On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Pointless acts of banning

Even if they did, they would likely be flops because they were not commercial movies. The two movies – Apa Khabar, Orang Kampung? by Amir Muhammad and I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone by Tsai Ming Liang – failed to get past the Censorship Board. 

The ban on Amir’s movie, which is a sequel to The Last Communist, came as no surprise. There is still much unforgiveness among families of soldiers and policemen who sacrificed their lives fighting the insurgents.  

Never mind if the stories of these dying ex-communists have been published as books in Malaysia; a movie would seemingly have a bigger impact. That would presumably be the fears of the Censorship Board. 

Many of us still remember the ruckus following a complaint by an entertainment editor who had not even seen The Last Communist but his article was powerful enough get the officials to prevent its screening.  

When a special screening was made for some Members of Parliament and the media, not many found the movie appealing. Most were confused by the contents but my colleagues, who watched it, agreed that even the retired Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leaders would have complained that the show had nothing about them. 

Then, there is Sarawak-born Tsai who returned to Malaysia to make a movie about this country after spending 15 years in Taiwan, where he is a prominent filmmaker. The movie, shot in Kuala Lumpur last year, won him several nominations for the prestigious Golden Horses awards. He even received a standing ovation when the movie premiered at the Venice International Film festival. 

But our Censorship Board had different views. The street brawls, air pollution, poverty and menacing foreigners depicted in the movie were said to be bad for the image of Malaysia. They were not convinced by Tsai’s argument that the film is about human relationship and the need to find love and someone to depend on. 

And since there is unlikely to be a special screening for MPs and newsmen, we would probably be unable to pass our judgment on the movie. It is highly unlikely that pirated versions would be sold, as again, the film would have little commercial value. Except for the arty types, those of us who would rather settle for Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustler would pass it over for sure. 

But the arguments put up by the Censorship Board seem weak. As the young would say, it’s lame. Like all movies, Tsai’s work is just a work of fiction. There are plenty of Hong Kong movies about triads and street fights but visitors to Hong Kong can tell you that it is one of the safest cities in the world.  

Mat Rempit, a movie about illegal racing, free sex and drugs, was passed with little snips from the Censorship Board and was even screened on Astro during the festive season.  

Now, that’s strange because we can also argue that the film put Malaysia in a bad light. Most of us do not race illegally and neither would we look for stolen bikes to claim prizes from Putera Umno. 

We really have to do away with this hypocrisy. The offensive but supposedly humorous movie Borat would never make it to Malaysia but we can bet that it is easily available at the pasar malam. Some even say you can get his earlier work Ali G, which is equally repulsive but more entertaining, from the pirates.  

And those of us who have never heard of actress Rosmah Mat Aris until her controversial remarks on TV3’s Sensasi can still watch her blunder over and over again on the video search engine, YouTube. That’s the Internet age for you. Someone forgot to tell the authorities that you could also download a movie from the Internet, burn it into a DVD and pass it around. 

Times have changed. The use of sledgehammer treatment no longer works as many so-called banned materials, whether in the form of a book or a film, can be easily obtained through the Net. 

Many of our existing laws governing the media such as the need for printing permits have become obsolete and ineffective when uncensored articles can be posted on the Net. Continuing with such laws would serve little purpose.  

There is another illogical law – a person cannot take a Malaysian newspaper across to Singapore and vice-versa but with the availability of the online versions, why is such legislation still required?  

But the point is this: we talk of world-class universities but how can the minds of our young and not so young grow if we restrict materials which can hardly be regarded as sensitive from the communal or religious aspects.  

Don’t tell me Karl Marx’ Das Kapital, first published in 1867, is still banned when you can download it in full from the Internet? But for sure, the book by the founder of communism won’t be a bestseller in Malaysia except for those who need it to cure their insomnia problems.