Helmed by the first winner of the BMW Shorties, Zahir Omar, Fly By Night is his directorial debut feature
Fly By Night is about two petty criminal brothers, Tailo, played by Sunny Pang, and Sailo, by Fabian Loo, who run an extortion racket in Kuala Lumpur through their taxi business. They are aided in their enterprise by Sailo’s wife, Michelle who picks the marks for potential blackmail; Gwailo, Sailo’s friend and a fellow taxi driver, and old family friend recently released from prison, Ah Soon.
The film starts with how the enterprise operates – a strategy that requires little additional planning, is effective, and also kind of clever – hands-off enough not to lead back to them. All the players need to do is stick to Tailo’s plan and be patient: small amounts to amass their fortune over the long term. But the yields are too modest for the hot-headed and increasingly greedy Sailo whose ambitions soar higher than his acumen and his side scheme to strike out on his own soon draws the attention of the tenacious Inspector Kamal, played by Bront Palarae.
From then on, it’s all downhill – for them, not the audience, fortunately.
Fly By Night is billed as a gritty, action thriller and it is all three, but not all at the same time and unevenly so. The violence was largely implied and off-camera but some of those scenes were blood-thirsty – and sufficiently slow to have got my feeble stomach churning and threatened my ability to remain in my seat. These were interspersed with several high points – burning sharp script, unexpected plot turns – and also some truly inspired action, including one of the best edge-of-your-seat chase scenes that compared more than a little favourably with something out of Hollywood. (Ya, it was that good).
However, they occurred in pockets as though created in isolation then later strung together to create the overall storyline and may likely have been because the screenplay was the collaboration of four writers. Zahir Omar originally co-wrote the script with Ivan Yeo with the input of Frederick Bailey and Dain Said following Yeo’s demise.
Great pains, aka the draggy bits, were taken to show that nothing is black and white and there are no victims in this tale of the seedy underbelly of Kuala Lumpur: every character has a “side”.
On the balance, Fly By Night was a well-crafted, polished movie. The story telling was nuanced and the plot seem to plod along the expected – until they weren’t – and those turns were what kept things interesting. While top billing went to the male actors, Bront Palare, Sunny Pang, Fabian Loo, Eric Chen, Jack Tan and Frederick Lee, the notable star turn was not from the male protagonists but from Reanne, a jilted mistress, skilfully played by Joyce Harn.
The film is multilingual, a mix of Mandarin, Cantonese and BM with English thrown in as the characters switched languages mid-sentence. The delivery could have become self-conscious and sounded forced but the actors made it realistic. For those not able to keep up with the constant language changes, there are subtitles in three languages: Mandarin, BM and English.
For a “gritty” film, there was a curious absence of profanity – not even a “bloody” (in the contextually appropriate midst of blood and guts), ‘damn” or any word remotely resembling a curse was heard nor depicted in the subtitles. Not that obscenities are necessary for a film but after the efforts made for realism in the characters speech, and more than a bit of gangland violence and some nasty gore, worse things have been uttered by twelve year old school girls – and these are criminals, a former convict, mafia-types, and streetwise police officers. Censorship gone too far?
Fly By Night goes on general release from 11 April 2019. Watch it.