Let’s take a break from talking about children being in danger in society to MEN PROTECTING SOCIETY FROM THREATS BOTH INTERNAL AND INTERNATIONAL.
All right. So, there is some expository text at the beginning. Pasukan Khas Laut, or PASKAL, is the Royal Malaysian Navy Special Forces, and was officially established on October 1st, 1982. Oh, so the 39th anniversary was just a few days ago. Anyways, their purpose is to fight against maritime terrorism. For example, in August of 2008, two Royal Malaysian Navy ships were passing through the Gulf of Aden between Djibouti in Africa and Yemen in the Middle East. Malaysian special forces were deployed to protect their ships and ships from other countries tagged along for protection. This went on for almost a year. There is more information, but I am skipping that to the cold open.
It is 2018 and four commandos have returned to their ship, the Bunga Mas Lima, with some fish that they caught. One of them mocks another guy for reading a book instead of…doing anything else, I guess. We learn a few of the men’s names, but the only one that we really need to remember for now is Lieutenant Commander Arman Rahmat. And, unlike certain other commandos, he is still unmarried.
The ship is heading towards Oman, where they will dock before heading back to Malaysia. Well, nothing happened. Again. I mean, this is 2018, five years after piracy in the area started to die down. What did they expect? The particularly mouthy commando starts to rant about how the higher ups should just send cadets, as no pirate would be stupid enough to attack ships that PASKAL is escorting when the alarm goes off. Oh, now he shuts up, after having jin.
Oil tanker Laurel 11 has spotted three vessels heading towards them that they suspect are pirate vessels. As maybe ten Somali pirates start to board the vessel, the tanker crew members scramble to get to the Citadel, a bunker in the ship where they can lock themselves in. The captain orders the helmsman to turn the ship towards the Bunga Mas Lima, and lock the steering.
Then the captain orders a man named Boon to kill the engine, turn off all of the lights, and join them at the Citadel. Boon turns off the lights but, unfortunately, slips when rushing down the stairs and knocks himself out. The captain tries to contact him on walkie talkie. But as the pirates close in, he has to go into the Citadel and lock it shut.
After a collective prayer, the sixteen members of the PASKAL team suit up. The higher ups back in Malaysia give them permission to head out to the tanker in two boats and a helicopter.
Meanwhile, the pirates go searching the tanker for whatever. Oops. They find that the steering wheel is locked. So they cannot take the tanker to their planned location. Then the phone rings. It is Commander Maznan on the Bunga Mas Lima, who says that they are heading towards the Laurel 11. The pirate shouts for $20 million, threatening to “kill all” if he does not get it, and then hangs up. Easy to say, but they still need to find a hostage.
Well, that settles it. Commander Maznan orders the chopper crew to fire I guess warning shots at the pirates that have remained on their larger boat. When the pirates retaliate, the chopper sniper kills the pirate helmsman as well as the guy behind him. One of the surviving pirates takes the wheel and steers the boat back to Somalia. With the “mother boat” no longer in play, the chopper team disengages and heads towards the tanker.
The pirates on the Laurel 11 learn that the chopper killed two men on the “mother boat” and forced it to turn away, but the leader doubles down on searching for hostages. They also see the helicopter approaching. What they don’t notice is the rest of the PASKAL team sneaking onto the ship from their two little boats.
Actually, all of the team from the boats are fully on the ship when they have contact with the pirates. During the first engagement, they manage to get most of the pirates, either through injuring them or overwhelming them into surrender. They get most of the rest in another engagement.
Boon manages to wake up before getting caught, and grabs an axe before making his way to the Citadel. But the two remaining pirates seem to be nearby, so he has to hide. When one of them seems to notice the door, Boon knocks him out with the butt of the axe.
The pirate leader, of course, notices Boon, and points his gun at him. Well, now there is a hostage. But there is only one pirate. And both of them are being so loud that the commandos can hear them. A group of commandos approach him slowly from the front letting him yell and threaten while one commando sneaks up behind him and wrestles him to the ground.
