Saturday, November 19, 2011

5 Probable Ways to Improve Local Cinema (Aside From Buying Original)

This is not a public message urging you to flock the cinemas or buy non-pirated DVDs.

I wrote this entry in response to an email I received quite some time ago, which I will not reproduce here for privacy reasons. All I can tell you is that the message was brief, and I'm unsure if the sender was earnestly hopeful for me to say something groundbreaking, or he (or she) was simply irked by my review of KL Gangster [2011] or perhaps even Hantu Bonceng [2011], and wanted to push me off this high horse I'm riding on by trying to discredit me.

Either way, I think some people might have the wrong idea about me. I don't work in the film industry, even though I sure as hell would love to. I'm not affiliated with anyone in the industry, I never went to film school, and my experience in the process of film-making has yet to extend beyond a hurriedly-pieced together short film made for an assignment (written, shot and edited in under 3 hours), as well as being an extra in Afdlin Shauki's Papadom [2009].

I ended up focusing on the on-goings behind the scenes instead of trying to look like I'm acting...
So if I'm in a court right now, and the lawyer asks me if running a blog about movies qualify me as a film expert, my answer is a resounding "Of course not, dumbass..." But if you ask me offhandedly about my opinions on how local cinemas can be improved - before we can even have the chutzpah to claim that we can compete at the international level - this is what I would have to say;

#5 Stop tearing local films a new asshole

Before you rush to the comments section, telling me to practice what I preach or whatever, let me clarify that critiquing and tearing a movie a new asshole are two totally different things. While I may have sounded harsh in the two aforementioned movie reviews, I never resorted to nitpicking therefore it wasn't unreasonable or excessive by any stretch of the imagination.

Yes, it's true. I am not above letting my personal feelings sway how I review any given film, but you would also notice that my approach towards my reviews also have as much to do with seeing a film like how it was meant to be seen, like how the director intended for us to. So even when I find myself not enjoying a movie, it won't be because it didn't end up how I envisioned it to be; Which, by the way, was the reason why some people took offense to Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa [2011]. If I don't like it, I'll just tell you honestly that I was not entertained, instead of rambling on about how the cinematography could use some improvements and whatnot.

Speaking of Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa, here is another ridiculous example of how unfairly Malaysians judge local films. Here, have a look at how much of an ass this guy made of himself;

How about that, huh? He was complaining about a name in the credits, saying that it was misleading to have the name 'John Lucas' in there lest people would confuse him for that guy who made Star Wars. To which I pointed out that it was only him who was confused. But more importantly, this is a classic example of our society's ugly habit of putting everything under a microscope when it comes to local products.

Worse still, he didn't even bother to authenticate his claim, not even making sure if this 'John Lucas' really did make Star Wars. What the hell, man? Google is only one click away, and it could provide search results in tenths of a second. But noo!! There's a misspelled name in the credits, this is an emergency!!

#4 Recognise non-Malay movies

I won't take any credit for this one, because it was something I didn't realise until it was pointed out by writer/film-maker Amir Muhammad in his blog. If you couldn't be bothered to click on that link, here's what he had to say;
This annual event, which presumptuously calls itself Festival Filem Malaysia, looks even more parochial this year because the two most interesting films are shut out from the main nominations due to not being at least 70% in the Malay language.

The best local film of 2011 was the humane and transcendent Great Day, and the most contentious/frisky was Nasi Lemak 2.0. In normal circumstances, these two would have had several nominations each. But since they're mostly in Chinese, we are forced instead to pretend that the films which exist to shore up what passes for the Malay star system are not only worthier but more 'Malaysian'.
It defeats the purpose to call it Festival Filem Malaysia if the only ones celebrated represent only partially what we are as Malaysians, wouldn't you say? Think about it, it's ridiculous to have quotas for people with different skin colours even in politics and education, and I say we sure as hell don't need to have the same quotas in our entertainment industry!

#3 Use real actors

There was an extensive period in my life when I simply refused to watch local movies because of the sickening trend of the general public wanting to see the flavour-of-the-month singers starring in films. It was something that I just plain don't get because... Because... Fuck, why? They would even go as far as asking those singers "So bila you nak berlakon pulak?", almost like it was a natural transition to go from singing on stage, to playing characters on screen we can laugh or cry with.

And no, I did not imagine all that because I remember that period of time when they released one sappy love story after another, featuring Awie chasing Erra Fazira in school uniforms. Maybe I'm exaggerating here, but if you ask me what I think about local movies during the '90s, immediately I would conjure up images of Awie riding a bicycle alongside Erra Fazira, exchanging dialogues that must have been hard to roll off the tongue. In my defense, though, this is trauma talking.

