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by Jay Seaver

"Kids learning about themselves through martial arts, Brunei-style."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2014 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: A lot of what audiences see in "Yasmine" will be fairly familiar and predictable, but give the filmmakers a little slack - it's the first movie that the nascent film industry in Brunei Darussalam has produced, and it doesn't hurt to walk before you run. This is a pretty decent teen sports movie, and its high points are pretty good.

It starts with the title character (Liyana Yus) discovering that she won't be going to college with her high school friends because her father Fahri (Resa Rahadian) doesn't make enough as a librarian to secure the needed loan. It's bad enough that her friends start to drift away, and worse when Adi Rahman (Aryl Falak), a boy she likes who is also a rising star in the martial art of silat, starts paying more attention to his teammate Dewi (Mentari De Marelle). The only thing to do is join her school's silat club and do well enough to get Adi to notice her again - not so easy when her only teammates are stuffy Ali (Roy Sungkono) and bulky Nadia (Nadiah Wahid), it's quite possible that the club's adviser doesn't know anything about silat at all and the only other master they find who will teach them, Jamal (Agus Kuncoro), is in a wheelchair. Oh, and Fahri has forbidden Yasmine to have anything to do with silat at all.

Events in the main story don't always happen right on schedule, but they cover the basics - Yasmine starts out fairly irresponsible and full of herself, makes new friends, has success go to her head, and finds out that there's more to her father than she was aware of. For the most part, those bits are comfortable but not rote, especially since the details of how this plays out in Brunei are new to most in the international audience - it's an Islamic country, but one where women appear to have equal rights. The setting is quite beautiful but also a lived-in city. Some bits of the scripts seem to be stretched bit far, such as Yasmine seeking "the dark master", and there will sometimes be what seem like weeks of stuff going on between scenes that are referred to as days apart, but it's fairly well-done overall.

And even though the character can often seem a little self-centered, Liyana Yus is a great discovery as Yasmine. She brings a great deal of energy to the role, with the lightness of a young woman who is facing her first real challenges; even if she's not always handling them well, it's in a way that makes the audience hope for better. She's got a nice chemistry with Aryl Falak as her father; he gets across the idea of a guy with strong convictions where the urge to be strict with his daughter doesn't exactly come naturally. The cast is well filled-out, too, with Mentari De Marelle playing Dewi as an enjoyably sharp rival and Nadiah Wahid is pretty good as Yasmine's new friend.

They've all put in the work to become proficient at silat as well, so the matches which punctuate the film's second half - directed and choreographed by Chan Man Ching, a veteran of Jackie Chan's team - are quite strong. It's a martial art where moving into position and posing, ready to spring, are quite important, so it looks great even though it can erupt into quick violence (this is what Iko Uwais uses in The Raid). The characters all have their own styles, and it's a nifty surprise to see Nadia attack like a freight train even as Yasmine is doing moves that call to mind the dancer she is referred to as early on. There's personality to these sequences, which makes them even more of a satisfying climax.

So, sure, you've probably seen the likes of "Yasmine" before, but it's done well and offers a fresh enough perspective to merit a look. Brunei may be new at this, but I suspect one can expect good things from Siti Kamaluddin and Liyana Yus, at the very least, going forward.

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originally posted: 07/27/14 00:27:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2014 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
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Directed by
  Siti Kamaluddin

Written by
  Salman Aristo
  Siti Kamaluddin

  Liyana Yus
  Reza Rahadian
  Agus Kuncoro
  Dwi Sasono
  Nadiah Wahid

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