Dept. of Creaks, Cracks, and Clickety Clacks


The worst years of our lives are those ones in the early middle. When we’re no longer young enough to be careless and carefree, and not quite old enough to have figured it all out. When we’re afraid of 40 because we feel like we’ve misspent the vast majority of our 30s.

Adulting was never a problem for our parents. Theirs was a generation with a plan. Go to school. Go to university. Graduate. Get a job. Get married. Buy a house. Buy a car. Have some kids. Grow up. Grow up. Grow up. Theirs was a generation without the same choices. And it was their single-mindedness that allowed for us to indulge in all of our youthful follies.


Kickflip is a movie that was written by and for my generation. We were those middle class latchkey kids who grew up in homes where both our parents were off at work. We were raised by our televisions on a steady diet of American pop-culture and Japanese tokusatsu. The relative prosperity of the time also meant that we weren’t burdened by the same pressures that faced our parents; and their parents before them. It wasn’t quite arrested development. It was the realisation that living longer meant we that we didn’t have to rush that life.


The latest from writer/director Khairil M. Bahar (Relationship Status, Cuak), Kickflip is a movie that tells one of these stories, about one of these guys.

Johan (also Khairil M. Bahar), our tragic hero, is a man in his thirties who has had to set aside both his dreams and the demeanour of his youth in order to make a living and support his family. He’s about to be a father and society demands that he grow up. For him, this means holding down a “real job” and getting a steady income. It also means losing a part of himself.


Watching this, I was reminded of a line from that Nicolas Cage movie The Weather Man. “All of the people I could be, they got fewer and fewer until finally they got reduced to only one — and that’s who I am.” Johan feels like a man who has run out of options and so he’s finally succumbed to the last, least problematic, and most risk averse version of himself.

He does have a superpower though, in that he seems to possess a kind of spidey sense when it comes to skateboarding. He can always hear the raspy clickety-clack of a street board on a sidewalk. He can always tell when a member of his former tribe is close by.

It’s how he meets Ali, a young skater who kickflips his way into Johan’s life, triggering a wave of nostalgia that forces him to reconnect with the man he once was. Young. Passionate. Hopeful.


Kickflip might be Khairil’s most personal work yet. Shot in what can best be described as indie monochrome, and starkly autobiographical, it feels like a companion piece to his first feature, Ciplak, which was also inspired by personal history and very much rooted in the challenges unique to Generation X.

The problem with a lot of passion projects is that they can come off as being self-indulgent. The problem with writing what you know is that you run the risk of being too close to the story to have any real perspective.

Khairil manages to avoid this by successfully maintaining a respectful distance. Johan is very much a stand-in for his own struggles but the character is also just enough of a fiction to make the personal universal. And in that sense, Kickflip isn’t just a mirror to Khairil’s own life, but also a window into someone else’s.

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Khairil also employs a neat narrative trick. By using Johan’s new skater friend, his boss, and his pregnant wife as the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future, we see his different lives play out in real time. We experience Johan’s struggle through those around him. Khairil eschews exposition for action. He shows and doesn’t tell. And by doing so, he creates characters that are startlingly honest and all too real.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve been this emotionally invested in a Malaysian movie. All I wanted was for Johan and Dee to have an easier life. I wanted them to be happy.


Bolstered by some impressive performances (shout out to Eva Emmanyna, Khairil’s actual wife who also plays his fictional wife, for being the emotional backbone of the movie), natural dialogue, and crisp editing, Kickflip has a style and a mood that is reflective of a maturity in moviemaking all but absent in Malaysian cinema.


If there is one bright side to this year without cinema, it’s that Malaysian movies like Roh and Kickflip were given a chance to shine. Being two of only a handful of local productions released in 2020 meant that they weren’t drowned out by the deluge of utter garbage that usually gets churned out by the local film industry.

What this means is that those who are interested in Malaysian stories will finally be able to experience a movie that is about something and somebody. Johan, for all of his failings, is someone we should care about. He suffers. He smiles. He hopes. He exists. He has purpose. His is a story worth telling. And worth watching. More so when it’s told this well.


If you’re going to turn your life story into art, you have to subject yourself to a certain amount of painful self-examination. It has to be more than just an avenue for self-expression. With Kickflip, Khairil M. Bahar has confronted and exhumed the grim ghosts of his past and laid it out for us as entertainment. He has tapped into the deeply personal to craft something incredibly powerful and meaningful. And I am both impressed and grateful.

I see Kickflip as the second movie in what I’m christening “The TTDI Trilogy.” (Ciplak being the first.) God knows I’m waiting to see what mid-life meditations Khairil M. Bahar will have for us in about 15 years or so.

101 minutes
Director: Khairil M. Bahar
Writer: Khairil M. Bahar
Cast: Khairil M. Bahar, Eva Emmanyna, Syed Qodeem, Amelia Chen, Ash Nair, Michael Chen, and Anrie Too

Kickflip is now streaming on Mubi.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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