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Puteri gunung ledang
IMDB Rating: 6.6/10 from 223 votes
Release: 31 August 2004 (Malaysia) /

Puteri gunung ledang

Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance
Director: Teong Hin Saw,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: In the late 15th century, a forbidden romance blossoms between Gusti Putri, a Javanese Hindu princess and Hang Tuah, a Malay Muslim warrior from Melaka, against a backdrop of war and mysticism.

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Critic Reviews

This handsomely mounted period epic set during the 16th century Malaccan empire is Malaysia's most expensive film at US$5M. The princess of Majapahit, Retno Dumillah, exiles herself to the Malaccan peak of Mount Ophir to entreat the company of her lover, the Malaccan warrior Hang Tuah. This is in open defiance of her brother, Gusti Adipati, the ruler of Majapahit, who had intended to marry her to a prince of the rival Demak empire. Adipati then decides to forge an alliance with the Malaccan sultanate instead by offering his sister as bride to the reigning Sultan, Mahmud. Hang Tuah's allegiance to duty is legendary. He slew his best friend, Hang Jebat, many years prior on the Sultan Mansor's orders. However, the Sultan Mahmud, a preening and decadent ruler, is a pale shadow of the glorious lineage of Malaccan royalty. Should Hang Tuah banish forever his love in favor of a vainglorious tyrant?

Production values are excellent in general. Picture overall has a glossy, polished sheen. Some inexperience in photography is evident – an intruding palm frond at the edges of the frame, actors half cut off at the sides, shot suddenly partially blocked by the back of an actor in front of the camera (!). The period milieu and mise-en-scene are gorgeous, the palace rituals and traditional malay / javanese speech appear authentic. Nice background research there. The music is excellent with a nice mix of western strings and Malay traditional instruments like the sruling during the love scenes and rebana in the palace scenes.

The acting is uniformly above par across the board, especially M. Nasir as the legendary warrior, Hang Tuah. Malaysian actors are some of the finest in this region and Nasir carries a screen presence that conveys the nobility of this most famous of perwira melayu. It is also nice to see Rahim Razali, a household screen personality, in an amiable performance as the Tok Bendahara. Tiara Jacquelina as the titular princess is adequately winsome. The script, however, does not allow her to show why she was such a sought after woman. Sofia Jane appears more assured as the Sultan's wife. Adlin Ramlee's alternately cocky, languid and foppish portrayal of Sultan Mahmud takes some getting used to, but in retrospect, it seems about right. Both the princess and the sultan get a chance to shine with a neat verbal confrontation near the end. The standout is Christine Hakim who, quite frankly, is a class act. Alex Komang is a washout in a poorly written role as the Majapahit prince, consisting exclusively of sneers and scowls.

The story overall could do with a lot more dramatic urgency. Many sequences look thrown in to appease the multiplex crowd, inserted without attention to the overall arc of the story. An earlier sequence of Hang Tuah taking on a posse of 'lanun darat' is very well done. However, there is a gratuitous action sequence which comes in so far off leftfield, involving some silly 70s- style kungfu fighting, that threatens to derail the entire film. This is the sort of action sequence where a fighter slashes his dagger in the air and ten fireballs erupt around him from the ground. Although this was meant as a 'battle of the mind', the overall effect is laughably cheesy. Worse, the whole sequence is arbitrarily inserted at a most inappropriate part of the narrative – there is no buildup and aftermath. Likewise, CGI superimposition of the 'seven requests of the princess', floating across the screen like a ticker tape, is ungainly.

Elsewhere, instead of character driven scenes, we get actors who pose and pose while mouthing purple prose. Many issues are unfocused as a result. Why and how did Hang Tuah and Dumillah fall in love? There are nice scenes of the couple riding horseback, doing an intricate courtship dance, at a lake. They look pretty, like postcards of two people in love, but the scenes lack actual resonance. At one point, Hang Tuah shows the princess his big Keris; she stares in awe at it. Unfortunately, no character driven dialog. The crucial scene where Hang Tuah meets his beloved atop Mount Ophir starts off nicely: like a breathless teenager hopelessly late for a date, he blurts: 'Dah tunggu lama ke?' ('Been waiting long?'). However, this is proceeded by endless swooping, panning and swirling of the camera around the actors including editing that I believe violate the 180 degree rule. All that 'technique' is frankly distracting. What's wrong with action-reaction, medium two shots and close-ups anyway? There are more than several shots where the emphasis was more on a sunset or a waterfall than the characters themselves. Anyway, the lovers go at it with dialog cribbed from a Harlequin romance.

Whither the inner conflict of the noble warrior between love and duty? We do get a solitary soliloquy of sorts: Hang Tuah talking to his reflection in a puddle of water like a refugee from an Ingmar Bergman film, and that's it. Why the great animosity between Hang Tuah and the Java prince? The film offers absolutely no exposition there.

Being a prestige film, direction is serious and high minded. However, this is largely betrayed by a dearth of psychological depth and dramatic weight. A certain lack of joie-de-vivre permeates the film, making one wish that the late great P. Ramlee could lend his charismatic presence to the whole proceedings.

The film ends poetically with Hang Tuah rushing up Mount Ophir in a sequence of solemn and hushed silence, in a moment of cathartic realization and sadness. The broad strokes for a grand tragedy are all there, but the interlocking narrative is unfocused. It's like hearing bits and pieces of a symphony from a distance. It's a shame: the money saved from that silly bit of aerial kungfu fighting could have gone towards additional scenes between the two main characters – the final sequence could have had much more impact.

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