Seedy taxi drivers and corrupt police officers: Zahir Omar’s ‘Fly by Night’ looks into the dark underworld of Kuala Lumpur

By Anna Graubaum

The movie ‘Fly by Night’ is the film debut of Zahir Omar who won the first ‘BMW Shorties’ with his movie ‘K-Hole’ in 2007.

First of all, ‘Fly by Night’ is not a movie for non-smokers. Basically everyone is smoking either cigarettes or with a vaporizer.

That aside, the movie is a character-based crime drama equipped with strong action elements towards the end. Gratitude must be given to Zahir Omar and the writers for giving the plot and characters enough time to develop and therefore providing the audience the time to connect with the figures portrayed.

The plot follows a small gang of taxi drivers in Kuala Lumpur who blackmail rich passengers. The head of this small gang is Tai Lo (very well-played by Sunny Pang) and beside him, his dear friend Ah Soon (Eric Chan).

As the two younger members Sai Lo (Fabian Loo) and Gwai Lo (Jack Tan) start to feel disappointed by their decreasing income, Sai Lo drags his gang buddy Gwai Lo into an outside job. However, blackmailing a rich woman who currently had an affair with an even richer man does not turn out to be what they hoped for. Reanne (played by Joyce Harn) has plans of her own. Her affair with married man Marcus (Shaun Chen) has just ended and she is now seeking revenge. She decides to turn the tables on her blackmailers by dragging the never-lucky Sai Lo and Gwai Lo even deeper into the – pardon the language! – shit.

And for a blink of a moment it seems like extorting Marcus will help the tricky situation. This is followed by the big mafia-like casino runner Jared (played by Frederick Lee) wanting compensation from the gang after a brawl and – I have to spoil it- the complete destruction of the club by Sai Lo and Gwai Lo.

At this point, the movie picks up speed. Now police officer Kamal (brilliantly embodied by Bront Palarae), who was closely following the gang’s business, believes that the gang is hiding money from the police.

With Jared and Kamal on their heels and Sai Lo getting arrested and the gang exposed, the question is how will Tai Lo, Ah Soon and Gwai Lo break out of this mess?


Director Zahir Omar said the inspiration for the movie came after observing how much information taxi drivers carry. “They become invisible, you see. When you´re talking on the phone in a taxi, you´re divulging a lot of private information without realizing it. If they get themselves caught in a desperate situation, they can use all that information if they choose to.”

The work on this idea started in 2012 and came to a hold when Zahir Omar’s friend, creative partner and writer Ivan Yeo died in 2015. During this time, producer Perin Petrus kept going on the project and brought writer Frederick Baily into the team. He as well as writer Dain Said (who is behind movies such as ‘Bunohan’ and ‘Interchange’) helped shape the manuscript for the movie which was originally written in English and had to be translated into Mandarin.

He said: “I thought writing a script was hard, but finding the money was even worse!”.

Finally, the National Film Development Corporation (FINAS) supported the movie and Planet Films’ Farouk Aljoffery helped to shot the action scenes. This is particularly remarkable since it’s the first long-format feature film by Planet Films.

The dialogue between Sai Lo and Gwai Lo is particularly funny and quick. It is obvious how Zahir Omar carefully considered putting the scenery and sets. This love for detail gives value to the movie and makes it worth watching more than once. Events in the background are well-thought-out.

Another highlight of ‘Fly by Night’ is definitely the music. Although maybe not always well placed, the music removes the heaviness of the movie’s dark atmosphere. ‘Fly by Night’ was shot in Kuala Lumpur and stayed local and authentic.

At last I would like to touch upon two points that I noticed in the movie. First is the portrayal of a corrupt police investigator – in this case, a guy called Kamal – might be something rare in Malaysian cinema. In this regard, ‘Fly by Night’ is unique.

However, not unique is the representation of the women in the movie. Three female roles are depicted: Sai Lo’s wife Tai Lo, Sai Lo´s mother as well as Reanne. Reanne is portrayed as an emotionally-overreacting discarded lover. The portrayal of the other two women is even more stereotypical.

All in all, Zahir Omar´s debut movie ‘Fly by Night’ is worth watching. It is a product of good team work, it is well-acted and the characters and sets are well-thought-out.

About Anna Graubaum

Photo courtesy of author

Anna Graubaum was born in Germany in 1990. She graduated from the Institute of Islamic Studies, Freie Universität Berlin (Free University of Berlin) in 2019. Graubaum has worked for the organization DAAL – Research and Media, including writing an article in Arabic about foreign students living in Cairo. She has lived abroad in various countries such as Saudi Arabia, France and Egypt and now resides in Malaysia.