Thanks to the success beyond expectation of his comedy cantered on a Malay village hit by a mysterious epidemic that zombifies its dwellers, Zombi Kampung Pisang, Mamat Khalid could gratify himself with an almost unprecedented reward in the industry of mainstream Malaysian cinema. Thanks also to the progressive policies of Tayangan Unggul, the production company that more than any other in KL distinguishes itself for an attempt at innovation, Mamat could complete a dream project of sorts with his Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang, a gem of a film that sports a magnificent black and white cinematography, unseen in Malay cinema in, apparently, more than three decades. A luxury coherently bestowed to an enchanting pastiche of classic film genres that implements a thin – and openly preposterous – premise of film noir with elements from musical, horror and melodrama e melodrama by means of cinéphile finesse and mad weirdness. The final result comes to audiences as an unpredictably refreshing divertissement.
The film is set in 1956, on the eve of Malaysia’s independence. Saleh (played by an aptly cool Rosyam Nor) is an investigative reporter who has just been fired. After getting a flat tire over a keris (the traditional asymmetric dagger of Malays) that was sticking out the ground, Saleh winds up stuck in a village called Senduduk Rimbun. Digging up further, a corpse, who was brandishing the aforementioned keris, is found. Saleh takes hold of the dagger, which, at times, without any apparent explanation, becomes incandescent. However, this keris is just the first in a series of mysteries welcoming Saleh in Senduduk Rimbun. The village is an indeed eerie place; there, the soles forms of entertainment are the sleazy Jubilee cabaret and the services provided by the masseuses operating at the hotel where Saleh is staying (and 27-years old Saleh loses his jealously kept virginity with one of them – very much against his will!). In Senduduk Rimbun, more and more villagers vanish in thin air, apparently succumbing to a ghost, who used to be active on full moon nights only, but whose growing appetite seems to have led him to break the full moon ritual. Solving the mystery of these disappearances could provide to Saleh the perfect chance to win back his job. The mystery to unravel, though, is much more entangled than he thinks!
The curse of a shaman, an underground plot of the communist party, a very fishy and ubiquitous spiral sign (which reminds Saleh of a mosquito coil), Sikh spies working for the British government, a blood-thirsty tiger man; these are just a few pieces of the puzzle Saleh has to put into place. Not to mention that Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang features not just one, but no less than three femme fatales!
In this postmodern kaleidoscope, which nicely pays tribute to the golden age of Malay movies, Mamat Khalid manages to handle with a light touch the different cinematic registers he plays with, offering some gems of humor. The comic quality he displays is sparkled by visual gags (see Saleh’s ridiculous running gigs, supposedly justified by his hernia), as well as ignited by lines: Saleh’s punch on the “black and white age” he lives in is no doubt a strong candidate as this year’s best meta-cinematic joke! However, the true surprise lies in the final segment, where funny guy Mamat Khalid delivers a heart-wrenching finale with a ghost love story. A clear proof of Mamat’s talent and versatility; a talent making him one of the real discoveries of this tenth FEFF. We do hope Udine will just mark the beginning for Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang, a film that undeniably has all it takes to bring credibility and respect in the festival circuit not just to Mamat, but to mainstream Malay cinema as a whole.