With the pirates all incapacitated, the rest of the crew emerge from the Citadel. The people back in Malaysia celebrate. Everyone, crew, pirates, commandos, go to the deck of the tanker. And after nearly twenty minutes, the movie finally reveals the main title.
Arman is on his computer at his desk…looking at an application for…transfer/termination of service as PASKAL? But why?? And is he going to send it?
The commandos have returned to Malaysia, disembarking from the ship and reuniting with their families by the pier. Arman bids farewell to his men. The last one asks if Arman’s mother is coming to meet him. Apparently not. The man leaves and eventually, Arman does as well…alone.
Arman goes to what looks like a fairly nice-looking house. He looks around for his mother, only to find her having passed out during her lunch. And she has injuHe wakes her up and runs around looking for her medicine. She gets it herself and tells him that she has learned to look after herself since he has not been around. I guess that falling asleep during lunch is not too much of an issue for her. Either way, Arman is so guilt-tripped that he does not even mention that she did not greet him.
Arman is about to do some laundry when he notices that his mother’s clothes have blood on them while his does not. Granted, his formal uniform is not his combat gear, but the contrast is still stark. He is about to talk to his mother about her illness, when she tells him that she has bought a burial plot close to his father’s. She alludes to a day when she would have died had Lily not been around…who is Lily? Whoever she is, she was around, unlike Arman…unlike his father. Both off playing hero until they die.
Oh, so now we flashback to 2009, when Arman is going through boot camp as a sub-lieutenant. And did he have the same mustache as he would have eight years later? They are doing that crawling under wire thing and some guy is shooting a machine gun above them. Arman gets his uniform stuck in the wire. Mohd Zarif, the guy behind him, yells at him to keep going. Another recruit named Joshua Tee comes up next to Arman and stops to free him from the wire.
Arman and Joshua finally make it out of the thingamee. They have just enough time for given name introduction before the drill instructor gets right in Arman’s face. Wait, is the drill instructor Maznan? I guess that it is. In any case, he tells everyone that it is time for rest. Oh, that’s nice.
Oh…well…that is not so nice.
Maznan actually asks the prospective recruits a pretty good question. This thing that they are doing right now really hurts. Why are they doing it? Because he told them to? Because he is their superior officer? But why did they put themselves in this situation where he could make them do this? Why did they sign up for such mistreatment? They could quit any time that they wanted to and, yet they are still here, with their foreheads on the ground for who knows how long. Of course, Maznan singles out Arman. Why is Arman here? Ready to sacrifice for the country, sir. That’s the RMN slogan. Why is he here? When Arman does not answer, the drill instructor pulls him up and yells at him again. Why is he here? To know what his father died for. A few others are so shocked that they break out of position, so Maznan yells at them.
In front of everyone, and in the same angry yelling tone, Maznan tells Arman that he was by Arman’s father’s side when he died. And that it was at his father’s request that he train Arman even harder than he had been trained. Well, I guess that that is settled, so Arman has to put his head back into the ground. I suppose that Maznan and Arman’s father were among the first generation of RMN troops.
Then comes a montage of training exercises and tests. Over it, the drill instructor says that not all of them will make it through the to become part of PASKAL. And we actually see a few of them give up.
Back at the barracks, we see a few of the men whom we had seen from the cold open. Imran, the mouthy dude, seems to have hurt his leg, but accuses the studious Shailesh of trying to disqualify him from…qualifying by making him go to the hospital. Adam thinks about a recruit named Bob, who had quit. Adam had figured that Bob would be the one who would do the best out of all of them since he was so strong, but Khairil argues that having God’s guidance is more important than simple strength. Imran, though, argues that Arman has an unfair advantage through his father’s genes. Is he serious or not? Who knows? But Mohd glares at Arman while doing pushups. Whatever.
Arman turns to Joshua, who is looking at a picture. He tells Arman that she is his girlfriend Lily. Well, that is Lily.
More training and exams. This time with guns. And more running and…oh, they passed. How many of them are left? Maybe a dozen? Two dozen?
