Syamsul Yusof’s action film ‘Mat Kilau’ becomes Malaysia’s highest-grossing local film
Malaysian historical action film Mat Kilau: Kebangkitan Pahlawandirected by Syamsul Yusof, became the highest-grossing local film of all time in the Asian country, breaking the record set by the director’s own horror film Mounafik 2 in 2018.
Matt Kilau grossed $11.97 million (RM53 million) in 13 days in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei. While the producers only announce numbers for the three territories combined, local distributors say the film easily topped Mounafik 2, which grossed $8.5 million (RM37.74 million) in Malaysia and $10.8 million (RM48 million) in the region. He reached this figure despite his clashes Top Gun: Maverick Jurassic World Dominion and Minions: The Rise of Gru at the Malaysian box office.
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Produced by Studio Kembara and distributed by Skop Productions, Matt Kilau tells the story of a legendary 19th century Malay warrior, Mat Kilau, who fought against British colonizers and their high taxes.
The cast includes Adi Putra, playing central character Mat Kilau, as well as Beto Kusyairy, Fattah Amin, Yayan Ruhian and Johan Asari. Besides hitting the horrors Munafik and its sequel, actor-director Syamsul Yusof is also behind the popular Gangster KL franchise.
The film’s torrid run suggests the Malaysian box office is rebounding after two years of cinema closures due to Covid-19. Cinemas in Malaysia were forced to close in March 2020, and apart from a few small temporary openings, they weren’t fully operational until September 2021.
But Matt Kilau also proves controversial: local news site Malaysiakini describes it as a “film of ethnonationalism”, as the Malay characters are portrayed as heroes, with all other races, including the Chinese and Indians, playing the villains. Malaysia has a racially diverse population with people of Malay, Chinese and Indian descent, and ethnic tensions erupt from time to time.
Others compare the film to wonder movies and Mel Gibson Brave heart. Local film critic Zaim Yusoff said South China Morning Post the film’s success is due to its portrayal of Mat Kilau as a “relatable heroic figure”, much like wonder superheroes: “The masses love superheroes, wonder & CC the movies are proof of that. The narration is simple, the story of a betrayal between Malays, something that is relevant to the current political climate. The film’s lengthy martial arts action sequences also appeal to audiences.
Meanwhile, the local industry is divided over the subject of the film but relishes the success. The Malaysian box office only started to pick up late last year with Spider-Man: No Coming Home, which grossed around $10 million, but audiences weren’t showing up for local films. Adrian Teh’s action thriller The wizardreleased in May, was the highest-grossing local film before Matt Kilau with a gross amount of around $800,000 (RM3.5 million).
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