Yasmine is preachy but entertaining

Brunei's first commercial feature is a slick family-friendly feature with a strong 1980s sports underdog movie vibe. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION
Brunei's first commercial feature is a slick family-friendly feature with a strong 1980s sports underdog movie vibe. -- PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Review Action/drama

YASMINE (PG)

110 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**1/2

The story: Yasmine (Liyana Yus) is a schoolgirl in Brunei. After her childhood crush, silat champion Adi (Aryl Falak), becomes the boyfriend of the popular and pretty Dewi (Mentari De Marelle), also a silat champion, Yasmine is determined to master the martial art to impress him. Over the objections of her father Fahri (Reza Rahadian), the headstrong girl convinces friends Nadia (Nadiah Wahid) and Ali (Roy Sungkono) to form a silat team, training under the eccentric Tong Lung (Dwi Sasono).

Brunei's first commercial feature is a slick family-friendly feature with a strong 1980s sports underdog movie vibe.

Much of it sticks close to formula - there is a plucky female heroine, plump comic-relief sidekick, wacky martial arts teacher and suitably chaste teen-crush love interest.

Indonesian screenwriter Salman Aristo and Brunei director Siti Kamaluddin give the story an Asian touch. Reverence for the art of silat and respect for elders are recurring themes. The Brunei travelogue section, almost mandatory in a showcase work like this, is made with obvious affection for the nation's cities, beaches and jungles.

Siti certainly remembers the Hollywood golden period that produced The Lost Boys (1987), The Goonies (1985) and the film Yasmine draws much inspiration from, The Karate Kid (not the mess that was the 2010 remake, but the 1984 original).

Title character Yasmine (first-time actress Liyana) is a headstrong teen living with her single dad (Indonesian heart-throb Reza). They have a strong family bond, one that is strained when she ignores his warnings to stay away from the sport.

As an actress, Liyana hits that sweet spot of being both feminine and looking like she could throw a punch (most films about female kickboxers fail in this regard). The choice of Reza as her father is a strange one; despite sporting a beard and glasses, he still looks like the 27-year-old actor that he is.

The fight scenes show Siti's fluent command of the visual language of the PG-rated martial arts flick - heavy on suspense and build-up, light on blood or actual contact.

The bouts are short and the action crisp, with a welcome absence of wire-work or over-the-top acrobatics.

Structurally, everything in this coming- of-age story chugs along in an entertaining way, though hampered by preachiness about family values and the power of silat.

Then things take a surreal left turn in the final third, when a threat looms in the form of a Harry Potter-ish family secret. That note of supernatural evil, coming as it does with overblown notions of fate, sin and redemption, feels out of place, weighing down the otherwise promising material.