There is a ceremony on the beach to celebrate the recruits entering PASKAL.
After the ceremony, all of the new members are with their family and friends. Except for Arman. His mother had phoned him to say that she could not come. Joshua and Lily seem to notice that Arman is all alone, so Joshua has him stand with them and pose for a photograph. They’ll be his family. Maznan approaches them and says that, while they can relax for the rest of the day, he has chosen them to be the three candidates to train with the SEAL Team tomorrow. Oops, no not Arman, Joshua, and Lily, though it may briefly seem like he said that. No, Arman, Joshua, and Mohd, who seems off by himself as well.
Arman accompanies Joshua and Lily as she checks out potential rings…wedding rings? While she is not paying attention, Joshua asks to borrow all the cash that Arman has on him so that he can afford the ring, and hand it stealthily so that she does not notice.
It is 2011. Arman, Joshua, and Mohd are taking part in a peace keeping mission in Angola. And nowhere near the coast it, appears. Actually, they are driving somewhere, following a truck. Along for the ride is Chen Han, a UN observer from China. Wait…is that Tiger Chen playing Chen Han? Huh. Okay. Also, he is speaking English when it was established that Joshua can understand Mandarin, though I guess that they are speaking in English for the sake of Arman and Mohd.
Speaking of Mohd, he starts to gripe. What is a soldier without a weapon? Arman reminds him that they are acting as peacekeepers, but Mohd says that the UN logo makes them an easy target. Meanwhile Chen and Joshua talk about Joshua’s little kid, Joey. And…okay, they are still conversing in English even though it is just the two of them. Whatever, fine. That was at least a briefly effective way to distract from the obviousness that Joshua is dead meat. And Mohd is still complaining about being in some faraway land trying to fix this country’s problems and not being given weapons to Oh Shit! GUNFIRE!
The driver of the truck in front of them, pulls out a gun, only to get immediately shot. The previously smiling civilians scatter as gun-toting men appear. Chen and the PASKAL commandos can only observe as the men grab a woman from the back of the truck.
Arman eventually gets out and yells at them. The others get out as well, and that is enough to get the gun-toting men to run and hide. Chen asks for backup on the radio while Mohd goes to check on the woman. Arman and Joshua check on the driver (dead) and the woman in the passenger’s seat. Oh, and a second woman and a boy also up front.
They escort the four back to the UN pickup truck, but Arman thinks that there is someone still in the truck. Over Mohd’s protests, Arman goes back and Joshua follows him. Arman was right that there was someone still in the truck, a woman with a gunshot wound. Unfortunately, Mohd correctly predicted that the attackers would realize that they are not carrying weapons. The attackers emerge from hiding and start shooting wildly as Arman and Joshua are escorting the woman to the pickup. The three of them have to hide behind a small stone wall.
As Chen repeats his request for backup, a couple of UN troops arrive and start shooting the attackers. Mohd runs over to the other UN troops and knicks a sidearm. Meanwhile one attacker tries to flank the UN pickup, but Chen wrestles him to the ground and knocks him out. Can’t bring Tiger Chen from China and not having do some fighting.
Mohd knicks a grenade and rolls it towards the attackers, and gets shot in the left arm for it. One of the attackers picks up the grenade and throws it back, also getting shot in the process. It ends up by the woman whom Arman and Joshua are escorting and Joshua jumps on it. Joshua saves Arman and the woman, but dies in the process. Arman cries over Joshua’s mangled body while Mohd goes into a rage. He goes up to two attackers and shoots one. The second puts his weapon down and surrenders. Mohd shoots him too.
Back at…I guess headquarters, Maznan is giving Mohd the business over killing a man who had surrendered. Point blank. In front of witnesses. Oh, it turns out that Maznan’s given name is also Mohd, but I am not calling him that. With his left arm in a sling, the younger Mohd argues that all of that could have been avoided had they had weapons to begin with. What kind of country sends its soldiers to die? Maznan is not having this. Mohd is dishonorably discharged. Mohd says that he gave everything, and this is what he gets. He takes his beret off and walks out. Arman has been sitting outside the office. He could overhear the whole thing, but it is unclear if he was listening. Mohd emerges and says that Joshua died in vain, not mentioning that he also died due to an insufficiently primed grenade. He warns Arman to leave as well before becoming a victim of this useless system.
