‘Fly By Night’: A High-Flying Tale Of Cabs And Robbers

It isn’t very often that we get to see a Malaysian film as glossy and polished as Fly By Night.

The title refers to the extortion racket run by a group of four taxi drivers who resort to crime to pay off their debts. Trouble starts brewing when the younger members decide to branch out with a bigger game in mind.

It’s basically a family business; elder brother Tai Lo (Sunny Pang) brings in his ex-con friend Ah Soon (Eric Chen), and younger brother Sai Lo (Fabian Loo) works with his flirty buddy Gwai Lo (Jack Tan). But the underlying tension between the brothers, driven by their opposite personalities, soon begins to threaten their shady activities.

As the mastermind Tai Lo is calm and cautious, someone who meticulously plans each hit. However, his younger brother Sai Lo is careless and impulsive. Their fly-by-night operation involves blackmailing wealthy customers from their airport transfers. But to be safe, Tai Lo keeps his con jobs modest with low-key scams, so as not to invite unnecessary attention or trouble from the authorities.

Since he is the brains behind the outfit, Tai Lo calls the shots and the others are happy to do his bidding except for his bratty younger sibling. Try as he may, Tai Lo cannot get Sai Lo to listen to reason.

Little known fact: Pennywise the clown used to be a struggling KL cab driver.

Anxious to get out from under his elder brother’s shadow, Sai Lo recklessly decides to strike out on his own and ropes in his best friend Gwai Lo.

The two young thugs target Reanne (Joyce Harn), not knowing she is merely a kept woman, who has just been dumped by Marcus (Shaun Chen), the cheating husband of a diamond heiress. However, the enterprising young woman soon turns the tables on the two airheads and uses them to get even with her ex.

Their high profile heist propels them onto the radar of the vicious Inspector Kamal (Bront Palarae), a corrupt cop with violent interrogation techniques.

Still blissfully unaware that they are in over their heads with their latest scam job, Sai Lo and Gwai Lo start celebrating prematurely, and inadvertently court even more trouble as they thrash the underground business premises of mobster Jared (Frederick Lee).

Now that both the cops and triads are at his doorstep, Tai Lo has to step up his game and dig deep into his bag of tricks to protect his family from harm.

It is apparent that the whole universe of Fly By Night is populated by baddies. There are no good guys in the fray, only criminals and victims, with but a fine line in between.

Still, it is largely a compelling tale with incredibly engaging characters; perhaps more of a character study, given its spectacular ensemble cast. And with a stellar team like that, it is no wonder that Fly By Night is bursting at its seams from superb acting all around.

First scene shot on the set of Fly By Night: Inspector Kamal (Bront Palarae) interrogating crooked cabbie Sai Lo (Fabian Loo). Photo: Handout

“Son, I need you to remember… where on Earth did you lose your pants?”

As the two opposing heads, Pang is calm and commanding while Bront is dark and dangerous. Meanwhile, Lee definitely looks like he’s having fun with his cackling psychopathic character, just hamming it up to the max while channelling his inner Joker.

The main characters are generously fleshed out with each having their own colour and musical score and even their own language. Most of the Chinese characters converse in Mandarin, but the glowering Ah Soon only mumbles in Cantonese. Bleached blonde Gwai Lo gets to show off his English, while Sai Lo is a foul-mouthed hothead.

There are Malay policemen and even an Indonesian hustler thrown in for good measure, thus reflecting Kuala Lumpur’s ethnic and linguistic diversity and stamping its Malaysian-ness on the work.

As the tale comes to a close, Fly By Night takes audiences on a dramatic ride as the violence escalates and tragedy awaits.

Fly By Night

Director: Zahir Omar
Cast: Sunny Pang, Bront Palarae, Fabian Loo, Jack Tan, Eric Chen, Frederick Lee, Joyce Harn, Shaun Chen, Ruby Yap

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