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Figure 1 Ilham talking to Deng before Deng strikes him with a knife
Film Noir which means black films in French, was actually coined by a French film critics, Nino Frank in 1946, who began to notice that darkness, downbeat, mysterious and black themes could create a different and unique visual style in American films which were released in France following the World War 11. This style has been used in films to reflect the tensions and depression of the time during the war. Characters in the films during that time would show feelings and emotions such as fear, despair, grieve and paranoia to reflect that terrible War feeling.
However, film noir began and was only popular in America and in Europe, the style and characteristic of noir would have been just in the western context. Would it be possible if it could be used in Asian films? How would they film it? It would be interesting to use the style in Asian context. Then again, there is no specific definition for noir film and it is still being debated. ‘We’d be oversimplifying things in calling film noir oneiric, strange, erotic, ambivalent, and cruel’ (Borde & Chaumeton, 1955). However, Paul Schrader (1972) argues that film noir is not a genre, but rather is defined by more subtle stylistic qualities of tone and mood. He emphasizes that film noir depicts the specific period of film history, which refers to the Hollywood films of the 40’s which mostly portray darkness in the city streets, low key lighting, crime and corruption.
Therefore it is only a matter of time that Asian filmmakers started to use noir genre to create dark and hardboiled storylines for their films. There were not many noir films before but now the genre is getting popular especially among indie filmmakers. They usually express their grieves, sorrows and dissatisfaction towards the world using the noir genre. Dain Said, the director of Bunohan said in an interview at International Film Festival Rotterdam SlashingThrough ‘That is the backdrop of the film, I wanted to show the real world. I’m not against development of land but most of the time we have done it quite wrong’.
Dark, gloomy, mysterious, confusing would be the things you would describe the atmosphere in the film ‘Bunohan’. At first glance of the DVD, you would have thought it was going to be a movie about Boxers and immediately you would have predicted the storyline. However as soon as you watched the film, it will leave you speechless until the very end! In my opinion, my first time watching it, I would have have rated it bad for the first time. It feels like you just watched the scary tape from The Ring movie. But wait; according to other reviewers and critics of Bunohan, you need to at least watch the film two or three times to understand what is going on.
After watching it a few times, you realized the film is more than just violence, family tragedies and crimes. If you look closer at its cinematography, you will see the beauty shrouded behind the stark contrast and gloomy settings of the film. Bunohan, I have to admit, is one of a kind. You do not see this kind of film every day in Malaysia and it would have been considered as taboo or controversial if there are such films available. However, it did become controversial and that is why they did not receive so much attention in their own country. But they did attract attentions from overseas such as United States and few European countries that they received several awards for the film. It is acceptable in other countries as the style is normal to them compare to Malaysia.