Nasi Lemak 2.0 (Malaysia, 2011) [NYAFF 2012]

Singer, songwriter, actor, director, rapper and screenwriter Wee Meng Chee not only directed and wrote the screenplay, but also stars in the low-budget comedy Nasi Lemak 2.0 which he spent nearly a year trying to get funding from Malaysia’s National Film Company, who refused to endorse the script.  The film has created a lot of controversy in Malaysia because of Wee’s refusal to appeal to any of the country’s three major ethnic groups specifically, instead relaying a message of unity.

The movie begins with a press conference between a brother and sister declaring a contest between chefs of their choice for control of a famous, family-run Chinese restaurant.  The brother currently runs the restaurant, but his sister wants to take over.  The man’s daughter Xiao K (Karen Kong) asks young chef Huang Da Xia for help.  Huang has been struggling to keep his own restaurant open, but customers complain that he doesn’t serve the “local cuisine”.  To save his business, Huang eventually agrees to help Xiao K. 

Huang asks a street food vendor (Adibah Noor) for help and she guides him to some mysterious people who can teach him to make nasi lemak, which is considered the national dish of Malaysia.  Nasi lemak is a rice dish cooked in coconut milk and served with anchovies and sambal, a hot and spicy sauce.  Various seasonings can be added for fragrance and flavor.  In his quest to make the perfect nasi lemak, Huang visits people of Malay, Chinese and Indian descent and learns to balance the flavors according to his own style.  The contest takes place and the judges and press are surprised at Huang’s choice of dish to make.  Does he win the contest?

Nasi Lemak 2.0 is a comedy and it did have its funny moments, but some of it just didn’t resonate with me.  A lot of the movie’s plot has to do with social and political issues of Malaysia and I’m not familiar with those issues.  As to Wee’s message of unity and tolerance, it is definitely recognizable.  There’s quite a bit of slapstick comedy, which is funny but doesn’t seem to really fit with the story as a whole.  There are dream sequences involving samurais and a Bollywood dance number, but in the end, it all seems a bit disjointed.  I wanted to like Nasi Lemak 2.0, but when it was all said and done I found it to be merely average.  Nasi Lemak 2.0 was screened at this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.