Before I get into my review for 3 Days in Malay, I think I need to explain that I didn’t view the film as a historical account of WW2. Part of the reason for this was I noted beforehand the number of complaints online of how historically inaccurate the film was. With it being a DTV film, I can’t say that I was expecting a documentary, so its adherence to accuracy, or lack thereof, wasn’t something I dwelled upon. Of course, WW2 is a serious subject, a subject we shouldn’t take for granted, but sometimes I just want an enjoyable actioner.
Ironically, some of my favorite war films growing up were mostly fictional tales, with WW2 as a backdrop. The likes of the Guns of Navarone (1961) and Where Eagles Dare (1968) are more boys’ own adventures, being the polar opposite of the hard hitting depiction of war that Spielberg made the norm with the release of his classic Saving Private Ryan (1998).
While I wouldn’t exactly call 3 Days in Malay a fun adventure film like those earlier classics I mentioned, it doesn’t go for the full on realism of Spielberg’s iconic movie either, although perhaps if they had the budget they would, but that’s normally how it goes with indie features. You work with the resources at hand. 3 Days in Malay fits somewhere in between the grit of Saving Private Ryan and the action adventure antics of Where Eagles Dare, with the action aiming more for excitement than realism, although it still has more than its fair share of hard hitting violence.
Ex Marine John Caputo (Louis Mandylor) finds himself shipped along with a group of fellow soldiers to protect an airstrip in Malay. This isn’t the easiest assignment for Caputo as the airstrip is currently home to old friend James (Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone), with the two of them having a somewhat strained relationship. Clearly James isn’t so pleased to see his old friend, with the two having some unresolved issues. This brings about some animosity between the two, with them even coming to blows. It’s only a matter of time though before they have to put their differences aside when the airstrip finds itself attacked by an influx of enemy Japanese soldiers.
The initial thing that piqued my interest for 3 Days in Malay was the inclusion of genre fave Louis Mandylor. Recently he and writer/director Brandon Slagle have collaborated on several DTV features, including WW2 set actioner Battle for Saipan (2022). What sets this film apart from their previous collaboration is the fact that Mandylor himself sat in the director’s chair for this outing, with Slagle contributing the screenplay.
3 Days in Malay could almost be a sequel to the earlier Battle of Saipan if it wasn’t for how that film ended. It has very much the same feel, with Mandylor’s film having the same themes of loyalty and bravery as well as featuring a generous helping of violent action scenes. Similar to Battle of Saipan before it, there is a preference for hand to hand combat which helps vary the action from the typical firefights which are synonymous with the genre.
Some of the historical inaccuracy mentioned earlier is in part unintentional. I have noted online the intention was for the film to take place in Malaya not Malay, but unfortunately to change this wasn’t in Mandylor’s power. At the end of the day he worked with what he was given, with him and his crew putting their heart and soul into the film’s production.
Mandylor shoots the film in a clear, basic, unpretentious style, which the film is all the better for. When I say basic, I mean this as a complement. While I love the action flourishes of the likes of John Woo or Tsui Hark, sometimes it’s nice to see a director that’s not beholden to a particular style, one that is just interested in telling the story in the clearest way.
I typically call these directors “no bullshit directors”. Legends like Richard Donner or Andrew V. McLaglen certainly fit under this banner, as while their films were more than competently made, featuring excellent cinematography and action sequences, they never overloaded their films with visual flourishes that can sometimes become a distraction.
Mandylor takes his time building up to the action, allowing the audience to get to know the characters beforehand. The characters aren’t wholly original, with the usual archetypes that we have seen in countless war films make an appearance, but for the most part Mandylor still manages to get good performances from his cast with them injecting enough personality and character into their roles.
One element I particularly liked was the element of surprise Mandylor and Slagle create, with it never being clear which characters are safe. When the attack finally takes place, the Japanese take no prisoners, killing everyone in their wake. This includes doctors, nurses and injured soldiers. The same was true with the earlier Battle for Saipan, but it felt harder hitting here.
As mentioned, there is a good deal of action weaved amongst the drama. The hand to hand action is certainly better realized, with Mandylor and his cast getting to show off their moves. One memorable scene has Mandylor and his fellow soldiers take on a small squad of enemy soldiers in the canteen of their base, using whatever comes to hand. It is well choreographed and surprisingly brutal with one particularly painful looking knee to the face sticking in my memory.
The shootouts are slightly let down by the inclusion of some digital gunfire and blood but that’s to be expected in this day and age. Some of the other effects work isn’t what I would call top tier either, but to be honest it’s no worse than what I recently witnessed in Expend4bles (2023), and that apparently had a $100 million budget.
As to be expected, Mandylor does as good a job in front of the camera as he does behind. As a performer he always gives it his all, and it’s nice to see him being the lead rather than playing second fiddle. His John Caputo is another in a long list of likeable Mandylor performances. His most effective scenes find him acting alongside Donald Cerrone, with the two of them creating some dramatic tension through their rocky relationship, with it being clear something happened in their past that has caused them to drift apart.
I have seen Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in a handful of films, and his work in 3 Days in Malay in my opinion is clearly the standout. I mean more from a performance point of view rather than in regards to action, with Cerrone giving a particularly emotional performance. While he does get in on the action, it wasn’t as much as I expected. But to be honest, this wasn’t really an issue, as clearly Mandylor was more interested in showing Cerrone’s acting chops rather than his action ones.
Cerrone isn’t the only MMA star to appear, with Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson also showing up as the base’s Reverend. Of course casting Jackson, we all know it’s only a matter of time before he bursts into action. However, Mandylor doesn’t rush to show off Jackson’s fighting moves, with Jackson giving an extremely sombre performance that is different from his usual persona.
Out with the headliners, character actor Peter Dobson is good value as Foley, who gets increasingly enraged by the higher ups and not listening to his pleas for help. There’s also Eoin O’Brien who builds on the good work he carried out on previous Mandylor/Slagle collaborations The Flood (2023) and the aforementioned Battle for Saipan.
I am sure 3 Days in Malay isn’t for everyone. War historians would no doubt be annoyed by some of the liberties the film takes, while those who served may be angered by its depiction of war. However, clearly the filmmakers intentions were to honor those who served, and at the end of the day the film works as a form of entertainment. In no way perfect, but Mandylor and his team should be commenced for making such an enjoyable actioner on such limited resources. Not only this, but even more amazing was the fact that Mandylor and his team managed to shoot the film in just 10 days. I can only imagine what they would be able to pull off with a proper schedule and larger budget.
3 Days in Malay has just recently been released to Blu Ray and DVD from the good people at Well Go USA as well as being available digitally.
Plot: 3/5 Acting: 3.5/5 Action: 3.5/5 Overall: 3.3/5