Arman and Maznan go to Lily’s house to give her Joshua’s uniform and dog tag. They don’t have to say anything, as she breaks down crying. After that, there is a military funeral. And, apparently, Arman’s mother got to know Joshua’s family off-screen.
Back to 2018. Arman is looking at a photograph of himself with Joshua and Mohd. He opens up his laptop where the letter of transfer remains unsent. He sends it and closes the laptop.
Arman and his mother go to see Lily and Joey, who is now around 9. He considers them to be his uncle and grandmother. Lily appears, and…the look that she and Arman exchange seems uncertain.
Oh, it appears that Arman’s mother is going to an elderly care facility. Lily and Joey were considered familial enough to accompany her there. The three remaining people go to a park where Joey plays with other kids. Lily has heard that Arman is going back to the training camp. Why is he still fighting for something that has taken so much and does not pay back?
Arman goes to see Commander Maznan. After some talk about Arman’s mother they get down to business. Maznan had said that he had been expecting this e-mail from Arman ever since Joshua’s death. But it has been seven years. Why now? For family, Arman says; whatever is left. Maznan is open about his disapproval, but he does agree to help Arman get a trainer position. But…he will need Arman’s help one last time. It is only for one day…in a tourist city about fifty miles from where they are now. It should be easy, like a farewell party.
This movie is directed by Adrian The and stars Hairul Azreen. If those names sound familiar, then that may be because the two would reunite the following year in the martial arts film Wira.
The first sequence of the movie was based on an incident in 2011, when piracy off of Somalia’s coast was still really big. PASKAL was on a peacekeeping mission in Angola in 1998, though I am not sure if there was any incident similar to the one shown in the movie. I suppose that they figured that they could set that part of the movie in 2011 with the handwave that something is always going on in Angola…ahem…As for the latter half of the movie, I think that it was completely fictional. Maybe it is very loosely based on something; I don’t know.
This movie is apparently the fifth highest grossing Malaysian film ever, making around $7 million on a $2.4 million budget. By comparison, the no. 1 film made $11.5 million on a $6 million budget, so I feel like PASKAL fared better simply by a budget/profit ratio. I am not sure if it was funded by the actual PASKAL, but at least two members played themselves in the movie.
Critic reviews of the movie were rather mixed and I can see why. The characters are rather thin and the side characters particularly rely on personality shortcuts. The relationships between various characters are not necessarily well-established. The characterization of Somalians and Angolans is…perhaps a little questionable. The appeals to nationalism and religious zeal can seem like rather cheap responses to difficult questions. Some plot developments, particularly in the second half, seem to be a bit of a stretch.
So, yeah, it is kind of basic military propaganda, complete with “civilians will never understand us” being said several times. Still, I gather that it was rather new for Malaysian films, which were more love stories. In that sense…you know, why not? A nation’s small movie industry needs to flex some muscle sometimes and this was Malaysia’s first real shot at it. And for what it was, I quite enjoyed it. Certainly more than I enjoyed something like Act of Valor anyways.
Honestly, I was not sure what I was getting into when I started watching it. So for all I knew, the tanker sequence could have taken up the entire film, and that would have been fine by me. What I saw instead was a coordinated systematic operation by a team. There was little flashiness…well, aside from that double kill by the sniper. There is more of an emphasis on communication and tactical cooperation than individual prowess, and showing off has consequences. Granted…some of that ethos goes out the window in the second half, to become a more straightforward action flick. And, well, it does that well as well.
So…if you want an action movie, then here is one. And…uh…you might enjoy it…yeah.
WTF ASIA 182: The Third Party (The Philippines: 2016, approx. 118 minutes)
WTF ASIA 183: Princess From The Moon (Japan 1987, approx. 121 minutes)