2003 Hawaii International Film Festival catalogue description of The Big Durian
Amir Muhammad (HIFF '00s LIPS TO LIPS) is head and shoulders in the lead of the Malaysian indies, pushing so hard at the edges of documentary with BIG DURIAN that he's created a mocku-docu style infused with dry wit worthy of Michael Moore. While it's Jakarta that's known as the Big Durian of Southeast Asia, Muhammad uses the prickly fruit as a metaphor for Kuala Lumpur in 1987 when a soldier ran amok, that unique Malay word, with an M16. Just as the durian needs to be carefully peeled to get at the often foul-smelling but finally sweet tasting pulp, Muhammad retraces Private Adam Jaafar's Travis Bickle turn through the mean streets of Chow Kit to slice through the incredible political and ethnic tensions of the time to get at some bittersweet truths. But whose truths are they? Because there was so much psychic unrest in 1987, followed by the Private Adam panic, rumor became the coin of the realm as the citizens of KL locked down in a mass hysteria fueled by fears of racial rioting. Muhammad mixes truth and fiction in his film, claiming it as a more accurate reflection of the truth-rumor mixture of the times. Because we're never sure whether who in the string of interviewees are real folks or actors playing roles that articulate Muhammad's worldview, BIG DURIAN will produce much post-viewing discussion of whether he broke the rules of documentary or stretched them into a new, but valid, shape. That prickly question may be the ultimate big durian. (written by Tom Brislin).