Labu dan Labi (1962)

Labu dan Labi. Directed by Malay singer/actor sensation P. Ramlee, who also stars, this film is usually categorized as a comedy in which “two servants exchange stories of make-believe.” It should be called a baroque journey into a carnivalesque psychodrama. The film cuts across genres and styles, from Tarzan films to Westerns to a suave nightclub scene (in English) set in Kuala Lumpur. The stories are all pinned around the hackneyed device of a ticking clock-tower (it’s the Victoria Memorial Hall tower in Singapore).

The two servants, the titular characters, sleep and dream the improbable, usually stories of power and vengeance that they lack in the waking world. Yet each increasingly absurd dream episode collapses under the weight of the inherent illogic of the fantasy/genre itself, and they return to the unpleasant present. How far can you push the Tarzan genre? Find out here in ten minutes.

If Labu dan Labi were made by Chris Nolan it would be considered “genius”—it was made in Malaysia fifty years ago so it’s relegated to “classic world cinema.” Watch it all the same.

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