by Lisa Heykal
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Photo Credits: Free Malaysia Today

Malaysian drama Abang Adik has become a surprise hit at the Taiwanese box office, recording a 17% increase in its second weekend after a record-breaking opening. The release is an exceptionally rare Malaysian success in Taiwan, boosted by the recent best actor win for Wu Kang-ren at the Golden Horse Awards last month. The feature has already become the biggest Malaysian film of all time in Taiwan from its debut weekend (December 1-3), making NT$13.82m – excluding the premiere and preview screenings. It toppled Ridley Scott’s Napoleon to become the first Malaysian film to top the Taiwanese box office.

While the film placed second on its second weekend (December 7-10) as Paul King’s Wonka opened top, its earnings of $440,000 (NT$16.14m) was 17% higher than its first weekend, bringing the cumulative box office to almost $1.3m (NT$41m). For comparison, only five Taiwanese films have scored more than $1.27m (NT$40m) this year so far and the previous biggest Malaysian film, Tom Lin’s The Garden Of Evening Mist, backed by HBO Asia and Astro Shaw, took less than $130,000 (NT$4m).

Abang Adik marks the first film produced by renowned Malaysian actress Lee Sinje and marks the feature directorial debut of Malaysia’s Jin Ong, who is known as the producer of 2017’s Malaysian drama Shuttle Life. The film follows the hardships of two undocumented brothers, with the younger brother played by Malaysian actor Jack Tan (Shuttle Life) and his older mute brother by Taiwan’s Wu Kang-ren.

Photo Credits: Free Malaysia Today

What makes “Abang Adik” noteworthy is that it touches on many themes that are relevant to Malaysian society, the most obvious being economic inequality. Many Malaysians live relatively comfortable lives, but many more go to bed uncertain of what the next day holds.

As most Malaysians may well be aware, the bureaucratic system works most efficiently when it aids the rich and powerful, not so much the poor and helpless. This becomes even more blatant when justice is out of reach for the brothers owing to their economic status. Social themes and messages aside, the film’s heart lies in the relationship that holds the brothers together through thick and thin. Wu and Tan have a convincing chemistry, and it is hard to believe Tan is a relative newcomer to the acting world.

The film hit cinemas in Taiwan less than a week after Wu scooped the Best Actor prize at the Golden Horse Awards. “The timing of the release seems to be the key factor of the box office success,” Kevin Hsu, president of Applause Entertainment Taiwan, told Screen. The Taipei-based company is also the film’s Taiwanese distributor and international sales agent.

“The media impact of Wu winning best actor at the Golden Horse Awards, especially the widely discussed 15-second nomination clip, has successfully brought audiences to the cinemas,” added Hsu. In this 15-second nomination clip, which has gone viral, Wu’s mute character relies on sign language only to express his frustration and anger against life.

The film began its journey on the film festival circuit, receiving its world premiere at Switzerland’s Fribourg International Film Festival in March where it won the audience award and Ecumenical jury award. It went on to win a hat-trick at Udine’s Far East Film Festival in Italy, including the Golden Mulberry, Black Dragon, and First Time Director Awards. Further accolades include the Uncaged award for Best Feature Film at the New York Asian Film Festival and Best Performance for Wu at China’s First International Film Festival. Following Taiwan, the film opened in Hong Kong on December 7 through Golden Scene and will open in Malaysia on December 14 through mm2 Entertainment. Major backers include Cinema Inutile from the US, Be Actor and XYmusic, both from Taiwan, mm2 Entertainment from Singapore, and JW SAB & Partners from Malaysia.

All in all, this is an entertaining albeit heartbreaking story of brotherly relationships that will encourage viewers to understand and empathize with those who are less fortunate, and perhaps be moved to make a difference in someone else’s life.

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