What makes a great film in Malaysia? : An analysis from a young, inexperience but active movie goer


First of all let us define film. One definition is a form of entertainment that enacts a story by sound and a sequence of images giving the illusion of continuous movement It is fair enough, simply saying, as long as there is sound and image while the story is being told , it is a film. However, certain movies don’t depend on speech. The action alone speaks for itself like in the Three Stooges or Mr Bean.

Then, lets define “great” film. Are films that manage to score millions of worth ringgit are considered great? Or the ones that manage to grab a number of awards? In the business world, of course, the objective is to earn back more than the initial investment through making profitable films but not necessarily great.

Some of the ‘must have’ criteria for me, actually are the basics; good story line and creative. But most importantly and arguably is the impact on the people. Whether it is just a movie or a memorable one? Just like books, there are good books and thrashy books. Films are inclusive.


I might be old fashion by saying this but no matter how magnificent a film is, it is probably full of unrealistic popular acts. As for example, smoking is obligatory in certain acts though it is harmful especially to exhibit ‘maturity’. So, films of today which are regarded as a form of art should explore more ideas of which can not only entertain but appreciated and remembered. Would not it be worth every ringgit to spend and earn?


A great film should succeed in engaging with people, the audience. Perhaps certain memory is closely knitted to a person, in this case a Malaysian, such as issues about living in a multiracial society of which is creatively tackled by the director Late Yasmin Ahmad. Social issues are heavy and suppose to be ‘told’ conveniently.

There are many other genres yet to be explored much such as science fiction. What about the 2001 Syukur 21? A good message but not impressive. Or the unknown Mamat Khalid’s Apokalips? I have not watched it but it looks plain. What about Cicakman? It is not bad. The KRU studios is innovative and daring. They made a breakthrough but the storyline of the second sequel was not promising. Fair artistic work. Yet, not memorable.


What is exciting for movie goer like me, is the impact of linguistic. It is not important for a film to follow serious grammatical rule because that itself is not realistic. You can’t find a family speaks perfect Malay or Mandarin or Tamil at home? Remarkably, certain catchy line will be imitated.

Like people started using Cilok (direct translation would be bad doings or revenge) after Afdlin Shauki’s Baik Punya Cilok. Among the best, currently and locally, is the phenomenal chinese traditional song portrayed here from the Chan Hing Ka’s and Janet Chun’s All Well Ends Well. Though All Well Ends Well is a China film.


Yes, there are problems or fairly, I should say fairly, challenges of the film industry.

Is the local movie manage to grab the attention of everyone? I can sure assure not.

When I watched Ah Niu’s Ice Kacang Puppy Love, I was perhaps the only Malay in a majority of Chinese audience. But it has issues appearing within lower income Chinese community in Malaysia besides the bully and romance. Another similar movie which focused on the low income Indian community is Mamat Khalid’s Estet.

Are our people prefer not to watch?

With better movie quality, I am amazed not if Malaysian will choose for other internationally made movies.

In fact, a couple weeks ago I watched Benny Chan’s Shaolin which tells a tale of a dictatorial general betrayed, and restart his life through Shaolin’s teachings. And I did also watch 127 hours and King’s Speech. Remarkable true stories of which are well portrayed and acted.

A film does not need popular actors but dedicated ones. Like how Colin Firth manage to tackle acting the speech impaired King in King’s Speech. Like how brilliantly late Yasmin Ahmad chose “nobody” to act in Talentime then become “somebody” because of their natural act portrayal on their characters that brings up the success in the film.

Perhaps our movie makers need to explore more of filming techniques because particular techniques may give impact to the story. Like in Kathryn Bigelow’s Hurt Locker and Michael Winterbottom’s A Mighty Heart where they use an unstable like recording in telling these truthful story which works wonderfully! Hurt Locker won 2009 Best Picture while A Mighty Heart’s Angelina Jolie is nominated numerous times as best actress.

Why has not we seen many book adapted local film? Especially film adapting from good book! Are we afraid? Yes, we know that we have not yet reach certain standards when it comes to filming technology but that is not suppose to be the reason that our film industry do not progress in making worth watching movies. Finally, at least, KRU answered with the epic of legendary Hikayat Merong Mahawangsa.


Malaysia is not only shining globally through Nicol David, the queen of Squash and Lee Chong Wei the world leading No 1 badminton player but also through film making. Notably the indie film making.

Ho Yuhang‘s Rain Dogs got nominated in 2006 Venice International Film Festival.

Late Yasmin Ahmad‘s Sepet won Best Asian Film at the 18th Tokyo International Film Award

Tan Chui Mui’s Love Conquers All won multiple new director’s awards in the Rotterdam International Film Festival as well as Busan International Film Festival in 2006.

Amir Muhammad is notably known for his banned films but what about his works which has been featured in numerous film festivals including the prestigious Sundance Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival.

But do you know?


One part of film industry which is not disappointing and not boring; the indies! However, they are poorly highlighted.


A film project produced by Pete Teo and Packet One Networks, consist of 15 short independent films thus the name 15Malaysia, tells about Malaysia inside out. More like a review of what is happening in Malaysia. My favorite is House by Linus Chung which focus on internal racial discrimination and is portrayed symbolically. You might find your own liking, please give a try to watch 15Malaysia. They are short films, they do not take long anyway. And these are what I call, great films!

Another rising indie film maker is Nadiah Hamzah who is a talented graduate of the prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, New York University. Currently, she is post producing her latest film Hujan Panas which revolves around a Malaysian man who finds himself yearning for the comforts of all things familiar when he tries to live the American Dream in New York City.


But I need to voice out something to most local movie makers. I don’t get it. Perhaps it is only me. But why the extensive effort towards more Islamic romantic comedy or superstitious films? Are there no other ideas at all?

However, the likes of Kabir Bhatia and Afdlin Shauki, to name a few, are exceptional. The former is famous for his ‘intersecting stories in one film’ style, which is creative and it makes sense. There is a relation towards our life as well in his films. The latter has also cross border of genres but remain uniquely comedic, his style mainly and which has captivated us in most of his movies.

With the bulk list of romantic comedy, heavy superstitious, action comedy…….I feel best to just keep my money and sleep at home because I am bored. Perhaps it just me because enjoy is subjective, I might not enjoy but maybe other people does.

But my point is, no matter how the situation is in Malaysian Film Industry, it does not make us any way not to produce quality films. Low budget could be one main reason but still unacceptable. Unsuccessful marketing plan could also be the reason.

The obnoxious matter is because Malaysia is one of the advanced country in Asean if not internationally. And yet Philippine has managed to come up with a spectacular 3D film RPG Metanoia. And yet Thailand dazzles us with Ong Bak.


What I am looking forward to in near future of our local films? Dalam Botol which explores subject on homosexuality and Hanyut, the story of an English trader in realizing his dream for the mythical gold mountain. Something different than just mere superstitious or romance.


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