5 Malaysian films highlighting important social issues
Writer: Casey Lee
Have you seen these Malaysian films that carry a deeper meaning?
While most Malaysian films are made to fit into the mould of entertainment, ever so often it can go beyond that. Films also serve an important purpose as social commentary, shedding light on lives and issues that are happening in society for us to empathise or open our minds into understanding better.
...Dalam Botol (2011)
While they are not always the easiest to watch, a thought provoking social film shows the deft hand of its filmmakers in presenting an issue without being forceful in their message, sometimes even letting the audience take on new perspectives in the shoes of their subjects.
With "Pekak" piling onto the underworld of drugs peddling among youths with the difficulty of love for a deaf man, we look for five other Malaysian films that went under the surface to dig up social issues that are worth discussing and expanding upon.
With a subject matter that is as controversial as how it managed to pass the Censorship Board and Jakim, "... Dalam Botol" is the by-product of its original title after it had omitted any mention of the male genitalia. The first homosexual and transsexual thought piece, based on true events, by director Khir Rahman and screenwriter Raja Azmi Raja Sulaiman's gives a real hard look into the physical transformation and emotional trauma one has to endure to be true to one's sexuality. While some might dismiss it for being overly dramatic, it is also representative of those who have chosen to walk down a path that is riddled with prejudice and phobia to this day.
For the amount of Malaysian movies running on violence produced, few have depicted the ruthless cycle it runs or gratify its abusive nature as a power fantasy. However, it was in this adapted television series that sent a strong message about violence in a confined and controlled space.
Set in the unseen but just as violent world of juvenile centres, "Juvana" is filled with a strong cast of angry youths, seeking to exercise physical dominance rather than inserting back into peaceful society that has forsaken them. It is not only very telling of what happens to the discarded youths that society often wants to forget, and how unforgiving their world can be, but also the amount of force used by those who are supposed to be their guide and guardian, back to civil life; depicting a broken system to fix those that are left out by the system.
Not all films with social commentaries have to be hard-hitting; some can rely on subtlety, or even comedy to get the job done. The 5-man directed story of an impending marriage between a Malay man and his Chinese fiancée may just serve as a premise for some interracial hilarity to ensue on the surface, but underneath its marital cold feet are some hard questions about race, religion and love; a situation that is uniquely Malaysian for its laws on conversion and a primer for cultural mingling. Where does faith play in the role of a relationship, and is the price of marrying into a different culture worth any sacrifice?
If "Cuak" was a social commentary dressed in light moments, then "Jagat" is a raw punch to the nose. Partly based on his personal life, and filling in the rest with a filmmaker's eyes, director Shanjey Kumar Perumal presents a bitter pill of hardship of an Indian community in an identity crisis; chased out of their rubber estates and never quite assimilating with the major urban centres to make any measure of decent living. Through the eyes of its young and naïve protagonist, we see how tradition fails to meet the expectations of reality, and how fragile life can spiral into a violent cycle when all hope is lost. "Jagat" is not only an eye-opening vision to a misrepresented community that live right beside us, but also a heart-breaking revelation to the powerful grip that poverty has on it.
While most films only get the green light to be made if there are any potential for a profit, some films are made with a mission. Pledging not only to spread awareness about autism but also a portion of its box office takings to autism-related NGOs, "Redha" gives strength to Malaysian parents who have silently bore this issue with little support and plenty of stigmatism. Director Tunku Mona Riza's take on the story of Danial, and the reaction of his parents to his autism are both close to heart and heart rending because it gives voice to so many parents who have children in the same predicament.
Cinema Online, 02 September 2016