A group of four taxi drivers extort wealthy passengers for fast money, but when everything spirals out of control, their small illegal business takes a turn for the worse. Guess karma will always catch up—the truth is, life sucks, and then you die. Which is exactly what Fly by Night is about. That life sucks? Maybe. But director Zahir Omar explains, “The movie plays with the idea that nothing is what it seems. It gives a fresh outlook on the possible double lives people lead, specifically the cab drivers whom we entrust in taking us from one point to another without really knowing who they truly are.”
A local neo-noir film isn’t common, but with the attention Fly by Night is getting, there’s no denying that it’s certainly well received. However, neo-noir wasn’t the path the film was set on to begin with. Omar states, “As the script evolved, we explored the different layers and characters in the film. And as we started pushing the characters, their darker sides started to surface and it organically fell into this genre.”
Even before its premiere on home ground in Malaysia, Fly by Night has been garnering plenty of buzz since its debut at the 23rd Busan International Film Festival and its screening at Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival, both in 2018. This year, it premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival 2019 and New York Asian Film Festival 2019. As a film from outside Hollywood, it’s understandably difficult to gain the right international attention. But to have already earned critical acclaim at multiple film festivals worldwide, Fly by Night has truly set the bar high. Omar says, “It was made with a mainstream audience in mind. My themes are quite universal. It transcends race, language and economical status. And it takes a very humanistic approach to the message, yet the look and feel of the film is still coated with Malaysian seasoning and flavouring.”
Although it was selected as a feature at the International Film Festival & Awards Macao last year in the Chinese language film category, Fly by Night explores more than the limits of a single-language film. Part of what Omar calls “Malaysian seasoning”, the extensive use of code-switching reflects something Malaysians do on a daily basis. Throughout the film, conversations alternate between English, Bahasa Malaysia, Cantonese and Mandarin. But one thing remains, “None of that can change the message within the story,” says Omar.
Now all eyes are on Fly by Night—whatever recognition the film has gained so far is just the beginning. With it paving the way for the Malaysian film industry on the international stage, it’s just a matter of time before more local new creatives follow suit.
Fly by Night is now out in cinemas.