Monday, May 11, 2015


By Mansor Puteh

Most film directors in Malaysia seem to have got it wrong.

They tried their level best using whatever ingenuity to come up with films which they thought would be what the general population wanted with the littlest or nonexistent formal education and some experience, copying from films they had seen earlier and coming up with their own in almost similar style that show their lack for concern for originality and creativity.

Their guesses were all wrong.

This also encouraged some Chinese and Tamil directors to try their luck coming up with films that deal with the Chinese and Tamil Diasporas, which unfortunately also did not quite make it even in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and India where local issues are the main concerns of their filmmakers.

Their films could only take them so far, but not far enough after it had been revealed to be a mere gimmick used by the producers to attract the attention of the film festivals in the Chinese and Indian countries and also amongst the Chinese and Indian Diaspora around the world.

The problem is that their films in such a class of Chinese and Indian or Tamil Diaspora films can only be liked by certain international film festivals, but not the others, especially the major studios to want to bring such films to the bigger screen for the wider audiences including those in China.

And China too does not feel encouraged with the creation of such films; to them they show not Chinese Diaspora, but Chinese Displacement.

The sight of the Chinese living in such a deplorable condition is sickening. Not many in China want to see such films about their own kind living anywhere else in the world, where they are not able to assimilate well with the locals or natives there.

Indian or Tamil Diaspora films suffer worse reception even by the Indians anywhere in the world, more so in India where fantasy films reign with fantastic settings and plots that most of the time go beyond common sense or logic.

When their production comes to Langkawi in Malaysia, they would film a long scene of their antagonist and protagonist fighting on the treetop walkway there.

No one wondered how the crook in their film could come all the way to Malaysia and take the trouble of going to Langkawi only to continue fighting with his persuer who is a police officer in India.  

Maybe Melayu Diaspora films could be a nice and welcoming attraction to many of the Melayu viewers in Malaysia.

But so far no such film has been produced. The problem being that the Melayu Diaspora is not like the Chinese and Indian Diasporas, who are fractured and who prefer to be on their own; where they are no MelayuTowns in any major world city.

So the theme on isolation and personal angst can become a good theme for Malaysian filmmakers to deal with i.e. if they know how to grapple with the subject to make it convincing and not looking like it is also a copy of another film he had seen earlier without dwelling too much on cultural shock and isolation as the main theme of the stories.

If this can be done and with the films that have cross-cultural and interdisplinary experiences, then surely, they can be accepted better not only abroad but in the country where it matters more, although getting recognition abroad of the artistic and creative kind would be good too.   

Even then Malaysian filmmakers seem to have been looking elsewhere, and not at the right place.

And no wonder they have also not been looked at as serious filmmakers who are sensitive that try to capture and record the different times that the country has moved from, and is heading for.

This is because they have not been looking at the right place, at some of Lat’s cartoons to get some interesting ideas from.

Film director, Othman Hafsham had tried his level best to come up with ‘Mekanik’ which became a surprise hit when it was shown in the early 1980s.

He had created a spark here but unfortunately, he and the others in his generation had not managed or are capable of igniting the spark to create a new wave of films that we can proudly claim to be the New Malaysian Cinema.

It was not Hafsham to be blamed; he was just a film director.

Those who could be blamed are the think-tankers, the philosophers, historians, psychologists, sociologists and politicians who could not come up to pick up from where he had left.

And Finas, too, must accept most of the blame for being too disengaged from this new and exciting development which happened when the national film agency was established in 1981.

If Finas had done something to embrace this development surely something magical could have happened to the film industry in the country that could lead to the creation of the New Malaysian Cinema.

Unfortunately, those at Finas then only knew how to embrace past achievements of those in the Old Malayan Cinema who they considered needed to be further given the necessary attention and tribute.

They did this at the expense of the new generation of Malaysian filmmakers who were eager to contribute many things to help develop the film industry, but they ended up being pitted against the old generation of filmmakers instead.

And for the past first three decade since its existence Finas has failed to see the creation of any interesting film, much less to encourage anyone of their filmmakers to bring back the coveted Oscars, or any other minor awards for their works.

 Malaysia has changed beyond recognition especially since the late 1980s and mostly from the end of the 1990s with vast economic developments which saw the creation of new groups or classes of people who have acquired certain ways of thinking and attitude.

But none of these have been recorded in films.

In fact, most of the scenes that are created because of the vast economic development which even saw Kuala Lumpur looking totally different than it was in the early 1980s have been missed because the directors and producers of feature films and television drama serials only focus on the few major scenes for their productions, such as the bedroom, inside of a moving car and hotel coffeehouses.

Malaysia is more than that. We have the rural and urban and suburban areas that had been redeveloped and created with infrastructure that connect them, and the overall scenery in the cities, towns and villages having their own peculiar identities which create new stories and characters and intrigues that were not there before.

Alas, all these are not captured in films, as Malaysian filmmakers look elsewhere and with that the international film festivals, too, look elsewhere…

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