Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Malaysian Cinema: Time To Move On

I still remember, like it was so long ago, that every little recognition the so-called Malaysian New Cinema received was welcomed with much fanfare. We'd all get so excited about someone winning some award overseas. While James Lee and Amir Muhammad had blazed the trail first, opening up new possibilities for our cinema, it was later that Ho Yuhang started the awards rolling in, starting the Nantes Festival Of The Three Continents.

Of course, before all of this, folks like U-Wei and Tsai Ming-liang had already garnered the attention of international festivals. But here, for the sake of narrowing the discussion, we're talking about the New Cinema, or New Wave, of digital filmmaking, which has now morphed into a movement that includes pretty much anything that functions outside the mainstream machine, or anything that pushes boundaries or takes off in whole new directions. We can't exclude the mainstream completely, because a film like Mukhsin, a Berlinale winner, is a commercial effort.

After almost a decade now, all is still well with New Cinema. Even now as we speak, there is a massive showcase of more than 30 Malaysian films at the Rialto Theatre in Amsterdam. Some of the filmmakers are also in attendance for various events. And our productions are truly going international, with Ho Yuhang getting funding from Korea and using Hong Kong and Taiwanese talents, while Yasmin Ahmad has just announced a Malaysia-Japan co-production of something called Forget-Me-Not. While on the quiet, our one-time Venice Special Mention winner, Yeo Joon Han, has been moving in the festival circuit with his "comedy with songs," Sell Out!, getting a lot of good press and exposure.

And in Taiwan, we have yet another Malaysian, Ho Widing, making moves into feature filmmaking after going to Cannes with his short films Respire and Summer Afternoon.

Now, at this point, we must be able to take a step back and evaluate the situation.

We've come this far and won so much. While there's a noticeable momentum still propelling Malaysian films forward, it's also time to let go of certain things. For one thing, a sense of direction is important, so that we don't become stuck in a rut. I think we can already notice that some filmmakers are falling into monotony, which almost always leads to self-parody. The independent scene, as a whole, is also in danger of becoming too attached to, and identified with, one style which a local critic recently called "morose films."

And just last week, Muallaf picked up a special mention in Tokyo and there were what felt like too many fists punching the air. My question is, do we really need to react in a manner like we did eight years ago? Back then, even if a film won, say, Best Dressed Director (I made it up, it doesn't exist), we'd all be jumping for joy, maybe even hold a party or two at the mamak stall. But I think Mukhsin's Berlinale win has up the ante, and when you've gone that far down the road, it feels a little silly and pointless to go back to the starting line and cheer that we actually made it to the race. Of course, every win is a cause for celebration, but I'm saying that it should be in an appropriate magnitude. Otherwise, we'll always be cheering at the starting line without actually moving forward.

This is my suggestion. This is my call. Malaysian cinema, let's move on to bigger things, or on to newer and unchartered waters.

Let's see where we can take it.


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