by Juliana June Rasul
WHATEVER you may have to say about a common housepest being the basis for a superhero, the numbers don't lie.
Malaysian film Cicakman was a surprise hit in 2006 when it raked in almost RM6 million ($2.5 million) at the Malaysian box office. It collected $60,000 at the Singapore box office.
The sequel, Cicakman 2: Planet Hitam (Black Planet), opened last Thursday in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.
Its director, former boybander Yusry Abdul Halim, 35, believes it will top the record-breaking achievements of the first film.
For a start, he's aiming at the international film festival circuit.
Cicakman 2 had its world debut in October at the 13th Pusan International Film Festival, heading a list of Asian superhero flicks as part of a special programme at the festival. Other movies featured include India's Krrish, Thailand's Mercury Man, the Philippines' Lastikman and Japan's Gekko Kamen.
In the Cicakman films, the Gotham-like city of Metrofulus gains a superhero when a slacker lab technician (Malaysian comedian Saiful Apek) accidentally drinks coffee contaminated by a virus-infected gecko and turns into Cicakman.
His nemesis is Professor Klon (Aznil Nawawi), responsible for infecting the people of Metrofulus with viruses in the first film.
In Cicakman 2, the superhero battles Klon again as the evil scientist tries to control the world's water supply.
The movie also stars Fasha Sandha, Sharifah Amani and Tamara Bleszynski.
Said Yusry in a phone interview from Brunei, where he was promoting the sequel along with Saiful: 'It was kind of strange for us, because we never thought we'd debut a Cicakman film at a film festival.
'I think it's the first time superhero movies are making their debut at a festival. 'I didn't expect anyone to turn up, because it was an 11am screening. But it was a full house! That was very encouraging.'
Yusry said he is also glad to move past the Spider-Man and Batman comparisons that plagued the first film.
Instead, he claimed that the international audience showed great interest in his movie.
How did he do it?
The main thing he was asked: How did he make a blockbuster action film with only three people working on the computer-generated imagery (CGI)?
Said Yusry: 'That's what most people seemed to be impressed with.
'Everyone's so used to Hollywood movies where huge teams of people work on their special effects. So some of the Americans I'd met were very, very encouraging with regards to the quality of what they saw in Cicakman.'
That is why Yusry and his producer brother Norman are exploring the idea of taking the film to more markets.
It will open in Indonesia next month and talks are underway for the film to reach markets in Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, Korea and the US through home video or television.
He said he is excited to get the movie out to even more places, especially Western markets, but he'll have to wait to see how the film performs at the box office in the region.
It raked in over $540,000 in its opening weekend in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.
In comparison, the first Cicakman took in over $830,000 in its first week in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.
Yusry acknowledged that the 'current economic climate' may make it difficult for the film to achieve the 'one million tickets' he is aiming for.
But that may not be the only reason.
Reviews of the movie have been dismal.
The Straits Times called it 'an invaluable how-not-to guide' for superhero flicks, while comments on blogs and forums have been discouraging.
One online blogger even sniped: 'It's so dumb, it's actually funny.'
Berita Harian, however, said the plot was fresh and the movie is saved by Saiful's charisma.
This is precisely the sentiment Yusry hopes more people will bring to the film.
Of the negative reviews, Yusry appeared blase: 'You can never please everyone. I just hope people come in with an open mind.'
He said his only concern as the director was to focus on making the film bigger and better.
But he did listen to feedback from fans and critics about the first film and decided to up the sequel's visuals.
This meant devoting a large part of the production to creating CGI for the film as well as spending over RM150,000 ($62,000) on the Cicakman costume.
Most of the money, he said, went to making body moulds for the three people who had to don the suit - lead actor Saiful, his double and his stuntman.
As a result, the sequel's budget increased to RM2.5million, compared to just over RM1.5 million for the first movie.
In addition, Yusry and his special effects team of two, devoted seven months to the CGI, making sure it was an improvement on the first film's effects.
Student Nurmaya Musa, 19, told The New Paper that while she appreciated the film's ambition - she noted a few nods to action scenes from The Matrix trilogy - she felt that the film was 'too much CGI, not enough story'.
'I think it's great that Yusry managed to make the film look good, even with a small team and on a budget, but a more engaging story would have been nice too,' she said.
So will there be a third movie in the pipeline?
Yusry cautioned against speaking too soon, saying: 'Of course we'd love to do another one, but we'll have to see how this one does.
'The thing with these kinds of movies is that they always have to be bigger and better. Or else, what's the point?'
This article first appeared in The New Paper on Dec 17, 2008.