Paskal boasts a number of well-crafted action sequences but little personality or depth in a based-on-real-events showcase of the Malaysian armed forces.
Paskal, the new Malaysian action movie from Adrian Teh that debuts globally on Netflix today, opens with an insistence that the following is based (however loosely) on real events. Then it unloads plentiful information about the Pasukan Khas Laut, the little-known unit within the Royal Malaysian Navy from which this film takes its name. The feeling of slapping oneself on the back is established right here and never quite overcome throughout a gung-ho actioner that is a fine technical achievement if a remarkably one-dimensional portrait of the actual human beings who ostensibly provide its basis.
The overarching plot of Paskal is little more than an excuse to detail three missions, two of which were undertaken in real life, and all of which boast a fine degree of authentic detailing, effective camerawork, and engaging choreography. This is where Paskal shines and is, really, the only thing it’s interested in doing beyond serving as a somewhat self-congratulatory tribute to the Malaysian armed forces. And all this stuff is good, even if it does waver slightly in tone and in its relationship with realism.
Elsewhere, things are more problematic. Lieutenant Commander Arman Anwar (Hairul Azreen) is the film’s hero, and it swiftly becomes more about him than it does the unit, with scenes of the grueling selection process virtually skipped over and most other characters reduced to a rudimentary quirk and some relevant expertise. It would be less of an issue if Paskal didn’t occasionally require a greater investment in the team as a whole than its willing to encourage, but all the bombastic dudes-on-a-mission stuff falls very flat as a result.
While most of the cast perform admirably during the well-crafted action sequences and lend some intensity to extended dialogue sequences, there are stilted performances here and there that stand out and undermine the better efforts. Paskal is a film very much about what happens rather than why, but it’s also a film in which it is difficult to care what’s happening beyond superficially. Even on Netflix, there are better Malaysian films and much better Asian action showcases. Perhaps start there.