Zombi Kampung Pisang

Last year, Zombi Kampung Pisang (The zombies from the village of bananas) was one of the most commercially successful Malay films. Despite its relatively modest budget (1,230,000 ringgit, or less than 400,000 US$) Mamat Khalid’s film ended up as 2007’s third biggest grosser among national films in Malaysia. This success significantly dashed Mamat’s career, and allowed him to complete the ambitious Kala Malam Bulan Mengambang.
Zombi Kampung Pisang doesn’t waste much time before introducing the audience to its narrative core. The setting is a typical Malay village (kampung), isolated in the forest and deprived of coverage for mobile phones. An elder, Pak Abu, is scolding a group of young layabouts - among them is the main character Hussin - because they did not join the evening prayers. Suddenly, Pak Abu collapses to the ground. The swift intervention of physician Sufian and of bomoh (shaman) Jabit cannot help. On the contrary, Pak Jabit himself collapses while on the bedside of Abu, so that, in just a turn of the clock, the corpses become two. While the guys and the two seductive daughters of Abu, Maimun and Munah, are questioning themselves about the possible causes of death, the two corpses disappear. In a short while, Kampung Pisang (the village of bananas) finds itself swept by a raising epidemic that turns its dwellers into zombies. Those spared by the contagion, then, have to face the siege of human brains-hunger zombies…
As condensed in this manner, the plot premises of Zombi Kampung Pisang might remind you of an obvious Malay adaptation of Night Of The Living Dead. However, since the outset, Mamat Khalid plays instead the card of spoof and mad humor. The population of Kampung Pisang presents samples of absurd stereotypes (such as, for instance, a traditional dancer whose gestures are decidedly effeminate) that provide a somehow gallery of representative types in Malay society. Beyond the absurd humor (sometimes of difficult translation), local critics, in fact, praised Zombi Kampung Pisang for some sort of veiled critique of the social and political state of things in Malaysia. Take notice that these zombies gather up in meetings where some sort of political leader incites them with obvious slogans to the conquest of the country. During the film some never-coming governmental subsidies are also mentioned, while at times the national Malaysian flag unexpectedly waves during the struggle against the zombies…
Metaphorical readings put aside - readings that actually would bring the hilarious Zombi Kampung Pisang closer to the more serious classic by Romero - one has to acknowledge the qualities of pure entertainment featured in Mamat Khalid’s film. Some puns may not translate well and references to the local star system may result obscure, yet Hussin’s failed attempts at quoting traditional proverbs, his continuous stopping to try trousers, every time he finds some (Hussin all throughout the film wears the traditional sarong) and his exhilarating appeals to the audiences certainly don’t need any translation. Ah, pay attention! Not everybody should actually fear the zombies in Zombi Kampung Pisang: they are, in fact, only interested in some brains… you will see which ones!
Paolo Bertolin
Film Director: Mamat KHALID
Year: 2007
Running time: 118'
Country: Malaysia