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Movie Reviews

[NYAFF ’21] ‘Babi’ review: Controversial look at twenty year old race riot

The movie takes on heady topics.

Is Babi the most controversial movie playing at the New York Asian Film Festival? Well, it is banned in its home country of Malaysia. While its title means “pig” in Malay, it is also used as a racial slur. The movie is about a race war that took place at a high school in 2000. Things got so bad the government allegedly covered the up the incident. One of the producers of the film was even arrested for the unauthorized production and distribution of flyers. 

Director Namewee (who has also faced legal troubles over the film) recreates the events of the day while trying to get everyone’s side of the story. This gives the dramatic recreation a mystery-like feel. Babi repeatedly shows the same events, but through different eyes. It is a lot to throw a the audience, but it also helps build up the tension of everything that is happening.

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[NYAFF '21] 'Babi' review: Controversial look at twenty year old race riot

Babi has a chaotic feel that fits the narrative, but does not always work for the movie. The film is short, yet at times feels like it is too long. It is clear what the movie is trying to accomplish; it is a risky decision to take in all sides of the conflict instead of  highlight one. The issue is there is not enough material for a full movie. This does make things tedious at times. 

The script is willing to take on some very heady topics. Along with race, bullying, and sexual assault, Babi also tackles a corrupt government and police force. When a movie has that much to say, it runs the risk of some things losing their impact. That does happen here to an extent. The film’s saving grace is everything is done with such passion that is hard to look past anything.

The New York Asian Film Festival takes place from August 6 – August 22. Screenings are live and online.

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