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Of Naked Gun and Mat Sentul

June 13, 2011

A few entries ago I wrote about how the younger set of Malaysians are getting obsessed with foreign fictional figures. The main medium for this obsession or preoccupation is mainly from America-produced movies. Today I have some good news to share. As of last Sunday I was truly convinced without doubt that Americans did copy Malaysian movies. How was this “eureka” moment experienced? I watched a Mat Sentul movie.

You see, last Sunday I watched “Mat Karung Guni”. This was a story of Mat Karung Guni who was a vagabond, wandering around. Mat lived in a country ruled by a King (played by the great Ahmad Nisfu). As it happens, the King had a prince who curiously looked just like Mat. As fate would have it, one day the King died leaving his prince as the only heir to the throne. As with most movies, there were officers of the court who are envious of the prince and plotted a coup d’etat. They kidnapped the prince and by a stroke of luck, they found Mat, who was then installed as a puppet King. To make a long story short, the prince was then saved and went on to claim the throne.

Now, how was it that the Americans copied Mat Sentul? If you are a fan of slapstick American comedy, you would be familiar with the Naked Gun trilogy (which started from the Police Squad series), the Airplane movies and not forgetting the 2 instalments of the Hot Shots! series. In these movies the comedy ranges from spoken to rubbery physical comedy. You really have to be a connoisseur to appreciate this type of comedy. They’ll turn an ordinary facet of everyday life into something totally hilarious. Just look it up on YouTube and you’ll know what I mean.

I noticed that curiously their humour is not unlike Mat Sentul’s brand of a-laugh-a-minute comedy. In Mat Karung Guni, the King would be carried on a “tandu” (that contraption where his servants would carry him on) along a garden. He would do all sorts of things. He would meet a guy who sells peanuts, call him, buys some peanuts and eats them. But the thing is, the King is a very lazy person. He has this tool called “mesin kunyah” (chewing machine). You would be forgiven to get the impression that the machine may be some elaborate piece of kit. But no, it was a “lesung batu”. His servant would hand the lesung batu over to him and he’ll start to pound the peanuts and proceed to eat them. Well, I really suck at telling jokes and I’m sure my narration isn’t too good either. You’ve just got to see it. It was side-splittingly funny material I tell you. And of course the best part is that the King is played by the late Ahmad Nisfu who must simply be one of the best actors of his time.

In my limited knowledge, America had The Three Stooges about the same time Mat Sentul produced (and directed) his movies. But The Three Stooges employed a totally different brand of comedy altogether. Curly, Larry & Moe plied their trade by exchanging derogatory remarks and hitting each other. And with a high level of ferocity I might add. So Mat Sentul and The Three Stooges, although in the same genre of comedy, simply belong to a different branch and would attract a niche audience.

Comedy identical to Mat Sentul only surfaced in America during the 1980s. The first movie of its kind is “Airplane!” produced by David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker. It spoofed disaster movies. Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker later produced “Police Squad”, a TV series spoofing police procedures starring Leslie Nielsen (I just love the guy!). It employed sight gags, word play and non-sequiturs (thanks to Wikipedia for the information). Although Mat Sentul did not use word play or non-sequitur as the humour model, the sight gags used by Police Squad is curiously identical to what Mat Sentul employed to great effect in his movies. You never know, the Mat Sallehs could’ve just stumbled upon one of Mat Sentul’s old videos, thought it was hilarious and decided to make a comedy of their own.

There you go. Mat Sentul, one of the nations treasures. Although not generally lauded by the entertainment community and reduced to making junk food commercials (remember Ding Dang, anyone?) I genuinely think he was the undoubted inspiration to big-time American comedies like Police Squad, Naked Gun and Hot Shots.

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