The success of ‘Paskal: The Movie’ (2018) and last year’s ‘Air Force The Movie: Selagi Bernyawa’ have proved the trend of big-budget action movies revolving around Malaysian enforcement agencies continues to resonate with many local audiences. Now, joining the bandwagon is yet another local enforcement agency-based action movie titled ‘Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang’.
Just like Hollywood and China have their own coast guard movies, such as the Kevin Costner-starred ‘The Guardian’ (2006) and Dante Lam’s ‘The Rescue’ (2020), the Malaysian Coast Guard in question refers to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) unit. Right from the get-go, the movie doesn’t waste time getting down to business as lieutenants-in-charge Hafiz (Saharul Ridzwan) and Melati (Julia Farhana), along with their team on a mission to apprehend a group of pirates led by Samat (Adlin Aman Ramlie).
The story then shifted its attention to Hafiz and his fiancée, Nurul (Jaja Ilyes), as they celebrate their engagement party at a beach resort with some of Hafiz’s fellow officers (among them include Kodi Rasheed’s Mat Bon and Aman Nassim’s Jambu) attending as well. Then comes a group of heavily-armed pirates attack them and end up abducting Hafiz, Nurul, along with her family and some of the guests. However, in the midst of the kidnapping, Hafiz manages to escape while sustaining only some minor injuries.
What follows next is an inevitable search-and-rescue mission as Hafiz leads the team to track down the kidnappers, and for a while there, I thought this was going to be nothing more than a straightforward action movie. But the story surprises me with plenty of twists along the way, which is something I didn’t expect at all from this kind of movie in the first place. The twists/bait-and-switch narrative may look as if Allahyarham (the late) Pitt Hanif and his team of screenwriters are heavily indebted to some of the popular movies ranging from ‘The Dark Knight’ (2008) to ‘Skyfall’ (2012) and even, to some extent, ‘The Usual Suspects’ (1995) and believe it or not, ‘Mission: Impossible.’
And yet, the overall sleight-of-hand storytelling approach is effective throughout the movie to keep things interesting. It also helps that ‘Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang’ runs a lean 90-minute mark and maintains a mostly consistent pace. The subplot, including the obligatory drama and love story between Hafiz and Nurul, are thankfully kept to a bare minimum, but the movie could have toned down the visual appearance of the product placements. Not only are they simply distracting but also blatantly obvious to the point that the introduction of one of the product placements in certain scenes – well – let’s just say it was questionable and even unintentionally laughable.
‘Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang’ marks the first and, unfortunately, the final directorial feature for Pitt Hanif, whose prior primary works include an assistant director for ‘Lelaki Harapan Dunia’ (2014), ‘Pekak’ (2015) and ‘One Two Jaga’ (2018). Hanif was also responsible as one of the screenwriters for the latter 2018 film. The movie was originally helmed by Hashim Rejab, whose credits include ‘Papa I Love You’ (2011) and ‘Budak Pailang’ (2012), with Hanif as a co-director.
But Rejab was forced to depart the project due to a commitment issue, leaving Hanif to take over the movie as the sole director. He completed the shooting on October 24, 2019, but just two days after the production, Hanif’s body was found floating at Sungai Jelai, Kuala Lipis, while he was out fishing with a friend, and the boat capsized. It was a tragic death and a huge loss to the Malaysian film industry, considering Pitt Hanif is one of the most promising directors to look out for.
With a production budget that reportedly cost RM13 million ($3.06 million) – a huge amount by Malaysian film standards and among the most expensive local movies ever made, the action is thrillingly staged with enough visceral flair, even though the usual reliance on some of the jittery camerawork and rapid-fire editing can be annoying at times.
But they are tolerable enough without resulting the action set pieces into a nauseating experience. Hanif doesn’t shy away from brutality and violence, particularly during the climactic third-act finale. The gritty knife fight between Hanif and Samat is worth mentioning here. The movie is equally blessed with Hanif and his crew making good use of the military assets from weapons to helicopters and a mothership, which helps to maintain a degree of realism and authenticity of how MMEA operates as a unit.
As for the cast, Saharul Ridzwan delivers an engaging lead performance as the no-nonsense maritime lieutenant, Hafiz, while Julia Farhana is just as praiseworthy as Lieutenant Melati. Adlin Aman Ramlie excels in his menacing turn as the pirate leader Samat while veteran actor Sabri Yunus rounds up the better-than-expected acting ensemble in his scene-stealing supporting role as the stuttering cook, Pak Am.
‘Coast Guard Malaysia: Ops Helang’ ends with an open-ended finale, suggesting there might be a sequel on the way if the movie makes enough money at the local box office.