Home-grown actor Aaron Aziz watched his fair share of Hong Kong gangster movies when he was younger.
"I watched the Young And Dangerous series and when I went to Hong Kong, I expected to see people fighting in the streets. But that didn't happen, of course."
He recounts this to Life! in a telephone interview from Kuala Lumpur, where he is based, by way of explaining that viewers of his new movie, KL Gangster 2, should not mistake its lurid depiction of gangland as reality.
The highly anticipated follow-up to 2011's KL Gangster, which took RM12 million (S$4.6 million) at the box office and is the highest-grossing Malaysian film of all time, opens tomorrow in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.
Aaron, 37, and fellow Singaporean actor Adi Putra anchor the film and play a pair of brothers caught up in the seedy underbelly of Malaysia's capital.
While the original film has been praised for being gritty and realistic, Aaron and the film's producer, Datuk Yusof Haslam, insist that the story in the two films depict a hyper-realised and exaggerated version of the world of gangsters in the Malaysian capital city.
"It's fiction, a work of fantasy," says Datuk Yusof, whose son Syamsul Yusof is the director and writer behind the two films.
Indeed it is. KL Gangster 2, a prequel to the first film, features violent street brawls and shoot-outs between warring gang members armed with machine guns. Mob boss Tailong, played by veteran Malaysian actor Rosyam Nor, flies around in a helicopter and fires at his pursuing enemies with a gun in each hand while perched atop a Hummer sport-utility vehicle speeding along a highway.
It is not quite what takes place in Malaysia, even though a spate of real-life shooting cases across the country - believed to involve real-world gangs - has been making headlines in the past few months.
KL Gangster 2 has been the victim of a different kind of crime. A month before its cinematic release, the entire film was leaked online and sold as pirated DVDs.
The stress brought about by piracy took its toll on Syamsul, who has refused to appear at the film's promotional activities and has been avoiding the press since the issue arose.
Last month, Malaysian newspaper reported Datuk Yusof as saying that his son was so "emotionally disturbed" that he has decided to give up film-making.
If Syamsul stays true to his word, it might spell the end for the KL Gangster saga. Besides directing, coming up with the storyline and writing the script with his cousin Rizal Ashref, he plays the prominent role of gangster upstart Shark in both films.
Aaron thinks it is a shame if the world of KL Gangster were to end with the prequel.
"If you ask me, Malek's story can be developed further. I think that he is an interesting character and there is a lot more to him than what is told through these two films," he says of the character he plays.
The new film, which cost RM4.5million to make and took close to two years to complete, is the biggest undertaking to date for film and television company Skop Production, which Datuk Yusof set up in 1985. In comparison, the original film cost RM1.5 million.
While the first film starts out with Malek being released from prison and depicts the two brothers as enemies, the prequel tells of how Malek got into a life of crime and how the feud between the siblings escalated.
Adi, who has been based in Malaysia since 2002, says that everyone involved in the movie is aware that the expectations of fans of the first movie are high.
"The pressure is definitely there for us to make this movie even better than the first. There's a lot more action in this movie. We want the scenes to be more memorable," he says.
The father of one, who is married to Malaysian film producer Aida Yusof, came under media scrutiny when he became embroiled in a scandal - a Johor businessman lodged a police report against the actor in August, accusing him of sending lewd photos and text messages to his wife.
Adi declined to comment on the issue, saying that it is a police case and that he has to "respect the authorities" and let them handle it.
Both he and Aaron are upset by the movie leak. Aaron says that having such a high-profile film such as KL Gangster 2 pirated before its release puts the spotlight on the real problems plaguing the Malaysian film industry.
"I'm frustrated by the leak, just as I was frustrated when certain quarters in the Malaysian film industry accused Singaporean actors of coming in and stealing their jobs. Having pirates steal our work is a much bigger problem that is damaging to the whole industry," he says.
His starring role as Malek, a street- wise mechanic forced into a thug's life by family circumstances, cements his status as one of the top actors across the Causeway.
He and his family are Malaysian permanent residents.
Besides his action roles in blockbuster movies such as KL Gangster and race movie Evolusi KL Drift (2008) and its sequel, Evolusi KL Drift2 (2010), he is also famous for his romantic roles. His romance drama Ombak Rindu, released in the same year as KL Gangster, is the second-highest-grossing Malaysian film, with RM10.9 million in box-office takings.
He is also a familiar face on Malaysian television, starring in popular dramas such as Nora Elena and Janji Diana.
So influential is he that Syamsul gave him plenty of leeway to develop and flesh out his character as Malek.
In the movie's climactic, three-way fight scene between Malek, Adi's character Jai and Tailong, the director went through three different choreographers because Aaron did not feel the fighting sequences were realistic enough.
"In the end, I had to do the choreography myself. Much as I respect the original choreographers, I felt that the fighting styles of these three characters needed to have a flow and a natural rhythm," says the father of three, who has been based in Malaysia since 2006.
He also introduced Singaporean street slang into his dialogue in both films, something which he says he started to do in Evolusi KL Drift, also directed by Syamsul.
"I use words like "lu" (you) and "gua" (me), which many people in Malaysia say sound very Singaporean. Since then, I've noticed that a lot of people have started using the same kind of speech patterns that my characters use."
Adi, too, had plenty of creative input and came up with his character's traits and quirks. For example, Jai, who sports a bleached hairdo in the sequel, is always seen with an unlit cigarette dangling from his mouth.
"The bleached hair and cigarette are my ideas. You'll have to watch the movie to find out why he never actually lights up the cigarettes," he says.
This story was first published in The Straits Times on Oct 2, 2013
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