comes back to haunt him.

BY: There is no way they can’t make that an action comedy. If it was on a streaming service that I’m already paying for, I’d watch that.

UA: How about J4: J Resolusi? And then J5: J RELOADED! You know it’s all coming.

BY: Soon to Disney Plus Hotstar Malaysia.

J2: J Retribusi is now streaming on Disney Plus Hotstar Malaysia.

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