Fast-forward to a number of years later, it's good to see the decline of this trend, even though it has yet to die out altogether. Acting is not easy, as I have pointed out here. So can we please have people who actually know what they're doing (read: trained actors) instead of singers and second-rate stand-up comedians? You guys are never going to be as awesome as P. Ramlee, so please don't even try. And one more thing, once you get your hands on good actors, can you please...

#2 Stop raping them?!

Contrary to popular belief, actors actually have little power when it comes to the release of the films they star in. So don't groan if you walk into the cinema lobby and see four, maybe five movie posters with the same face on each and every one of them. Well, it would be understandable if you do, as long as you don't misdirect your anger.

You see, it's common practice for actors to take on several projects at the same time, and with the relatively short production time of local films, it's not surprising to see a string of releases featuring the same actors and actresses. I suppose the reason for this is because studios condescend to us audience, thinking that we're not going to see a movie if we don't know the guy who's playing the lead role.

So whenever an actor gets a warm welcome by us movie-goers, immediately the studios will go "Quick! They're loving this dude. Hurry up and cast him in as many movies as possible before they audience get tired of him!" Which, of course, will do just that. Yusof Haslam did just that with Awie, Erra Fazira and Ziana Zain. Razak Mohaideen did it with Saiful Apek. And now it's simply Shaheizy Sam who's the victim.

But let's all be honest here, it's still unfair to put the blame solely on film studios because at the end of the day, I'm part of a minority who go for movies for the story, and not to see the flavour-of-the-month star in action. I know I went to see Kongsi [2011] without knowing any of the principal actors, and that was the first I've heard of Shaheizy Sam.

#1 Do more than just point and shoot

Basically what I'm trying to say here is that film-makers could perhaps double their efforts to ensure quality-above-quantity releases. But let's all be honest here, they're not to be blamed entirely because for most people here, movies are simply meant to pass the time. So forget mise-en-scene, forget motifs, forget symbolism, forget allusion, forget MacGuffins, forget Red herrings, forget all that. It's not like the people here would even bother to see beyond what's on the screen.

Or would they? Prove me wrong, people. Before you could even hope to see our films compete internationally, you must first learn to value substance over style because our film-makers don't have $50 million to toss around.


Zulfahmi said...

Do it for the sake of art and the love of movie making...

Not just for money...

If I wanna produce something, I would want my product to be something that I, myself can be proud of...

I LoL'd at the John Lucas thing!

Ken Wooi said...

im not a fan of local films.. somehow they're always about ghosts or gangsters..

PerangFilem said...

good point bro!

Mamü Vies said...

I watch local films sparingly too, but I have genuine hopes that things will get better.

Unknown said...

Great points. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post.

honestly, I don't expect our local cinemas to equal Hollywood or even Bollywood in terms of cinematography and art direction.

I just am honestly bored of the same P.Ramlee jokes being over-used in the local comedy dramas or films. Seriously, just stop it already.

Another thing, I would really love to see a different angle in story line. Simple as that. I can't take another "ghost and ghoul" film that looks like a bunch of kids and adults going out for Halloween. They don't even try to make it look authentic. Or is that the point?

First it was that trailer with that pontianak grooving behind the lorry, and now, it's a toyol wearing diapers. OH GOSH! Please stop wasting money making these films and go for originality, creativity and substance. That's all I ask.

If I see one more pochong, pontianak, toyol and whatever yang sewaktu dengannya, I will swear off local films.

michleong said...

Good write-up tho, I'm not a fan of local production either. The acting looks really fake sometimes. They've got lots more to improve.

Az said...

Good points there. May I add just one more point?

Local movie makers need to pay more attention to details, like make-up. I don't know why but they never care about its importance. For example, in the movie "Anu dalam Botol" - All the trannies in the movie looked so masculine despite their 'efforts' to make them look feminine. While in reality, most Malaysian trannies are prettier than real women! I know one who works in a beauty salon nearby, her/his skin glows, even I envy her at times!

In the movie, they all wore terrible, unnatural looking wigs and their facial hair (moustache) was still visible. They should have used Fatine (the Malaysian transvestite who married an English bloke in 2009) as a reference while they thought of makeup and props.

Local film makers need to see how little details like makeup actually make the movie and characters more believable and entertaining. Let's just start there.

Mamü Vies said...

As a matter of fact, that's an excellent point, Az!

Let's not even get started on makeups for local ghost or zombie movies. You would think that after decades of churning out horror movies, they'd be better at it.

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