It could do with being a bit longer, but Crossroads: One Two Yaga is nonetheless a solid film that sensitively captures the culture and corruption of Kuala Lumpur.
I was surprised by Crossroads: One Two Yaga, the grim new film from Nam Ron that landed on Netflix today with promotional materials suggesting a completely different experience. I’ve seen the words “action” and “thriller” thrown around in relation to it, but I wouldn’t classify it as either. There are snarling men with guns on the posters and the cover and so on, but aside from a tumultuous, violent finale, there really isn’t much snarling or shooting at all.
Crossroads: One Two Yaga is better for this; in reality it’s a sensitive, maturely-handled exploration of culture and corruption in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, at various levels of society. The plot is shared between multiple concurrent storylines that intersect at various points, and while at a scant 80 minutes there isn’t enough room to properly develop them all, there’s enough here for a compelling snapshot of Malay life.
Two of the leads are policemen. Hassan (Rosdeen Suboh) is older, wearier, married and a father to two children, and thus more willing to turn a blind eye and take bribes – mostly to keep his head above water financially and to satisfy the missus’s upscale lifestyle. His new partner, Hussein (Zahiril Adzim), is just the opposite; younger, more idealistic, and unwilling to surrender law and order for personal gain. Perhaps predictably the two clash, but there’s more to it than that.
The “more” involves Sugiman (Ario Bayu), an Indonesian labourer who lives with his sister Sumiyati (Asmara Abigail) and his son, Joko (Izuan Fitri). This whole scenario is less clear-cut. Sumiyati is a domestic “helper” who is sick of being routinely abused and wants to return to Indonesia, but her former employer still possesses her passport, and Sugiman is in debt to Sarip (Azman Hassan), a local wrong-‘un (and policeman) with a workforce comprised of illegal immigrants and a son of his own, Adi (Amerul Affendi), a nutcase enforcer whom Joko takes a shine to.
Like I said – not entirely clear-cut. Factor in a Filipino immigrant, Rico (Timothy Castillo), accused of pocketing his boss’s money, and you have a clear recipe for impending disaster. Crossroads: One Two Yaga is focused on these characters, who’re engaging, and on institutional corruption, but from the inside out; not just who’s corrupt and who isn’t, but why – what circumstances drives an otherwise upstanding citizen to start pocketing blood money and turning a blind eye to wrongdoing? It does a good job of blurring moral lines and in depicting several aspects of Malaysian society – from the illegal immigrant population to the working class to the upper echelons of law enforcement – in muddy, unclear terms. The greatest knock against the film is that it just doesn’t have enough room to lend equal focus to all of these elements.
Still, by the time the various storylines intersect in time for the finale, you have enough of a sense of who’s who and what’s what that the closing sequences are truly effective. Mohd Helmi Yusof’s cinematography has an eye for realism and compelling background details, while Razaisyam Rashid’s editing is snappy and effective throughout. Strong performances help to bolster the story and keep the various competing narrative threads untangled; Crossroads: One Two Yaga is undoubtedly a cheap film by western standards, but you can never tell, and while Nam Ron’s effort could have certainly used more room to breathe, it is nonetheless an impressive and compelling piece of filmmaking.