Missing The Right Notes: A Review of Adiwiraku

The choral speaking students with their arms raised, Zidane and Cikgu Cheryl in front of them - Adiwiraku


Directed by Eric Ong
Written by Jason Chong, Cheryl Ann Fernando, Eric Ong


Reviewed by Satpal Kaler

Adiwiraku (My Superhero) is based on a true story about a team of choral speakers from a secondary school in Kedah. Small, focused films have their own place in cinema but the melodrama and overly-heavy narration of Adiwiraku makes it more fitting as a feel-good telefilm to be watched on a long public holiday weekend.

The film is structured like a sports drama – there is the team introduction sequence, the problems that they face, the training montage, and so on. The film has a lot of heart and it is clear the makers were sensitive to the stories they were telling as it was easy to sympathize with the students. However, it is much harder to connect with Cikgu Cheryl, the teacher that unites them all (Sangeeta Krishnasamy), who ends up being a broken record with only two hits: enthusiasm, or sympathy.

The storytelling is marred by unnecessary voice-over that appears at transition points and climactic moments; it dilutes rather than enhances the effect of such scenes. There is a slight break from the traditional arc where the film deeply explores the subplots, following the backstory of the students and their reasons for abandoning school. This is commendable and more importantly, it works, as the story calls for it and it is not done for its own sake. The problem, however, is that the film fails to push further, withdrawing from making any solid statements or providing a more insightful look into the systemic problems at the root. This leaves the audience with a question that they already know the basic answer to: these kids do not go to school because they have familial and personal problems.

The film scratches the surface to create a motivational drama but does not dig any deeper so as to stay safe and ends up becoming a lesser version of what it could have been. This is evident in the opening sequence where a number of students harass Cikgu Cheryl for not covering up but this fuse is not lit, it is merely a passing remark that briefly adds colour but fizzles out. One of the main student characters, Zidane (Ahmad Adnin Zidane Muslim), is given the same treatment – he is the conductor of the choral speaking group and a flamboyant character who is disturbed by bullies throughout the film but there is no resolution to his subplot. The film constantly shows scenes of him being bullied in passing to build the atmosphere but approaches it rather casually as if it sees bullying not as a larger problem but merely a part of attending high school. Given that the narrative follows a true story, a cinematic execution that explores these systemic cyclical problems would have been more honourable, and overall would have made it a more insightful watch.

While the story of the passionate teacher working hard to rehabilitate the students into fulfilling their potential is a powerful one, it just did not translate very well in Adiwiraku. The film took the premise far too seriously and ended up being an overemotional piece that skirted the edges of poverty porn. The entire second half of the film is riddled with crying characters, the melodrama further aggravated by the clichéd four note piano music that is practically embedded into the film from the start. Seeing as the original material is powerful, it would have been far more effective as a documentary or even a mockumentary but as it remains, it adds nothing of value to the viewer.

Undoubtedly, the film has been greeted by rave reviews from the public, who are trying hard to like upcoming Malaysian films; stronger support for locally produced films is evidenced by higher viewership count and bigger box office numbers. In their excitement, perhaps they are able to turn a blind eye towards mediocre storytelling; for if the film is looked at from an external perspective, only the heart of it is worthy. The value of a film is in the film itself, not the origin story or the production process. The intention or reason behind its creation is irrelevant, what matters at the end is the film, and as a film, Adiwiraku fails to excel despite riding on a brilliant premise.

Did you watch Adiwiraku? What are your thoughts? Do share with us in the comments below.

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