Occasionally, Indonesian TV’s relentless tide of mind-numbing sinetron, vacuous gossip shows, appalling sitcoms and sadistic B-movies drives me from my sofa in search of more mentally challenging entertainment. On one such occasion, I stumbled upon the inaugural meeting of the Movie Mystery Club, a monthly event run by design and culture website Whiteboard Journal and held at W_Space in Kemang.
As the event’s title suggests, the movie shown each month is a closely guarded secret; attendees have no idea what cinematic treat they are in for until the lights dim and the opening credits roll. As Whiteboard Journal’s website states: “…one day it might be a hilarious comedy, the next a nail-biting action adventure. …” The screenings are free of charge and complimentary popcorn is provided. I figured that even if the movie were terrible, it would be better than having to suffer another spirit-crushing evening in front of “Take Me Out” or “Indonesian Idol.”
The event was held at Graha Toorak in East Kemang, in an intimate space with dark walls, a low ceiling and oddly, no screen in sight. The room was dominated by a large carpet, which was scattered with inviting-looking throw cushions. MMC volunteers were distributing popcorn to the small crowd of implausibly fashionable attendees. The buzz of conversation (strangely, entirely in English although all the patrons were Indonesian) seemed to revolve around speculation about the movie. The volunteers skillfully deflected requests for clues about the movie. Clearly, the Whiteboard Journal takes the “mystery” element very seriously. In addition to the free popcorn, soft drinks and beer were available. I opted for a can of the latter, slipped off my shoes, flopped onto the carpet and waited for the movie to begin.
Before this happened, Ken, the founder of the event, stood in front of the audience and gave a short introduction to the aims of the club and the film itself. He promised us MMC would scour the earth to bring us “the best of world cinema.” He then provided a few tidbits of information about that evening’s selection. It was an Asian remake of a Clint Eastwood classic, which had won prizes at numerous international film festivals. So far so good. Suitably intrigued, the audience applauded as the already dim room was plunged into complete darkness and the film was projected onto a wall. The opening titles informed us that the title was “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird,” a South Korean reimagining of Sergio Leone’s Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
This comedy/action/western-with-a-twist was a film I would never have chosen to watch, and very different from anything I’d seen before. I am sure this was exactly what MMC intended when selecting it. Refreshingly, the entire audience sat attentively; unlike a usual evening at an Indonesian cinema, no one was glued to their BlackBerry, scolding a child or making out in the back row. MMC’s members are obviously serious cinephiles, with no time for such distractions.
But despite the atmosphere being conducive to an eye-opening experience, it would be inaccurate to say I enjoyed the film. Frankly, “The Good, the Bad, and the Weird” was just too hyperactive and weird for me. Perhaps, like kimchi, South Korean cinema is an acquired taste. From the slightly bemused reaction and muted applause from the rest of the audience when the end credits rolled, I would guess I wasn’t alone in this assessment. I’m sure whomever selected the movie had a feeling of accomplishment at having confounded their audience’s expectations.
I must admit, while I didn’t enjoy the movie, my first visit to Movie Mystery Club piqued my curiosity about what would be offered next. So last week, I found myself buzzing with anticipation as I trudged through the rain-soaked streets of Kemang to attend their second screening. Apparently, the first movie’s uniqueness didn’t drive the patrons away, as a similarly sized crowd lounged on the carpet, languidly discussing trendy restaurants I’d never heard of and K-pop. A hush fell over the room as the LCD projector whirred to life.
If nothing else, the film choices are brave. Jim Morrison once said, “The appeal of cinema lies in the fear of death.” Perhaps the movie selectors at MMC share the sentiment because the second film they chose was a satirical British comedy about hapless suicide bombers called “Four Lions.” Given the subject matter, this was a brave film to make and a courageous choice on the part of MMC, particularly at this time of year. Personally, I found the film hilarious. I would guess half the audience shared my sentiment while the other half were completely baffled by what they’d seen.
MMC seems intent on dragging Jakartans out of their movie comfort zone and exposing them to crazy, weird, brain-frying world cinema.
I would heartily recommend that you keep your ear to the ground for word of the club’s next event. I cannot guarantee you’ll enjoy what you are shown, but should you attend with an open mind, I have no doubt that it will be a memorable experience. Even if you don’t enjoy yourself, they have some of the comfiest cushions in town, so there are worse places to take a power nap.