Prebet Sapu

Prebet Sapu: A Love Letter to Kuala Lumpur, Warts and All

Dept. of Cabbies and Call Girls


Years ago, I was among a group of people who were all heading to a photo exhibition in the city. We took the train, we got off at the Masjid Jamek LRT station, and in our 10 minute walk to Central Market, we paid very little attention to the world around us. Caught up in our own lives, either looking at our phones, or indulging in some inane banter, we neglected to notice anyone but ourselves. The homeless man sleeping next to the mosque. The lady and her son selling tissues outside the HSBC on Leboh Ampang. The foreign workers having lunch underneath the Medan Pasar Clock Tower. It was all just noise to us. The irony being that when we finally got to the exhibition at Central Market, one that depicted the “real” denizens of Kuala Lumpur, we would spend the next hour or so staring intently at artistically composed photographs of all the people we had just ignored. I thought about that day a lot while watching Muzzamer Rahman’s Prebet Sapu. I thought about how little we actually know about the city we live in. I thought about the different ways that all of us see and experience Kuala Lumpur.

Good art has the ability to touch us, and move us, and make us think. Great art can change how we see the world. Prebet Sapu falls somewhere in between.

It is the story of an unlikely friendship. It is a rebuke of our national discourse. It is a love letter to our city – shot in beautiful black and white and framed in a way we’ve never before seen on the big screen. It is one of the rare instances of Malaysian art that uses our beloved Kuala Lumpur in a meaningful way.

“Days Go On And On. They Don’t End.”

Prebet Sapu

Prebet Sapu centers around the lives of two strays, Aman (Amerul Affendi) and Bella (Lim Mei Fen), who are struggling to navigate the unforgiving practicalities of everyday living in Kuala Lumpur. He is a Pahang boy who comes to the city, after his father’s death, in search of a better life. Homeless and broke, he ends up becoming an illegal ride-share driver in order to make some money. She is a Penang girl, an international studies student by day and an escort by night. A chance encounter leads to a friendship that seems built around the solace that they find in each other’s hardship and misery.

The movie is set in 2018, against the backdrop of the last general election, which Muzzamer uses to drive home his point that our politics is pointless and that all the hyperbole about regime change, and making history, and a new Malaysia, means very little to the man and woman on the street. Aman’s constant gazing, out over the bones of the 70-acre TRX site, is a great visual shorthand to remind us of the lasting legacy of 1MDB and how everything new is, in fact, old.

Muzzamer is a fantastic visual storyteller. The way he captures Kuala Lumpur, always shooting it from the ground up, and keeping the glamour of the city just out of our protagonists’ reach, creates a real atmosphere of longing and despair. You can feel the oppressiveness of all of that concrete, and glass, and steel. There is purpose here. Unlike almost every other Malaysian movie, the sights of the city aren’t simply used to mark territory but to make a point.

The story may be familiar territory but it’s Muzzamer’s aesthetic, and how he uses it to create a unique sense of anxiety, that makes Prebet Sapu stand out.

“I’m God’s Lonely Man.”

Prebet Sapu

Amerul Affendi and Lim Mei Fen are both very watchable. They have an awkward chemistry that works well in creating a believable tension between them. Amerul in particular, who is in every scene, proves once again that he has the charm and the charisma to carry a movie. Given the right material of course.

If I had one nitpick, it would be in the writing. For me, there was a disconnect between the Aman that was portrayed by Amerul Affendi, the quiet, pensive, self-reflective kampung boy, and the Aman that we are told about, the writer who once worked at a publishing house. It was the same with Bella. She tells us that she’s an international studies student who makes light work of the tests she has to take, but Mei Fen’s performance still harks back to that old cliché of the hooker with a heart of gold. That discord in characterization felt a little jarring and pulled me out of the movie more than once. It is one of the rare moments in an otherwise nuanced movie in which Muzzamer tells us without showing us.

This is an unusual Malaysian effort, in that it actually deserves your time and attention. Much like Khairil M. Bahar’s Kickflip, this too is a movie which has something to say. It pulls you into an unfamiliar world and conveys its message with intimacy, refinement, and finesse. (I particularly enjoyed how Muzzamer uses radio and television broadcasts in order to illustrate his election setting.)

Prebet Sapu is an incredibly accomplished film for a first time director. It is also one with all the landmarks and shortcomings of a debut feature. There are times when it feels like Muzzamer is trying to do too much. It feels like he has all of these great ideas and he’s trying to cram as many of them as possible into this 90 minute movie. His ambition is praiseworthy, and he achieves most of what he sets out to do, but a tighter script would have gone a long way towards making this great.

Prebet Sapu will be in Malaysian cinemas on Thursday, December 16. Watch it early and watch it often. #PrebetSapuDuluBaruSpiderMan

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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