In the midst of filming Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba last year, Zul Ariffin revealed he had dropped a staggering 12kg in preparation for his shirtless role in the project. His hard-earned physique was finally on display when the film premiered last week.

The 31-year-old actor responded coyly when asked if he was happy with how his body looked on the big screen: “Hard to say … (but) yeah, quite (happy). But I believe I can do better. I was only given four to five weeks (to prepare for the role). If they gave me two months, I’d be able to do even better.”

Zul’s commitment to looking more ripped was not for aesthetic reasons. In Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba, he plays half-man, half-mythical being Tombiruo, who, born with a disfigured face, lives in the jungles of Borneo. When a nearby village is attacked, and his father gets killed in the process, he goes on a mission to avenge his death.

As such, it was imperative Zul looked the part of someone who grew up in the wild. On top of that, he needed to get in shape as he was doing the stunts in the film on his own. “One of my most favourite scenes in the film was when Tombiruo had to dive down from a tree house, where he lived. They actually built a raised platform about six storeys high,” he recalls.

Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba

Zul Ariffin was hospitalised after suffering a leg injury during the filming of Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba. Photo: The Star/Ibrahim Mohtar

While Zul was committed to doing all the stunts on his own, a leg injury nearly derailed his plans. “On the second or third day of filming, I injured my ligament and was hospitalised. I was told to rest for two weeks. I was very frustrated. I even tried asking the director if they could shoot at a later time but they couldn’t,” he shared.

A stunt double stepped in as Zul recovered. The actor went on to perform about 95% of the film’s stunts.

Learning The Art Of Silat

Co-star Farid Kamil, who played forest ranger Amiruddin, was also heavily involved in a number of fight scenes. “I needed to understand the movements of silat sendeng to make the fight scenes a success,” Farid said, adding, however, he felt the emotional scenes proved more challenging than the action scenes.

Meanwhile, female lead Nabila Huda said she was glad to be given such an integral role in the film. Nabila plays journalist Wan Suraya, who believes there is more to the village attack. “Wan Suraya plays an important part in the film. She’s the one who finds out what’s going on. Without her, we won’t know what’s happening in the story,” she explains.

The Malaysia Film Festival Best Actress winner adds that she studied real-life journalists around her to delve into her character’s feelings and motivations.

Tombiruo: Penunggu Rimba

Farid Kamil (left) learnt the art of silat sendeng for his role as forest ranger Amiruddin. Photo: Filepic

Speaking of feelings, Zul had his work cut out for him, having to channel all his emotions through just his eyes, as Tombiruo hides his disfigured face behind a mask. “I felt nervous in the first week as I had to act with the mask on. But after that, it was OK. They’ve made the mask very comfortable actually. I was more concerned about the hair because it kept blocking my view.”

Asked how he feels about his face being obscured, the handsome actor replied: “Maybe there are fans who come to watch the show to see me but can’t see my face. But as an actor, it’s a good role for my career. I hope they would understand.”