Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Bitter Red Pill to Swallow

Malaysians. Can't even watch a goddamn movie without making it a racial thing.

The good news is that as of April 30th, 2014, this post is no longer relevant. But for the few days when the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia (FINAS) added a new column in their box-office page, it was the most eye-searing thing I saw all week. See if you can spot it.

No doubt sparked by the unexpected success of The Journey, audience and film-makers alike have been wondering what made it tick. I briefly touched on it some time ago, but those with the transcendental awareness of Buddha; in addition to having sharper eyes and ears than mine; quickly noted that The Journey is a Chinese-language movie made by a director who is of Chinese descent.

And they believe those are the reasons for its success. And because we're a shining example of tolerance and moderation, it makes sense to zero in on race upon the slightest "provocation"; or to react uncomfortably when "they" are doing well.

So back to the subject at hand, I can't for the life of me figure out why that "Ownership" column needs to be there. Is it an off-shoot of NEP? Like there is a need to bridge the gap of box-office intakes between Bumiputera and non-Bumiputera films? Just writing that last sentence makes me feel unclean.

"1 Malaysia!"
Why? One, because it doesn't make sense. Two, because films are entertainment. Products, to put it crudely. You make a good product, we'll buy it. If it's bad, well, off to the trash you go. It's really as simple as that.

Well, perhaps not that simple. There are signs, sure, but the only way to actually know if a movie is any good is by watching them. Too bad. But I have been a lifelong film fan, so it's rarely a chore.

In any case, it's a good thing that it's yesterday's news by the time I got to this entry, 'cause things like this are actually detrimental to the industry's growth - the fact that it came from high above just made it scarier. Had I published this before the retraction, here's what I have to say about the matter:

No, "they" are not "taking over" our film industry "too"

In that thinly-veiled Yellow Peril article published in Free Malaysia Today (FMT), (though the author was nice enough to end it with the I'm-not-racist disclaimer), she (?) outright said that The Journey did well for the simplest reason that the Chinese no kiam siap one and can kaw tim summore if it's Chinese movie mah; whereas Bumiputeras shun Malay-language movies because... we are not racist enough?

Right. Nothing to do with the fact that, for instance, out of 70+ Malay-language movies released in 2012, a good bulk of them were so chu kia wor.

So yeah, not only that article was falsely-labelled as a movie review (it really wasn't. At all!), but when this Melati Pusaka tried her hand at an analysis, it was an insultingly-simplistic one.

But Mamü, I hear people say, "Eee, tak mau la tengok citer Melayu!" all the time.
Right, they do. Heck, I used to be one of them. But what you need to understand is that whenever you hear people say something like that, they are, of course, making generalisations about a Malay-language film. But the language itself isn't a problem. Malaysians, in general, don't care. We'd watch anything from The Lord of the Rings, to Transformers, to Fantaghiro, to Mis Tres Hermanas, to Apa Ada Dengan Cinta?, to Meteor Garden, and the list goes on.

But perhaps you know that already. So why are Malay-language films being singled out? The short answer is the trust isn't there anymore. Or perhaps it has never been there. Which brings us to:

Malay-language movies have become synonymous with "sub-par / bad movies"

There's a unique look, sound and feel to your run-of-the-mill Malay-language movies, wouldn't you say? And not in a flattering way. Beyond the fact that they don't use live sounds and foley is always absent, I can't quite put my finger on why. Some things are understandable for reasons I'll get to in a bit, but our biggest problem isn't sound design. If you ask me, it always boils down to the story, and coming up with a good one has problems of its own.

There was a time when there weren't more than ten local films released in a single year. Most still flopped, but they at least had a fighting chance. Then somewhere along the way, film-making no longer became exclusive as the technology has progressively gotten cheaper, and we've been averaging at 70 films per year since 2012.

Seems like it'll be the same story this year. There are already 26 local films released in a span of four months and if I have to guess, I say it'd be another year or two before we'd slow down.

I suppose if you must blame someone, blame David Teo who flat out said that he's in the industry solely to make money. Though it still wouldn't be fair, 'cause everything he has today, he earned it. He persevered even after losing so much money producing his first three films. I may have little regard for his films, but the man himself I find hard to really dislike. At least for now.

But no. The real problem, if I may venture an opinion, is the fact that there are producers worse than him. Money launderers, to put it simply. On the surface it may not seem like a bad thing. These shady producers make money, people in showbiz get jobs. Everybody wins. Unless, of course, said producer is one hell of a penny pincher and don't care at all about the end product. It's just a mean to an end for them. Until the next batch of dirty money comes.

How rampant or deeply-rooted this problem is, it's impossible for me to know. I'm from da streets, y'aw! Not even remotely-related to any Dato'. Heck, even the concept of money laundering is beyond my understanding right now. So let's save further discussions about the matter for another time.

I'll be back.
So going back to the subject at hand, why is there even a need to bring up this thing with money laundering? Well, how do you think a movie like Tokak got made? Not accusing the producer of anything, but for the sake of example, how on earth could it have cost RM 1.5 million? So here's what I've been doing - join me if you like - keep an eye out for all the film production companies listed here, and see which one(s) will just disappear without a trace after they release one movie.

If you want to "help Bumiputera film-makers", invoking the May 13th card would do just the opposite

Because duh. You'd be surprised by how meritocratic showbiz can be, where you're only as good as your last job. Hence why all these racist rhetorics just don't fit in there. But you gotta hand it to the likes of Ahmad Idham, though. They're pioneering a new type of marketing strategy, which is to shame and guilt the audience into watching Malay-language films because they are "one of us".

It doesn't work and probably never will because at the end of the day, entertainment is not exactly high up there on the spending list for your average Malaysian. Think of it this way: the minimum wage in Malaysia is about RM4 per hour. So that means they'll have to work 3 to 5 hours a day for the ticket price alone - which is okay. But this is Malaysia, and that means the average rakyat gotta worry about housing, car and study loans amid the rising cost of living.

These are tough times and, based on what little I know about history, art has never been something that flourishes when the economy is bad.

In short, they can't afford to give every film out there a chance, so you really gotta give 'em a reason to see yours, and "sokong filem tempatan" is not a good enough reason. Especially if they stand to gain nothing in return.

And, I don't know if I can stress this enough; language or race has nothing to do with it. It's all about value for money. Playing the race card to guilt or shame people into watching your film will only make them feel awkward. Because entertainment is one place where they don't need to hear about this filth you're spewing.


Malaysian Diarist said...

Mamu, thank you for making this entry. I think more Malaysians need to be more aware with how the local film industry works.

I recently watched The Journey, now that it has come out on DVD and I gotta say, it's one of my favorite movies this year! It's beautifully shot showcasing the beauty of malaysia and chinese culture which I am not exposed to.

I wouldn't have been aware of this film if you didn't mention it on your blog. You are my source of what's worth out there to watch locally especially.

You have opened up my eyes, mind and heart when it comes to local films, and for that I have to thank you.

Mamü Vies said...

Oh wow, those are very kind words. Thank you so much.

Granted, I write on this blog as a hobby - okay, maybe a notch higher than a hobby. But it's readers like you who keep the blog alive, and I'm not just saying that to reciprocate; I really mean it.

I'm now excited to update this blog more regularly, and I have you to thank for that :)

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