The closing credits for One Two Jaga have just rolled, and for the first time in a long while, I was so impressed I felt a strong urge to applaud.
The portrayal of corrupt policemen on screen is nothing new especially in the West but Malaysian audiences will find a dearth of such characters in local movies and TV shows.
Which is why the release of One Two Jaga, directed by Nam Ron, is so significant. For what feels like the first time, a Malaysian movie is giving viewers quite an unbridled look into the life of cops – and it’s not always pretty.
Hussein (Zahiril Adzim) is a young, eager new recruit with an idealistic view of justice. He is paired with senior cop and father of two Hassan (Rosdeen Suboh), who takes him under his wings.
As the film progresses, Hussein begins to see that Hassan is a little jaded and suspects he has been taking bribes from small business owners in the city.
Meanwhile, in search of a better life, Indonesian immigrant Sugiman (Ario Bayu) and his sister Sumiati (Asmara Abigail) left their home country, working as a construction worker and domestic helper respectively here.
But when Sumiati’s employers begin to overwork her, she decides to run away. With her passport still in her employers’ care, she begs her brother to find a way, even if it means illegally, to send her back to Indonesia.
While patrolling the streets one day, Hassan and Hussein bump into Sumiati, which unwittingly sets off a disastrous chain of events.
One Two Jaga’s strength lies in its unhurried approach in developing and fleshing out the main characters.
For instance, the film spends a large chunk of screen time chronicling Hassan and his family going about doing mundane things.
While that seems inconsequential at first glance, these scenes slowly paint a picture of Hassan as a family man, trying to do his best to provide for his family.
Of course this doesn’t justify his corrupt ways. But it shows us a bigger picture. That Hassan, like all of us, is complex and multifaceted. The film also never tells us whether he is good or bad. That is entirely up to us.
This character development portion is, naturally, more slow-moving and dialogue-driven, yet it doesn’t meander or feel draggy. Any action sequences here is meant to serve the storyline, and is neither showy nor indulgent.
The Sugiman-Sumiati storyline is beautifully and heartbreakingly drawn out, but for fear of giving too much away, I’ll just leave it at that.
However, a third storyline, which centres on cash-strapped Filipino immigrant Rico (Timothy Castillo) borrowing money from a shady businessman, could’ve been left on the chopping board.
The film doesn’t dive deep enough into his struggles and motivations (perhaps to give prominence to the other storylines) so it’s hard to feel anything for him.
These rich, well-written characters would’ve been for naught without capable actors. The cast of One Two Jaga aren’t just capable actors, they embody their characters masterfully.
Zahiril and Rosdeen give subtle, nuanced performances while Indonesian actors Ario and Asmara are so sincere in their portrayals I got goosebumps.
A minor gripe I have with the film is its many bleeped out dialogues. While it doesn’t affect the storyline at all, the ear-splitting bleeps are frustrating as they are prevalent throughout the movie. Perhaps some dialogues could’ve been re-shot with a mass audience-friendly script.
Ultimately, I am most impressed by the movie not because of its boldness in depicting corrupt policemen but simply because it tells a story well.
As much as I wanted to, I didn’t clap for the movie in the end (I guess I was too shy), and have regretted it ever since. Hopefully, One Two Jaga is the first of many more local films I have a reason to clap for.
One Two Jaga
Director: Nam Ron
Cast: Zahiril Adzim, Rosdeen Suboh, Ario Bayu, Asmara Abigail, Timothy Castillo, Iedil Putra