I don’t know about you, but I’m among those people who always complain about having “no movies to watch at the movies”.
I just can’t sink my attention into yet another The Hangover or Transformers movie, or for a more local example, the myriad of ‘Suamiku Seorang…’ movies about development projects and the rich-poor dichotomy between two star-crossed lovers.
This is why it’s important for us to elevate and pay attention to the kinds of movies that we do want to see more of in the cinemas. And contrary to popular belief, no, the Malaysian cinema scene did not die when Yasmin Ahmad did.
As we’ve been going about our days, these Malaysian filmmakers have been gaining international acclaim with movies or short films that touch hearts.
We’re looking at filmmakers still based in Malaysia, and making films that resonate with the Malaysian situation.
So here is a collection of some award-winning young film directors who we should be checking out, in no particular order.
1. Tan Ce Ding
Notable Film: Hawa
This short story won him the BMW Shorties 2016 award. Set in a post-apocalyptic Malaysia, Hawa tells the story of two children trying to befriend each other, an infected girl named Hawa, and a boy named Meng.
About the director: He started out by directing TV commercials in 2014. Since then, he’s done commercials for Samsung, Toyota, Vokswagen, Nivea, Pringles, and many more.
Starting out doing TV commercials in 2014, he has since directed more than 100 of them. This experience reflects in his filmography, that currently has a short-film slant. Hawa won him the BMW Shorties, while he also has another short film titled We Were The Best.
2. Syamsul Yusof
Notable Films: KL Gangster/KL Gangster 2
The movie tells the story of two brothers who find themselves embroiled in the world of gangsters in KL.
One of those brothers is Malek, who was betrayed and sent to prison, and upon his release wants nothing to do with that part of his life.
It’s been touted as “realistic” by critics and reflects a form of reality that the people face. It won 4 awards at the Malaysian Film Festival 2011.
About the director: Syamsul Yusof is a director who is not afraid to deal with more controversial topics and turning them into blockbusters, with famous examples like KL Gangster (which even received lawsuit threats) and Khurafat, about witchcraft that Islam frowns upon.
That being said, he is still careful in doing research for his Munafik. As the son of prolific director Yusof Haslam, Syamsul has the honour of being the youngest director to win the Malaysian Film Festival at 26, on top of other pursuits like acting, and even rapping.
3. Shanjhey Kumar Perumal
Notable Film: Jagat
The story of Jagat revolves around a spirited kid named Appoy, who enjoys gangster flicks instead of memorising his multiplication tables.
In fear for his future, Appoy’s father grows increasingly abusive, helplessly watching his son get drawn to a life of crime.
It won the 28th Malaysia Film Festival for Best Picture, and Best Screenplay in the 2016 Kuala Lumpur Film Critics Award. It also Best Cinematography at the International Toronto Tamil Film Festival in 2011.
About the director: With 10 years worth of experience in the creative industry, he has directed more than 300 episodes of television.
He’s also a recipient of a great many awards, first of being Machai in 2009 that won the Grand Prize at the BMW Shorties Malaysia, and has gone on to being a Jury in the same awards.
In 2013, his documentary, The Day That River Ran Red, won the Jury Award at The KOMAS Freedom Film Festival Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur 2013.
4. Jess Teong
Notable Film: The Kid From Big Apple
A young girl, Sarah, is forced to move to Malaysia to live with her traditionalist grandfather when her mother needs to visit China to settle some problems.
The movie explores the clash between tradition and modernity, and the rift that can form because of that. It was the apple of the judges’ eyes at the 7th Macau International Movie Festival, and the 28th Malaysian Film Festival.
About the director: Another director/writer combo, currently her only big completed project is the aforementioned Kid From The Big Apple, but it has made her the apple of the eye at the 7th Macau International Movie Festival, landing her four awards for her efforts.
She was also awarded at the 28th Malaysian Film Festival for the same film. Prior to that, Jess Teong has a substantial acting credit to her name.
5. Quek Shiao Qun
Notable Film: Guang
Guang tells the story of two brothers, the older of which is autistic. Often misunderstood, especially by his exasperated younger brother, Wen Guang spends his day just trying to get by despite difficulties in social interactions and day-to-day obligations, while pursuing his secret passion.
