Indonesian film talents are set to go down in Brunei’s cinematic history thanks to their involvement in “Yasmine: The Final Fist,” the country’s first professional feature film.
Joining the international cast and crew of “Yasmine” are screenwriter Salman Aristo (“Laskar Pelangi,” “Ayat-Ayat Cinta”), actors Reza Rahadian (“Habibie & Ainun”), Agus Kuncoro (“Gending Sriwijaya”) and Roy Sungkono (“Dilema”), model Mentari de Marelle and up-and-coming singer and actress Maharasyi Hanza.
“Yasmine,” which follows the story of a girl who wants to be a silat champion, is set for a 2014 release.
Bruneian director Siti Kamaluddin said Indonesian and Malaysian martial arts are finally gaining attention in her home country. Brunei Darussalam, a tiny sultanate located on the north coast of Borneo, is one of the smallest countries in the world. Although Brunei has more land than Singapore, its estimated population is only around 400,000.
Brunei has produced local films in the past, Siti said, but none were made by a professional crew to a commercial feature-length standard. In the 1960s, the government commissioned a film but also demanded control of its message. Today Bruneians mostly make films for television and YouTube, or seek filmmaking work abroad.
“We don’t have the volume of people to support a film industry,” Siti said. “But now that people have more access to entertainment, they are interested in doing something creative.”
“Yasmine: The Final Fist” tells the story of Yasmine (Liyana Yus), a young Bruneian woman who wants to be a silat champion. She lives with her father, Fahri (Reza Rahadian), who raises her on his own. Fahri has a dark past that involves silat, and he does not want his only daughter to get into trouble by practicing the martial art.
To build a strong production team for “Yasmine,” Siti snatched up talents from Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong to come to Brunei for 45 days of shooting. She called the assembled cast and crew her “dream team.”
The film also received funding from the government’s Brunei Economic Development Board, a body that supports local businesses. The official launch of the film at the capital Bandar Seri Begawan on Friday was attended by Brunei’s minister of industry and primary resources.
“They are looking toward how we can develop industries that are not developed yet,” Minister Pehin Dato Yahya Bakar said.
Siti called the movie “an action [film] with a heart” that portrays “a Bruneian life.”
Screenwriter Salman Aristo said Brunei’s leap into feature films is further proof that the Asia-Pacific is preparing to become a major force in the world.
“We rarely hear anything about Brunei, and the people there probably don’t need to make movies to make money,” he said. “But the younger generation of Bruneians are beginning to feel the need to tell a story.”
When writing the story of “Yasmine,” Salman did encounter some cultural gaps.
As one of the richest countries in the world, Brunei does not struggle with infrastructure problems. But its people do struggle to develop the motivation to do better, Salman said. “Yasmine” aims to highlight what achievement means for Bruneians.
For actor Reza, the film marks a new beginning in his career. It is his first involvement in an international production, as well as his first action movie. To prepare for the role, he has been practicing Brunei’s version of silat, known as kuntau, with national champion Radin Syaiful. Syaiful is working with the film’s action director Chan Man Chin, who often works with Jackie Chan.
Leading lady Liyana said Reza surprised her during rehearsals because he spoke the Bruneian dialect very well.
“Bruneian is in between Malaysian and Indonesian but language-wise, it is closer to us,” said Reza, who will start shooting for “Yasmine” in April. “They don’t end words with ‘e’ like in Malaysian.”
“ Yasmine” will be Reza’s second time playing a father after the tsunami movie “Hafalan Shalat Delisa” (“Delisa’s Prayers”).
“Fahri is an obsessive compulsive,” Reza said of his character. “He wounded his friend with silat and I think his historical problems with this martial art make this character interesting.”
Producer Khairuddin Kamaluddin said it took more than a year to finish all the paperwork for the movie.
“We were on the right path, but it’s never been done before, so there were a lot of meetings,” he said.
Siti said there would be no computer-generated imagery in the $2 million movie. Instead, she is trusting her action director and cinematographer to make every shot work.
“We like it raw,” she said confidently.
As to whether she has any plans to shoot in Indonesia: “Definitely, maybe very soon!”