Article Title:Bukak Api
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:26th May 2005 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:744
Text:Review: BUKAK API Dir: Osman Ali, Malaysia, 2000, Beta SP, 80mins A hard, depressing, unflinching look at the lives of Kuala Lumpur's sex worker community – particularly transsexuals – Bukak Api is a film likely to make you very, very mad. It's a documentary-style slice of life plot told in a series of episodes. At the centre of it is Kak Su, a semi-retired mamasan who runs a tailor workshop. She looks after the girls in her area as best she can, an embattled mother figure in a world of AIDS, police raids, abusive customers and deep religious guilt. This is a film that the religiously correct wankers from the Maxim Institute and United Future MPs should be made to watch, to witness first-hand what happens when prostitution gets driven underground by making sex workers into criminals, while giving a free pass to the heterosexual men who use and abuse them. The film's most heartbreaking moments are not when the girls are taken advantage of, but afterwards, as they sit crying on the squalid floors of their shacks sobbing about their sinful lifestyles and how God is punishing them. If you're arrested, you're promptly sent off to the "religious office" for a seeing-to. AIDS education is painfully inadequate, with campaigns proclaiming "love your family" and giving no information about how the disease is transmitted. Girls who try to get their clients to use condoms are likely to lose business. "If I have to wear a condom, I'd rather just stay home and masturbate," says one man. But not all the customers are exploiters. For some, it is their only outlet to express alternative sexualities. One young man falls in love with a transsexual worker, and urges her to move back to Singapore with him where they could start a business together. It's a hopeless dream – transsexuals here find sex work their only opportunity for employment in a society that shuns them elsewhere, and social pressure soon forces men like this to move on and marry a "real" woman. In an environment like this, it's unlikely you'll find pseudo-intellectual essays in the newspaper proclaiming "Defence of heterosexual conduct inadequate". In fact, in a sure-fire sign that Bukak Api told too many home truths, the Malaysian government banned it. It was originally produced as a safe-sex educational video to empower the sex worker community. While it succeeds in getting across the former message, it's attempt to deliver the latter is more a wrist-slitter than anything else. The grainy digital video and objective style of shooting keeps you permanently stuck in the red-light district of Kuala Lumpur, just like the characters, with no hope of escape. There's none of Malaysia's tourist glamour, except for a tantalising glimpse of the Petronus Towers in the distance at the film's opening as a sex worker walks the streets, a brilliant example of how, in terms of telling it like it really is, a picture is truly worth a thousand pontificating junk science submissions to Parliament. Chris Banks - 26th May 2005    
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