Cinema of Malaysia: Wikis

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Southeast Asian cinema

The cinema of Malaysia revolves around a small film industry that dates back to the 1930s. At present, Malaysia produces about 15 feature films annually, and between 300 – 400 television dramas and serials a year apart from the in-house productions by the individual television stations. Malaysia also holds its own annual National Film Festival . There are about 250 movie theatres and cineplexes in Malaysia, showing not only local films but imported ones. Foreign film producers are welcome to shoot on location in Malaysia, undertake film co-production ventures so that local artistes and technicians have the opportunity of gaining exposure and experience.

Contents

Early films, 1933-48

Malaysian cinema began in 1933 with Laila Manjun, based on a classical Persian story of two ill-fated lovers. Directed by B.S. Rajhans and produced by the Singapore-based Motilal Chemical Company of Bombay, the cast was derived from a local opera group. Observing the success of this project, two brothers, Run Run and Run Me Shaw, were prompted in 1937 to import some equipment from Shanghai and start the production of Malay films from their small studio at Ampas Road in Singapore. However, they only managed to produce five or six movies prior to the Japanese invasion in 1941.

Following the end of World War II in 1945, the Shaw Brothers resumed production in 1947 with a Rajhans-directed film called Singapura Di Waktu Malam (Singapore by Night) starring Siput Sarawak. Backed by their chain of theatres, which they either owned or rented, the film enjoyed a good response. The Shaw Brothers proceeded to produce more films and introduced new faces, including the Sumatran-born Kasma Booty. Her first film, Cempaka, revolved around the life of a native island girl.

In 1948, P. Ramlee - who later became the living legend of the Malay film world, made his debut in the film Cinta (Love). P. Ramlee’s talents in music composing and singing brought him prominence. He was very versatile as a leading actor, a comic, dramatic artiste, scripwriter and film director. Most of the early films carried plenty of singing and dancing scenes, a trend introduced by the Indian film directors. After Rajhans, Shaw Brothers imported many other Indian film directors, among them S. Ramanathan, Shastri, Phani Majumdar and D. Ghoss. There were also some local film directors such as L. Krishnan and K. M. Bashker who learned the trade and techniques through experience and apprenticeship. By the 1960s, many of the expatriates were replaced by local directors.

Development and decline, 1948-75

The success enjoyed by the Shaw Brother’s film studio, known as the Malay Film Productions (MPP), encouraged a few other entrepreneurs to venture into the same business. There was a Nusantara film company started. In 1951, Hsu Chiu Meng started the Nusantara film company. However, he depended heavily on independent theatres, and after producing about a dozen films Nusantara closed down in 1954.

In 1952, Ho Ah Loke opened a studio in Tampines Road, Singapore, calling his company Rimau Film Productions. After producing one film, he changed its name to Keris Film Productions. Ho owned a few small theatres through his earlier venture as a film distributor. He managed to produce a number of films, and in 1956 merged with Cathay Organisation, owned by millionaire Loke Wan Tho. The company was renamed Cathy-Keris Film Productions with its studio in East Coast Road, Singapore. Supported by their own theatre chain throughout Malaya and Singapore, Cathay-Keris films posed a challenge to the films produced by Shaw’s MFP studios. Shaw studios produced about ten films a year, while Cathay-Keris too produced about the same number.

During those early years, all the films were in black and white. The studios had their own laboratories, recording and editing facilities. Direct sound recording was the practice from the beginning, until the advent of the 60s. Then, post-synching or dubbing system appeared and is still in use until today.

The screenplays were mostly based on folk tales, stage plays, legends of fictional or real historical heroes or events. MFP made the movie about the legendary Melaka warrior Hang Tuah who lived during the heyday of the Melaka Sultanate. In response, Cathay-Keris produced Hang Jebat who was Hang Tuah’s closest friend but due to unfortunate circumstances became involved in a life-or-death struggle with him.

Hang Tuah, done in Eastman Color, was directed by Indian director Phani Majumdar, who was specially brought in to ensure that the film made it to the East Asia Film Festival. P. Ramlee acted as Hang Tuah and also composed the background music, for which the film won an award.

Just before they ceased operations, both MFP and Cathay-Keris produced three colour films each. Shaw Brothers’ produced Ribut (Storm), Hang Tuah and Raja Bersiong (The Fanged King). The latter, a legend from the state of Kedah, was written by Malaysia’s first Prime Minister, the late Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj.

Cathay-Keris produced Buluh Perindu (The Magic Flute), Cinta Gadis Rimba (The Virgin Of Borneo) and Mahsuri (The Maid of Langkawi), another Kedah legend written by Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra.

Although many companies emerged, such as Nusantara Films, Tan & Wong Film Company, Rimau Productions and Cathay-Keris, many closed down due to escalating production costs and diminishing audiences, leaving only MFP and Cathay-Keris both operating in Singapore.

In 1961, H. M. Shah bought over a piece of prime land on the fringe of Kuala Lumpur and turned it into Merdeka Studio. It had a meagre beginning, but once the top stars started their exodus from the two Singapore studios, its growth surged dramatically. Located adjacent to the National Zoo on Hulu Kelang Road, is 13 kilometres from the city. Today, it is the headquarters of the National Film Development Corporation, Malaysia (FINAS). The Shaw Brothers dispatched some of their Singapore film directors, among them L. Krishnan, P. Ramlee and Salleh Ghani, Jamil Sulong, Omer Rojik, S. Kadarisman, Sudarmaji, Naz Achnas, M. Amin and Datuk Jins Shamsudin, to make films at Merdeka.

Renaissance, 1975-present

In 1975, a renaissance prompted a revitalised growth when Sabah Films grossed huge profits with its maiden offering, Keluarga Comat (Comat’s Family). Soon, other companies mushroomed, such as Perfima, Syed Kechik Productions, Indra film Productions, Jins Shamsudin Production and others.

The '80s saw numerous changes. A vital one was the setting up of the National Film Development Corporation of Malaysia in 1981 to develop and stimulate the growth and maintain the standards of the film industry by various means, including the provision of research and advisory services. FINAS has since set up numerous facilities to promote the industry, including a credit facility scheme which enables young and untiring film-makers to test their potential. The revival in the industry also made changes to certain formats of the local film productions. Nearly all the films were made in colour, some using the scope format and some the standard format. There were no fixed salaries for artists attached to a certain company or studio. A company can only do two of three functions: production, distribution or exhibition in order to avoid a monopoly by a certain party. The producers also might be able to recover part of their investment by the return of the entertainment tax as a way of incentive. A further incentive to local film-makers is that they are invited to make television programmes either in film format or video format. As a result, there are now more than 300 film companies registered with FINAS.

Films

Further reading

  • Millet, Raphaël (2006) Singapore Cinema. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet ISBN 981-4155-42-X
  • McKay, Benjamin (October 13, 2005). "A Conversation with Amir Muhammad". Criticine.

See also

External links


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