This film won the BMW Shorties award, as well as Best Film for the 7th Leids Film Festival in the Netherlands and 6th Festival Alto Vicentino in Italy.
About the director: The most direct successor to Yasmin Ahmad in terms of story tone, Quek Shiao Qun carves out his niche creating tearjerkers that you often see before a major holiday in Malaysia.
He’s gone on to do many short films, but the one closest to his heart and shot him to fame was Guang, modelled after his own life based on his autistic older brother. He finds his niche telling uniquely Malaysian stories, using details that we often take for granted.
6. Liew Seng Tat
Notable Film: Flower In The Pocket
The film tells the story of a family. A workaholic father who spends all of this time mending mannequins, and two sons who are able to live relatively carefree lives of neglected children, full of mischief, and fights.
It made its world premiere at the 12th Pusan International Film Festival and won the New Currents and the KNN Audience Awards.
The movie also won the VPRO Tiger Award at the 37th International Film Festival Rotterdam 2008, Le Regard d’Or Award at the 22nd Fribourg International Film Festival 2008, and the Jury Prize at the 10th Deauville Asian Film Festival 2008.
About the director: An independent filmmaker who has numerous credits working on short films since 2003, directing with what has been characterised as his trademark humour to cut through even the most grim or contrived of stories.
Even his first live-action short film, Bread Skin With Strawberry Jam, won him the 8th Malaysian video Awards. He is now part of Da Huang Pictures with three other members.
7. Bradley Liew
Notable Film: Singing In Graveyards
Played by rock legend Joey “Pepe” Smith, a 68-year-old based in the Philippines lives alone, and is an impersonator of famous singer Joey “Pepe” Smith.
One day, he has the opportunity to open an act for a rock legend’s concert, but must first write a love song. It won in the Kolkata International Film Festival 2016, winning the NETPAC Award.
About the Director: One of the younger names on the list, this Malaysian-born is based in Manila, but works both here and in the Philippines.
He graduated from the NAFF Fantastic Film School, Berlinale Talents and Locarno Filmmakers Academy. Singing in Graveyards is his first film, a co-collaboration based both in Manila and Malaysia.
8. Azharr Rudin
Notable Film: Majidee
Named after a location in Johor, two men meet in transit from Kuala Lumpur’s Puduraya to a train station, and raises questions about whether one can trust a stranger or not.
It won the Hawaii International Film Festival for Best Short Film in 2006.
This Johor-born has numerous behind-the-scenes credits to his name, including 16 credits for editor, 12 for producing, 7 for cinematographer and even 2 for acting.
He is most known for Rumah Tok, but it was Majidee that won him international accreditation, though Rumah Tok was nominated in Amsterdam for the Audience Award. He’s not slowing down anytime soon, because he already has 11 movies under his name and shows no signs of stopping.
Special Mention—Chiu Keng Guan
Notable Films: Ola Bola
Based on a true story, Ola Bola is a retelling of the story of the Malaysian national football team in football’s heyday in Malaysia, when they successfully entered the 1980 Summer Olympics.
It won numerous awards for the Malaysian Film Festival, and Best Original Theme Song at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival.
About the director: So Chiu Keng Guan is not quite a millennial, but his recent influence on the Malaysian cinema experience is difficult not to highlight.
In the years where Malaysian sentiment towards our own football league is dwindling, Keng Guan managed to tell a (perhaps romanticised) tale of the forgotten sports heroes of Malaysia, at their peak.
Even before the release of his magnum opus, there was already a lot of hype following the rousing public success of his movie The Journey. In an interview, he reveals that part of the reason that the movie resonates so much with the public is perhaps down to all of the research he does.
“For Ola Bola, it took almost half a year to interview people and go through the national archives. For The Journey, we researched for six months speaking to elderly people on how would they feel if their daughter married a foreigner. We interviewed around 50 people.”
It’s great to see that Malaysia really has a growing list of great filmmakers telling stories from our side of the pond, and in the age of the internet, it’s relatively easy for us to discover the works of even the more “obscure” filmmakers in Malaysia.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope that it at least piques enough interest that more Malaysians would start checking out the notable movies made by our own people, and discover that there really is a story worth telling on our little nation too.