On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Diversity on the silver screen

We hope the move will also lead to Malaysian film-makers who produce works other than in Bahasa Malaysia enjoying financial support and incentives from the various government agencies.

Previously, a Malaysian movie that was not predominantly in Bahasa Malaysia was considered “foreign” unless 60% of its dialogue was in Bahasa Malaysia – even if it was Malaysian in terms of production, content and crew. But times have changed. There have been locally-made movies using Mandarin and other Chinese dialects, and some have won regional recognition and awards.

With Singapore busy developing its film industry, it makes sense for our Government to give more backing to our film-makers.

These Singapore-made movies already have financial support from Malaysian companies, such as Grand Brilliance Sdn Bhd, which see their marketability in their use of a mix of Mandarin, Hokkien and English.

They call this unique form of conversation “Singlish” while to us it’s “Manglish”, but ultimately it has struck a chord with audiences from both sides.

There is already collaboration between both sides in terms of cast, crew and even content, as it makes financial sense to use talents from both sides. After all, these movies should be screened in both countries to ensure they make money.

Film producers want to make as much money as possible before the pirates move in. There is very little time for the former to operate. Art is meaningless if film-makers are unable to pay the bills and the audience are not interested in what has been made. Getting rave reviews from film critics will not help either if the movies become box-office flops.

The move to expand the definition of Malaysian movies is a boost to the industry because everyone would benefit in the long term.

Most production personnel are Malay, even if these movies are not in Bahasa Malaysia. So are those involved in post-production work. It means greater employment opportunities.

There is also nothing to stop Malay film-makers from producing movies in other languages, besides the national language, with this development. Indonesia, in fact, has always been a stumbling block for Malay movies because of the often protectionist nature of the industry there. But there’s nothing to stop Malaysian film-makers from looking beyond traditional markets. With the Internet, movie lovers no longer just watch movies in cinemas and over television now.

The availability of video downloading facility has also been a boost and more young people are now buying movies via the Internet.

The New Straits Times, in a recent editorial, correctly pointed out that “for whatever the language medium, most Malaysian movies have fundamentally Malaysian stories to share. And unlike other multiracial countries, Malaysia is quite unique in that so many languages are freely used in everyday situations, in addition to there being a national language.

“To withhold encouragement of storytelling in other languages would be to limit the wealth multiculturalism has to offer through the arts.”

Astro has done a wonderful job producing Malaysian-themed movies using Mandarin and local Chinese dialects. Last year, Astro Shaw and Woohoo Pictures produced Tiger Woohoo, a film about five youths from different backgrounds who somehow end up in a small village on the East Coast and were persuaded to train and perform the tiger dance.

This year, it’s Homecoming, a movie about three individuals going home for CNY and was a collaboration between Malaysia’s Double Vision and Singapore’s Jack Neo’s J team.

Penangite Ah Niu’s Ice Kacang Puppy Love, for example, is also another Malaysian effort. The movie is set in the 1980s in the small town of Tronoh in Perak. The ice kacang is, of course, a very Malaysian dessert reflecting our way of life.

Besides making movies, many Malaysians such as Fish Leong and Ah Niu have made themselves well known in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. They have consistently flown the national flag, proudly promoting Malaysia when they perform, even if they sing in Chinese.

Malaysian movie-goers hope that local film-makers would now take up the challenge of producing movies in English. By that we mean Manglish. There have been TV series such as The Front Page that used Bahasa Malaysia and English. The Front Page, a series about news reporters, was shown on NTV7. Now, we have to take it a step further. After all, Singapore actor Gurmit Singh has made himself well known both in his home country and Malaysia playing contractor Phua Chu Kang with his own brand of English.

Despite the horribly deteriorating standard of English in Malaysia, it is still widely used by many Malaysians. So, there certainly is still a big pool of audience.

When it comes to movies, particularly comedy, crime and horror, there is always a universal following as long as the quality is good. It’s the same with music, with icons like Sheila Majid and Alleycats who sing in Bahasa Malaysia but have a huge non-Malay fan base.

They are not perceived as Malay singers but as Malaysian talents. And rightly so. Let’s give our talents all the support we can as they truly deserve it. It’s a piece of good news as we usher in the Year of the Rabbit. Gong Xi Fa Cai to all.