Lelaki Komunis Terakhir, 2006
(The Last Communist)
dir: Amir Muhammad
Amir Muhammad is a gem. He is a person that never gives up. Being a fore-runner of the Malaysian independent film movement, or the so called Malaysian “New Wave”, he made his PATHER PANCHALI with the premiere of LIPS TO LIPS in 2000. His wit and guts resulted in his now famous Banned Trilogy, i.e. THE BIG DURIAN, THE LAST COMMUNIST and VILLAGE PEOPLE RADIO SHOW. Why banned? Because the authorities thought he is inciting racial hatred, promoting the virtues of the communists, talking bad about the government and its leaders past and present, etc. Hmmm…..
THE LAST COMMUNIST is essentially a documentary tracking Chin Peng’s life from his birthplace in Sitiawan to the community of ex-communists in southern Thailand. In a road movie format, Amir not only told the story of Chin Peng but bring to live the towns and places that has been touched by Chin Peng and the communist. We see, for example, the interview of a bicycle shop owner in Sitiawan (Chin Peng’s family owned a bicycle shop), the interview of rubber estate tappers when the topic of communists terrorizing rubber estates popped up, leading up to the interviews with ex-communists who are still living in southern Thailand. The interviewees comprise of all the three main races in Malaysia, quite evenly distributed, which is rare in a local production (movies in Malaysia are either predominantly Malay or Chinese or Indian). He even interviewed an Malaysian Indian that speaks perfect Hokkien.
Amir is also not shy to use song and dance just like how the directors in Bollywood will do, only that Amir has 5 song breaks compared to the normal 3 or 4 song breaks in a typical Bollywood movie. The first song is about the birth of communism with he publishing of the works by Marx and Engels. The second song is about malaria in Malaya, followed by the third song that asked us to be thankful for a peaceful and prosperous country as Malaya. Then the 4th song is about identity cards, which is one of the methods used by the British to isolate the communist and the final song dispenses advice on how to choose your gun. All these does not still include the few songs sung in between, such as the church guy songs and the karaoke sessions. Indeed, this can in fact be a musical if Amir wishes. However, I cannot help but admit to be personally quite fond of a couple of the songs, particularly the Birth of Communism song and that Malaria Conquers Malaya song, both has strong melodies, witty lyrics and excellent dance sequence, although the Malaria song only uses finger dances predominantly.
Technically, we will have to accept that this is a film on a shoestring budget and meant to be told documentary style. So “imperfections” such as seeing the cameraman’s own reflection, etc. abound but this only added to the realism and charm of the work. The opening credit title is also quite creative although not too original and the final fireworks ending gets us to ponder on the history of Malaysia, particularly the history of communism in Malaya.
We may not learn a lot about the communism in Malaysia in this film but it is enough to excite those interested to go and find out more about this aspect of our history. Overall, a very smart work this is.