Monday, July 09, 2018

NYAFF ’18: Crossroads—One Two Jaga

The police in Kuala Lumpur might make the far-left rethink abolishing ICE, because they make the bureaucratic agency look rather benign in comparison. KL cops are always happy to score a cheap collar, but on the plus side, they can be bought at prices most “undocumented workers” can afford. This is particularly true of the shamelessly corrupt Hassan, but not so much for his squeaky-clean rookie partner in Nam Ron’s Crossroads: One Two Jaga (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 New York Asian Film Festival.

Sugiman and his sister Sumiyati were Indonesians working legally in Malaysian, but she sabotaged her status when she walked out on her exploitative employers (who hold her passport). Fortunately, Sugiman works for Sarip, a big wheel in Indonesian expat circles, who can smuggle Sumiyati home, for a specially discounted price.

Since Sumiyati is now a fugitive, Sugiman will have to keep her under wraps until it is time for her to leave. This is not a good time for cops to start snooping around Sarip’s garage-junkyard-whatever. Frankly, he has high-level protection to prevent that sort of thing, but Hussein something about the place just bothers Hussein. Sarip’s cop-hating son Adi is not exactly a moderating influence either.

Initially, Crossroads (the “One Two Jaga” refers to a local variation on the kids game “cops and robbers”) starts out very much like one of those these-people-are-all-inter-connected-in-ways-they-don’t-know-yet indie films that may have finally fallen out of fashion, but it builds to an explosive third act. Viewers can guess the general trajectory things are headed, but Nam Ron takes it deeper and darker than even experienced genre fans will expect.

Frankly, there is an additional sub-plot involving Filipino expats who skim from their boss’s regular police bribe money that easily could have been eliminated. Seriously, any of us could have told them that would end badly. On the other hand, the tension between Hussein and Hassan is electrically charged and really rather gutsy, given local sensitivities (it is worth noting one of his prior films remains unreleased).

Sugiman and Sumiyati are also acutely human characters, caught up in circumstances beyond their control. Ario Bayu and Asmara Abigail really look like brother and sister (such is their mutual good fortune) and they act like siblings with years of strained history together. Zahiril Adzim maybe broods a little too much for his own good as Hussein, but Rosdeen Suboh makes the roguish Hassan into an intriguing, multi-dimensional figure. He is not all bad and he is certainly not all good, existing in the gray areas, much like nearly everyone else in Malaysian society (or so the film seems to suggest).

Despite working towards a foreshadowed tragedy, Crossroads is quite compelling to watch. The subplots are not developed with equal thoroughness, but it is worth seeing the high caliber work of Bayu, Abigail, and Suboh, under any circumstances. Recommended for discerning patrons of naturalistic crime drama, Crossroads: One Two Jaga screens this Wednesday (7/11) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.