The Bungsu Story (2018)

Directed by Aznniel Yunus

Produced by Filterworks Productions and Lailatul Shazanas 

Written by Bash Harry, Zainal Bostaman, Ying Chia and Azeez Danial

Brought to you by Filterworks Productions and Lailatul Shazana’s, The Bungsu Story is being billed as a prologue to and reboot of the 2017 pilot. The episode follows a day in the life of Izzy and Hana, two law students at an unspecified local university, as they struggle to figure out what they want and how to go after it, with the support of loyal friends and the opposition of loving but baffled parents.

Izzy, played by Adi Nabil, wants to be a writer but struggles with both writing and putting his work in the public eye. Despite only attending one lecture, he’s ranked at the top of his class. His best friend Hakim signs him up for an open mic, and his father berates him for not taking his future seriously enough. Izzy is dreamy and unsure of himself, and Adi Nabil ably conveys that sense of fearful desire of wanting something too much and being afraid to go after it.

The Bungsu Story opens on Hana whaling on a punching bag, and that repressed, but uncontrolled aggression carries over to all aspects of Hana’s life. She is dismissive of her classmates’ invitations, calls other characters “lame” and is at contentious loggerheads with her mother. Safarah Nordin plays Hana as a realistically unlikeable young adult, unaware of how her self-absorption comes off, so that her misery elicits both sympathy and a sense of inevitability.

In a scene replicated from the original pilot, The Bungsu Story sets Izzy and Hana up as potential love interests, only to then pit them against each other at the close of the episode in competition for a “prestigious internship” at a law firm.

The Good:

The two leads, Adi Nabil as Izzy, and Safarah Nordin as the titular Hana, are at their best when sparking off their respective parents, veteran actors Tauffek Ilyas (of Ada Apa Dengan Rina fame) and Aishah Haji Sidek. Both of the confrontation scenes bring out believable frustration in the younger actors, and although the two older actors almost seem to be from a different, more melodramatic genre, they bring gravitas and depth to their characters. 

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There is also a notable performance from Nasruddin Azman, who plays Izzy’s loyal best friend, Hakim. Nasruddin, who can be seen performing in the local stand-up comedy scene, brings likeability and verve to the role.

The dialogue is a nice, authentic mix of Bruneian Malay and English, and I thought the dual subtitles of English and standard Malay were a clever touch. The cinematography is a joy – beautifully framed shots and a sense of balance and fluidity. The production value is high, and the theme song, Rasa, written by Juan Madial, remains wonderfully memorable.

The Nitpicks:

In The Bungsu Story, the two leads are meant to be law foundation students at a local university. UBD doesn’t offer law, and it’s clearly not UNISSA, as none of the students are adhering to UNISSA dress code, so it’s not clear how the viewer is meant to understand this university. Even if we are supposed to suspend disbelief and accept that it’s a local university that offers law, there are so many conventions that don’t make sense in this context.

This is frustrating because It’s not clear why it’s important to the story for the two leads to be law students. It kind of made sense in the original pilot, because Hana’s father then was an important member of the judiciary whose daughters were following in his footsteps, but in this reboot/prologue, there isn’t a narrative thread that necessitates the two leads being law students.

They could easily have been medical students (which is a course offered at UBD), or social scientists, or scientists. Or if they really needed to be Syariah students, then the costuming could have been changed. But given this is marketed as a Bruneian product, the choice to depart from believability in this context — in a way that doesn’t serve the overall story — is odd.

This is a small nitpick, and doesn’t detract from the general enjoyment of the episode, but it makes the point that many aspects of The Bungsu Story don’t hold up to scrutiny or in-depth discussion.

For instance, why is it called The Bungsu Story when one could argue that Izzy, who is the oldest child in his family, is just as central a character as Hana? The marketing for the show asked viewers to send in their stories of being “bungsu”, but this first episode, at least, has sidelined entirely the question of how being the youngest has shaped Hana’s motivations.

Other nitpicks: Why are these students still in class if they’ve already received their results? Why do university students have mock exams? Is it realistic to dress in a full skirt and short sleeved blouse to a family jemputan? Why is the apple pie significant, other than product placement? Does it symbolize a breaking away from tradition and expectation towards modernity? Not quite sure. Some of the loose threads from the original pilot have been tightened up, but other threads have come loose in the effort. These are all small details, but they’re the kind of details that add depth and nuance to a story, and reassure viewers that the fictional world has been lovingly and thoughtfully constructed. 

Overall

The Bungsu Story is bright, entertaining fun. Some of the creative choices and the story don’t hold up to too much questioning, but if you’re looking for some locally-flavoured screentime, it does the job admirably. I’m sure I’m not the only viewer wondering about when we’ll see the next installment.

The executive producer for The Bungsu Story, Aaqiil Ahmad, has said that the next purported step is to decide whether to develop the story into a full feature film or continue it as a mini-series. This would certainly I imagine, take the story in two different directions. Whenever it comes out though, I’ll watch it with interest, and I’m sure other viewers will as well.


The Bungsu Story is now screening at White Screen Cinema

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