#Showbiz: Campy slice of Malaysian life

RIGHT from the opening scene, 'Tiger Stripes' on Netflix brought on a smile.

Was it the face of teen starlet Zafreen Zairizal, a shot that was used a few times over the course of the film?

Was it the quaint kampung/new village setting with squat toilets? Was it the girls dancing energetically for handphone cameras?

Or actress Fatimah Abu Bakar as the headmistress of an all-girls school telling them that Chinese pupils always beat them in exams?

She played her part with aplomb, as did the trio of schoolgirls, led by a carefree Zaffan (Zafreen).

The story is basically about Zaffan entering puberty, and along with it comes angst, and other feelings that can overwhelm any young person.

If girls are not prepared for puberty, bodily changes can be startling.

What more when she has to deal with the cultural habit of washing her menstrual pads before disposal.

So many new things to handle, on top of being the first in her gang to reach this milestone.

That sets off jealousy among her besties, Farrah (Deena Ezral) and Mariam (Piqa), and Zaffan soon finds herself bullied.

They tell her she stinks. She eats alone in the canteen. She is excused from Quran studies.

One session in the school's toilet is quite frightening, and leads to Zaffan retaliating with her growing inner persona.

In that heightened state of anxiety, girls in the school start to get hysterical. The headmistress is nonplussed, at best.

On the homefront, Zaffan's father (Khairunazwan Rodzy) came across as a cool cat, leaving major decisions to his wife (Jun Lojong).

Dad goes fishing, and the harassed, hardworking mum gets practical when it comes to her daughter, with little time left for emotions.

All this adds to Zaffan's confusion. The jungle and its wild beauty beckons the girl. She and her two besties seem to take the jungle as their playground. Well, now that they are upset with her, she ventures alone.

Brave girl, really, even with folklores about spirits roaming in the dark.

Zaffan's angst starts to manifest in long nails, and even a tail. She sees spirits in trees, staring at her with red eyes aglow.

She can bound up trees (wohh!) and starts to eat small animals raw.

The school enlists help, and along comes shyster Dr Rahim (Shaheizy Sam). Eventually, he performs an exorcism to help fix Zaffan.

That's the straw that breaks the camel's back for Zaffan. Her pal Maryam seems to understand her predicament.

What a story! In a small way, it's a sad indictment about the education system in some schools in Malaysia. Rote-learning. Uncaring teachers.

After all that mayhem, the students must sit a major examination and the headmistress says if they haven't prepared for it by now, then it's too late!

The three main young female characters are well cast, showing good on-screen chemistry. Getting a well-known Shaheizy on board must have been a win for director Amanda Nell Eu.

I liked the soundtrack from Indonesia's Gabber Modus Operandi, while cinematographer Jimmy Gimferrer captured the scenes, especially at the waterfall, with artful shots.

The jungle scenes looked great! Tourism Selangor should promote the movie locations, if only for that waterfall attraction. It would be a respite from hot, dry days.

Kudos to the computer-generated imagery (CGI) used, even if it sometimes comes across as not that polished. The 95-minute 'Tiger Stripes' is obviously not a Hollywood studio movie, but imagine if the director had such technological advantages when she made this low budget independent movie!

It is wonderful that she found funding and help from around the world as the credits reveal.

Sometimes, a campy movie like 'Tiger Stripes' can say as much about society as high-brow offerings. Worth the watch.

Most Popular
Related Article
Says Stories