A lot of people I spoke to talk about the Malaysian New Wave, referring to the works of filmmakers that came out from the “independent” movement, filmmakers such as Amir Muhammad, Tan Chui Mui, Ho Yuhang, James Lee, Liew Seng Tat, Deepak Menon, Yasmin Ahmad and Woo Ming Jin. Indeed, these filmmakers’ works are in stark contrast to the usual commercial Malay language movies, which are targeted to the Malay market. Malaysia is a very unique country where the citizens are prominently segmented by ethnicity, and it is a fact that the majority of the people of different ethnics do not mix well with one another and do not have much idea of the other races’ culture, beliefs, way of life. This is very dangerous as it may lead to misunderstandings and distrusts.
The works of these new wave directors tries to counter this by either providing a different perspective of the lives of the other non-Malay people such as the works of Ho Yuhang (SANCTUARY), Deepak Menon (CHALANGGAI) and Tan Chui Mui (LOVE CONQUERS ALL) or by showing that the different communities can actually live together and respect each other and this is clearly seen in the works of Yasmin Ahmad (SEPET) and a recent addition to the new wave directors, Liew Seng Tat’s debut feature FLOWER IN THE POCKET.
One sometimes wonder if we can really call these directors as a “new wave” because in my opinion, their work is still relatively obscure to the Malaysian public at large, even to those communities that these films targets. Except for Yasmin Ahmad whose movies reaches a wider audience, the works of the other directors are mostly confined to arthouse cinemas and has limited distribution within the country although they are critically acclaimed in overseas film festivals. With such a limited effect on the people of Malaysia, can they, in fact be called a wave or would it be more appropriate to only call it a ripple? Contra this to the other “waves” such as the New Korean Cinema or even the French New Wave in the 1950s and 1960s, these waves affect whole countries and communities and their impact is strongly felt worldwide. It seems like there is still a lot to do so that these new Malaysian wave can really touch the life and thoughts and way of life of the general public at large.
The cool that is with these new directors is the way they work, often with a puny budget and shot on digital, they formed a strong bond with one another and often volunteer their talent to help each other out. With this method, they experimented with new techniques and tackles issues, some of which are deemed sensitive by the authorities and are ultimately banned, such as the famed Banned Trilogy of Amir Muhammad (BIG DURIAN, LELAKI KOMUNIS TERAKHIR, APA KHABAR ORANG KAMPUNG). Also, they have made numerous shorts before making their feature movie and as such, the shorts compilation of these directors is a treasure trove that lets one peek into the mind and heart of these directors.
All said, this remarkable band of filmmakers have almost singlehandedly put Malaysia in the world map of filmmaking and they are also remarkable for having the spirit and will to break out from the crowd, overcome financial and regulatory hurdles and offer the Malaysian public an alternative to the sometimes very mind-dumbing Malay commercial fare (in fact, this is so serious that we find that almost no other races would want to fork out money to go and watch a Malay movie, not because they do not have the money but rather they opined that the quality of Malay movies is decidedly bad and is a waste of time).
Some “New Wave” movies that I can recommend:
Amir Muhammad: LELAKI KOMUNIS TERAKHIR, THE BIG DURIAN
Ho Yuhang: RAIN DOGS, SANCTUARY
James Lee: THE BEAUTIFUL WASHING MACHINE, BERNAFAS DALAM LUMPUR
Tan Chui Mui: LOVE CONQUERS ALL
Liew Seng Tat: FLOWER IN THE POCKET
Woo Ming Jin: MONDAY MORNING GLORY, THE ELEPHANT AND THE SEA
Deepak Kumaran Menon: CHEMMAN CHAALAI, CHALANGGAI
Yasmin Ahmad: RABUN, SEPET, GUBRA, MUKHSIN