Wednesday, February 25, 2015


By Mansor Puteh

Have the Chinese filmmakers in Malaysia found a niche in the international film festival circuit by coming up with more and more films dealing with their anguish and anxieties living in a country outside of China and facing whatever difficulties and social and cultural disconnection with their host country?

This is an interesting theme.

But can they pull by coming up with something magnificent?

Some African-American film directors had tried to do that by coming up with films and television serials dealing with their ties to Africa but they did not create a separate genre; in the end they are swallowed by Hollywood.

And in England there are also many films that deal with the experiences of their immigrant societies facing problems and issues living there. But till now one has not seen anything wonderful, even in the form of literary works.

No novel that deal with such a theme has ever been written and published. The doyen of the authors, Salman Rushdie had to sideline his religious and racial backgrounds to embrace the British way of life and thinking in order for him to be accepted by the literati and establishment.

Alas he is not serving himself but his masters even if it meant that he has to hide himself from everybody worrying if Imam Khomeini’s fatwa would be enforced by anyone remotely looking like a Persian or Arab who never appreciated the late Imam or his ideals, but for the sake of making it on prime-time television for a few days... 

David Chapman knew it could be done.

I don’t think the Chinese anywhere in the world cares how the Chinese in Malaysia looks like and behave as much as the Indians anywhere in the world would care to look at Indians living in Malaysia and other countries including in England.

Unfortunately, and ironically, the opposite may be true. In fact it is true since a long time ago, with the many films and music from Hong Kong that have been imported into Malaysia and by the Chinese all over the world.

Even the Indians in Malaysia are still enamored with things India, especially its films and music till today despite them not being relevant to their social and cultural needs.

They aspired to be further disassimilated from the majority societies they are in and for as long as they possibly can.

The Chinese in America and the United Kingdom had found it was not expedient anymore for them to behave that way, so most of them had opted to assimilate with the majority, the whites and adopted their ways, with the few stuck in the few Chinatowns, where they are holed in thinking that they are still somewhere in China.

The Chinese and Indians are two major minority immigrant races in Malaysia whose prominence has not created any wonderful films on their communities, personalities and issues, social or cultural or even political.

They are being treated by the Chinese in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China much the same as the Africans would look at the African-Americans and the films on them.

The Chinese-Malaysian feature film, ‘The Journey’ therefore cannot attract much attention outside of Malaysia and even in Singapore whose Chinese-Singaporean films too have not managed to do the same in Malaysia much less in other countries.

And the stories of Chinese immigration to Nanyang or Nusantara Melayu that had been turned into films too have failed.

Chinese and Indian Diaspora films are not going to be an exciting genre for the Chinese communities all over the world except for some ‘Bollywood’ films that are still seen by some Indians living outside of India.

‘The Journey’ is a Malaysian film. It is a Chinese-Malaysian film. But alas, it is more of a Chinese Diaspora film.

It is on the Chinese who refuse and cannot assimilate with the majority Melayu-Muslims and who seem to blame their ancestors for them being here in this country and not in their country of origin.

From the film, one can see how distant they are in their gaze and looking out of place in the location where they are.

Unfortunately, this is something that this film dwells on without ever the director or screenwriter and the characters uttering a word of it.

There has also been some Indian Diaspora films produced by the Indians in England that had gone places, especially ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ and some others including novels written by British-Indians, who seem to have also gone very far living in the country with some ending up as television hosts and newsreaders for the BBC.  

And in Hollywood there are also some Chinese Diaspora films that had been produced based on novels written by Chinese-Americans with the notable one being ‘Joy Luck Club’.  

All of them however, deal in caricatures, much like Charlie Chan that was produced earlier by Hollywood, and especially now with Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-fat and Jet Li who only know how to prance about in all the Hollywood films they had acted in.

They had benefited much from their foray into Hollywood, but the Chinese Diaspora has not.  

First of all, the title is not original; there are few other titles for films with the same title, so it is difficult to Google check for it without finding that it is for other films.

Besides, what journey are the makers of the film talking about? The journey that their ancestors had taken to come from South China to Tanah Melayu or Melayu Land and to the others in Nanyang or Southeast Asia or Nusantara Melayu or the Melayu World?

Has their journey ended or it is still continuing until some of the Chinese in Nanyang finally find themselves in England, Australia and America or anywhere in Europe where they will and can be made to feel not belonged?

So few Chinese in Nusantara Melayu would want to return to China. Those few who finally had to go back were those who were involved in crime and had to flee from their adopted countries to return to China to escape persecution.

They did not return because they liked China.

The same with some Indians or Tamils who had to return to India for the same reasons.

China and India are not like the Zionist state of Israel which has the Law of the Return, allowing any Jew to return to Israel and be given automatic citizen ship and perks they did not get in their own countries.

They are mostly the economic migrants in Eastern Europe and Russia.

But China and India both have unemployment problems that they can never offer the foreign Chinese and Indians such a deal.

Maybe if the economic fortunes of these two countries changed in the future, and if they get support from America like Israel does, then they can consider creating such laws to allow the foreign Chinese and Indians the right to return to the countries of their origins.

But China and India are both countries that have huge populations unlike Israel which is facing the treat of the Arabs who are growing in the numbers and who would soon overwhelm the Jews there.

This is one of the local Chinese films that had made it getting the Chinese to watch it in droves which allowed it to collect RM17 million at the box office and some millions more on television, and also from DVD sales.

I am not sure if this film had also managed to get distribution in other Chinese countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and China and in the Chinese areas in some cities in America and elsewhere.

There has not been any announcement on this.

Chances are if it had, then surely the producers of this film would have made a big deal out of it.

They should and no one can blame them from doing that, if that had happened.

So chances are that had not happened.

But why are the Chinese in Malaysia falling for this sort of film? They had not gone to watch the many other local Chinese feature films, except for this one.

It is a problem not of their doing, but that of their parents and grandparents.

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