The Jakarta Post
Into the big screen: Adapted from a sitcom of the same name, 'Preman Pensiun' (Retired Thug) is an engrossing tale of the 'preman' life. (Courtesy of MNC Pictures/-)
Director Aris Nugraha occupies a curious place in the entertainment industry.
His stature pales against his own work, which is often celebrated for its daring, uncontrived relatability, as seen in sitcom Bajai Bajuri (Bajuri’s Bajaj) and Preman Pensiun (Retired Thug). The former — a towering mainstay on Indonesian TV — occasionally flirts with risqué material, and a boldness matched only by its heart.
When his second sitcom, Preman Pensiun, was revived as a movie, he did not waste the opportunity.
The film version of the popular sitcom that explores his own invented universe – one that was run by preman (thug) Kang Bahar (the late Didi Petet) and his underlings in a gritty version of Bandung – is an engaging film.
It centers on Kang Bahar’s right-hand man Kang Mus (Epy Kusnandar), picking up where the characters left off three years after the sitcom.
Those three years saw the death of Kang Bahar and the dispersal of the entire gang.
Now, Kang Mus mostly manages his daily, mundane life with the same kind of authoritarian bent: Distrustful of his teenage daughter’s new boyfriend, he sends his men – among them are Ujang (M. Fajar Hidayatullah), Murad (Deny Firdaus) and Pipit (Kang Ica Naga) – to scare him off.
Family holds an important place in Preman Pensiun and not just because we see a lot of Kang Mus’ family in the film, which includes his wife Ceu Esih (Vina Ferina) and his daughter (Safira).
The movie occurs in the lead-up to the thousand-day remembrance of the death of Kang Bahar, whose kids, particularly Kinanti (Tya Arifin), are in mourning.
New business: Kang Mus (right), along with Kinanti (Tya Arifin), inspects his 'kecimpring' snack business. (Courtesy of MNC Pictures/-)
Kang Mus, after leaving behind his criminal past, starts a cassava-based kecimpring business that goes badly. He is cool with his situation though, but then trouble shows up.
Kang Gobang (Muhammad Jamasari), Kang Bahar’s underling, wants to avenge the death of his brother-in-law.
Preman Pensiun strangely navigates his vengeance. The film might throw you off because of its breakneck jump cuts. This is a hit or miss technique, but when it hits, it hits with stride.
Underlings: Kang Bahar's gang of 'preman' (thugs) reunites. (Courtesy of MNC Pictures/-)
Characters in the film often interrupt each other to finish each other’s sentences. This is a common technique among filmmakers and one that is reminiscent of US sitcom 30 Rock, but it is not without its misfires, particularly in the first part of Preman Pensiun.
Other than that, the film is pretty solid at portraying a man who is at peace with his loss of identity.
A preman, in Aris Nugraha’s world, is an identity affixed with shame or guilt. The most important certificate of that identity is loyalty, and the characters in Preman Pensiun have that. You could trust Ujang, you could call him if something needs to be done.
Apart from the movie’s irreverence, my favorite part about Preman Pensiun is how everything is not an approximation. It is easy to make a film like Preman Pensiun and turn it into a simulacrum, with actors playing the version of what they think a preman is.
I imagine it was not easy making this film. It helps that the actors, though a little patchy or awkward in front of the camera, are mostly former preman themselves.
Preman Pensiun is a love letter. It’s a love letter to the city of Bandung with its angklung-indebted score, and its gritty environs, from its train station to dark alleyways. It is also a love letter to Didi Petet, who died in 2015; his character looms large even in death.
The film’s most successful achievement, however, is how it does not romanticize the criminal nature of being a preman, which, according to Kang Mus, is part of “a profitable business, but not a good one”. (ste)
(MNC Pictures, ANP Films; 100 minutes)
Director/Writer: Aris Nugraha
Cast: Epy Kusnandar, Tya Arifin, Muhammad Jamasari, Tya Arifin, Deny Arifin, Kang Ica Naga, M Fajar Hidayatullah, Vina Ferina
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