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Living alone with her strict father, Yasmine is a free-spirited girl, sometimes unruly and even rebellious. When her father tells her she’s been refused a school loan and must study far from her friends, at a grim public college, she takes the news very poorly. To top it off, Adi, the silat prodigy with whom Yasmine is hopelessly in love, has his eye instead on her rival Dewi, also a practitioner of the martial art. So the young woman joins the humble silat club at her college, directed by an eccentric academic with a Bruce Lee obsession. Yasmine builds a friendship with her teammates Ali and Nadia, whom she counts on to join her in signing up for the same intercollegiate competition Dewi is participating in, with hopes of turning Adi’s head. Yasmine undertakes her training in secrecy, because her father harbours an unexplained contempt for the sport and forbids her involvement. As the first round of the competition approaches, Yasmine and her team desperately seek out a new teacher. Her unbridled ambition, vendetta with Dewi and fixation on Adi will soon make Yasmine learn why her father wants nothing to do with silat.

The very first commercial film from Brunei Darussalam, YASMINE is a one-two combo of sports drama and initiatory tale in the vein of KARATE KID. While the scenario certainly follows the path of a passage into adulthood, its climactic competition is a canvas for the solid action choreography of Chan Man Ching, who served as Jackie Chan’s right-hand man on SUPERCOP and DRUNKEN MASTER 2, with work on HELLBOY 2 to his credit as well. His collaboration is key in the success of the debut feature by Siti Kamaluddin, a charming and dynamic movie that meets the standards Hollywood has set for the action-apprenticeship genre. Witnessing the superb performnce by newcomer Liyana Yus in the lead, it’s clear that Kamaluddin has a knack with actors. Yus devoted a year to becoming Yasmine and mastering kuntau, Brunei’s form of silat. Her hard work bore fruit as she bursts from the screen (and even sang a tune on the soundtrack). If you’re in the market for an energized feel-good flick spiked with great pop music and boasting the beauties of Brunei, one that reveals the daily life of a young Muslim woman in Brunei and showcases an underappreciated martial art, YASMINE will knock you out. The cinema of Brunei makes a regal entry at Fantasia!

— Nicolas Archambault