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The Rise of Malaysian Cinema


yasmin-ahmad1

Malaysian cinema as a whole

Just three months into 2016, I’ve watched several local Malaysian movies that are well worth the praise and hype, namely Jagat, Ola Bola and The Kid from the Big Apple. Local films are slowly but surely making their mark at international film festivals. This has left us wondering: why the sudden popularity?

There might be some explanation to this.

One, the younger generation are becoming more open to the arts. For instance, mass communication. Communication studies used to be a course that people would make a mockery out of, simply because it appears to be easy and does not provide job security. However, we see a turn of events in this technological era.

Two, the political situation we have for the past years in Malaysia have been alarming and we needed an outlet to express our opinions. Which is why YouTuber and the local independent filmmakers have helped us tremendously in conveying our messages.

Malaysian cinema has its fair share of history, dating back to the 1930s with Laila Majnun, a classical Persian story of a love tragedy likened to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, being the first Malay film ever screened in the then Malaya. P. Ramlee, who later became the living legend of the Malay film world, made his debut in the film Cinta (Love) in 1948. Throughout the decades, the Malaysian movie industry went through both development and declination. Many production houses closed down due to escalating production costs and diminishing audiences.

Branding of Malaysian film

For many years, just like a lost soul, we don’t know who we are and we don’t know what to call ourselves. We’ve seen Malay films imitating Hollywood, Chinese flicks mimicked that of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, while Indian movies emulated Bollywood. Then again, it’s nothing wrong with that because our film industry is still at its infancy stage.

Now, take a look at this list below of nationalities/places with their respective stereotypical movie genre.

Hollywood: action and fantasy
Bollywood: song & dance
Korean: tear-jerking love story
Hong Kong: gangsters & triads
Thai: thai boxing & horror

So, what are the characteristics of Malaysian films then? What makes our film identifiable? Is there a genre that we can call our own?

I remember I cringed when the movie Cicakman was released in December 2006. Aren’t there more tasteful names? I mean, you can’t stop the public from thinking that it’s just a rip-off of Spiderman. Despite its commercial success, the movie was criticised for having no ‘soul’, aesthetic values and culture.

People are shying away from the truth because it sparks controversy; hence it’s always the reason why it’s avoided. However, I feel that the only way to brand ourselves is to stay true to who we are. The truth may be ugly, but only because it is true.

Tackling racial unity in Malaysia through movies is often rarely the case due to its sensitivity and the possible racial disharmony that it might bring. Well, not until the emergence of Yasmin Ahmad’s string of films (Sepet, Gubra and Mukhsin), have I thought that this could actually be done and at the same time, project a more harmonious Malaysia. She’s like the Singapore’s Jack Neo that we never had, in terms of voicing out social issues on film.

A film critic, Hassan Muthalib mentioned that a good film has three criteria – whether it’s entertaining, talks about race or country and about one’s culture. And according to him, Jagat fulfills all of that. I suppose the same could be said for Ola Bola and The Kid from the Big Apple, all of which share a simple storyline with elements of social issues, love and loyalty in it. And that’s what the Malaysian film industry is currently experimenting with – to make films that are true to the people and its culture.

How would you infuse the element of truth to your brand?
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