Many had high hopes for this film, formerly titled "Kinta 1881," touted as the first Malaysian martial arts actioner. Unfortunately the end result doesn't live up to the hype nor the impressive trailers.
The movie is an uneasy and unconvincing mix of history lesson and kungfu action. It is set in a time when Chinese immigrants were pouring into the state of Perak to work at the tin mines. This is a rich part of the history of the Chinese in Malaysia, with wars breaking out between the clans fighting for control of the tin business. But Kinta chooses to focus on a fictional tin mine owned by an unscrupulous boss whose solution to uprisings among disgruntled workers involves getting his henchmen to beat them to a pulp. I don't quite get the logic of such a move, but then logic figures little in the story anyway.
In another part of the movie, the leader of the henchmen, a toughie whose prone to tearing off his shirt after a bout of fighting, is reluctant to beat up the workers when first ordered by his evil, cackling boss. But he sure looks like he's enjoying it when he kicks up a storm at the workers' quarters. Funny stuff.
It's clear from the onset that the director tries to bring a comicbook edge to the movie, with a comicbook style opening sequence that plays to an English rap number. The four main characters are also introduced like comicbook heroes, with names like Tiger, Ace and Blaze. They're played by real martial arts exponents, and while the characters are supposed to be great fighters, they come across as rather pathetic when they're so easily beaten by a few of the henchmen. To push the comicbook concept further, there's copious amounts of CGI blood that are deliberately fake-looking.
But this is a kungfu actioner, so we're to expect lots of high-kicking action, right? Sadly, the fights are few and far between. Several of the fight sequences are repeated ad nauseum in flashback after flashback. It's not just some kicks and punches that are repeated, but ENTIRE exact sequences, which ultimately feels like a cheat to extend the film's runtime. And the fights are not exactly exciting either. They lack purpose, suspense, tension, and the beauty of good choreography and blocking. They're a good reprieve from all the silly dramatic moments, but they're not going to get action fans up in their seats anytime soon.
Add to all that, a confusing plot, messy editing, and a barely functional story about the little guys standing up against evil big business. At one point in the film, when the workers were scurrying around looking for their missing supervisor, my friend turned to me and said: "Hey, they're looking for the plot!"
In the end, Kinta feels more like a straight-to-video effort, despite the earnestness of the young actors who clearly gave it their all, and the beautiful scenery shots.