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Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Red Umbrella (2010)

Directors: Andri Cung and Edward Gunawan
Stars: Atiqah Hasiholan, Rio Dewanto and Zubir Mustaqim
This film was an official selection at the 7th annual International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival in Phoenix in 2011. Here's an index to my reviews of 2011 films.
The most obvious flaw that Red Umbrella has is that it's entirely predictable to anyone who's watched more than a couple of Asian horror movies. To be fair, it's probably entirely predictable to anyone else watching too, but fortunately it's constructed with panache, so it's little hardship to watch through the story one more time. It's also played out entirely as a drama without a single effect. While judicious use of an effect or two might have enhanced the film technically, it would have rendered it even more of a cliché. Playing it straight and keeping it down to ten minutes means that it becomes something like the taxi ride we see: safe and reliable. It shows up in the middle of a horror shorts selection, something that could easily be equated to the bad side of town, draws us in until we realise where we're going, lets us out safely at the end with a decent memory of the ride, then stays with us, at least for a little while, to fade away into the graveyard of memories until another film comes along with the same story.

We know we're in Indonesia because the sign on the top of Mohammad Raza's vehicle reads 'TAKSI' not 'TAXI'; I think every Indonesian movie I've seen features a taksi in it somewhere. He's nearing the end of his shift, clearly knackered, and his wife is pressuring him by phone to come home. On his way through Cawang, though, he stops for a young lady who flags him down in the dark. She's under a red umbrella, even though it isn't raining out, and something tells him to take her home to Bintaro, even though it's not on his way. They talk about the usual things, like whether she has a boyfriend and how dangerous it is for young ladies to wait for a taksi alone in bad neighbourhoods like Cawang. Even if she's not worried about local hoodlums, what about ghosts? And on we go until we get to Bintaro, which frankly doesn't look any more safe than Cawang, and we're given, along with Raza, the explanation of the story that we figured out long ago merely by reading between the lines.
I liked the story of Payung Merah or Red Umbrella, even though it offered no surprises. Most movies that tell an oft retold story are annoying precisely because they're so familiar, but this one feels more like an old friend stopped by for ten minutes. Perhaps it's because Atiqah Hasiholan is so inherently likeable as the girl with the red umbrella, or because Rio Dewanto manages to find his character so capably and so immediately. If she's the sort of customer taksi drivers want to pick up, he's the sort of ride girls want to flag down. The camera is hardly ambitious, given that almost the entire piece takes place inside a taksi on the road, but it picks up a lot of colour; we absorb the neighbourhood's flavour through its reflection in Raza's face. There's little opportunity for anything clever, the story kept moving along through some efficient editing and through Dewanto's voice. We become his passengers too, tired but comfortable, in an agreeable state because of his chatter, patiently listening to an old story told yet again.

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