Saturday, September 7, 2013

Who's Afraid of Tanda Putera?

Several months ago, I was annoyed when a friend of mine who had just watched Tanda Putera told me that Tanda Putera is the best movie in the world.

I was equally annoyed when some reviewers started writing to the effect that Tanda Putera is the worst movie Malaysia has ever produced, or perhaps the worst film in the history of mankind. You can feel them - in the article - bristle with indignation, fear and anger even before the movie started playing.

Some news portals I believe tried to sabotage the movie by convincing people that other people do not want to watch this movie. They did this by telling them that the halls - at 11am - were empty. Go to any cinema hall in Malaysia, on a weekday, at 11am, and tell me which ones are filled more than half capacity? There would be some, but any movie would find it hard to convince people to be at the cinemas at 11am in the morning. I find this just as offensive as any Government propaganda that believes the public is as stupid as their baboon fathers. If you want to lie to me, at the very least respect my intelligence by putting forth a believable narrative.

Lim Guan Eng tried ineffectively to effectively ban the movie in Penang , turning the island state into a personal fiefdom which made my viewing today a must. I do not believe any film, book or song should be banned, unless the said film, book or song is giving encoded launch protocols for Malaysia's nuclear arsenal.

So, I did the unthinkable - I paid RM15 to watch Tanda Putera today. Seated beside me were two families of monkeys who kept on talking inside the cinema and one of them was even on the phone at one point. I asked them to stop talking and to their credit, the father took his son away to sit at another row. Ah, yes, the cinema was only a quarter full, at 1.30pm on a Saturday afternoon - now that's what you report.

And now, the movie. Tanda Putera is, sadly, not the worst movie in the world. Unfortunately, I have seen worse. Much, much worse. In short, Tanda Putera puts forth the narrative favoured by the current BN Government concerning events such as May 13 1969, and how the leaders of those days - Tun Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, Tun Hussein Onn should be portrayed.

What struck me was the perhaps unintentional homosexual undertones. A friend remarked recently that "Tanda Putera is like Brokeback Mountain", without having seen Brokeback Mountain. With overt hints at horses in one 'brotherhood/camaraderie/close friendship' scene, I can't blame anyone for making that assumption.

May 13 is handled in the usual manner - taken from news reports, perhaps, and chosen eye-witnesses. No counter-point or any alternative perspective on the issue is put forth or even suggested. Parti Perikatan (BN) people were thoroughly innocent and the opposition were at fault, especially DAP.

The narrative then went beyond May 13 and into the health of Tun Razak as well as his good friend Tun Dr Ismail. Both sacrifice their health for Malaysia. It's a cheap trick to evoke sympathy, with one missing ingredient - how difficult was it to be the Malaysian premier and his deputy in those days? I believe both jobs to be very difficult and taxing, especially to old men with chronic diseases. However, the film failed to show what these things entail. They play golf, rub their foreheads a lot and are indignant to a few white people. I can do that. The monkeys sitting beside me could do that.

There are many loose threads of narrative - just like in any Shuhaimi Baba movie. The relationship between UM tutors and students, ITM students and lecturers are all used as one-time vehicles to show how the races fared with each other, social commentary and preaching on how the youth are wearing sexy mini-skirts (I for one would like to make it clear that I am for sexiness of all kind. I believe if girls in Malaysia want to go about naked, I will fully support their decision. I might even give you a kiss. On the cheeks. The other one.) with hasty resolutions.

All these multiple threads and characters are gratuitous - and not in a good, sexual or nude manner. They are largely unnecessary and seem plastic. The other, 'normal people' characters should have been in another movie altogether. As usual, the editing was weak and the director demonstrated her trademark unwillingness to cut things from her own movie.

I imagine if Tanda Putera focused entirely on May 13, with the frenetic energy of high-level meetings as was shown in the movie Margin Call, it would have made superior entertainment. For those of you who have not watched Margin Call, that movie was about Lehmann Brothers and what they did one fateful night. Gripping, compelling viewing, and everything happened in the boardroom. Never has any boardroom meeting been shown to be that entertaining, and Tanda Putera missed an opportunity at a really smart political thriller by instead attempting an Oliver Stone half-biopic.

The messages are also dated and detached from modern, urban concerns. One reviewer made a point about how Tun Razak was depicted as a great leader simply because he visited the people, but did no wide, national-level reforms. He did, but it was subtly hinted at. FELDA, for example, was Tun Razak's thing. As was NEP.

This shows the shift in political thinking. Look at Lembah Pantai. Raja Nong Chik did it the old way by taking care of the people, personally going to them in the last GE. Nurul Izzah focused on national-level issues, mainly taking down BN a peg or two on a daily basis. The result? Nurul Izzah won.

The urban people no longer need help from politicians, as they are all rich and financially independent. Technology has also made city folk more insular and individual. Community issues don't sell anymore, to these people. Tak laku la, bro.

Tun Razak's actions and how it was depicted in the film only worked in those days, and even now, in some rural areas. It is yet another rural-urban divide.

Tanda Putera then focused on the health of Tun Razak (with several Malaysian politicians and figures shown along the way) until *SPOILER ALERT* Tun Razak, the great and caring leader, passed away from advanced leukemia in London.

The second and third acts are anti-climactic since the climax of May 13 is in the first. After the first act, the film did what the Malaysian Government did to May 13 - whitewash it with scenes of Malays and Chinese and 'lain-lain' working together and embracing one another in yet another scene laced with subtle homo-erotic undertones.

There are more threads, scenes and characters introduced after May 13 and they all seemed contrived and unnecessary. Who cares about an office boy who can't wear a tie properly when you have the head of a nation hiding his illness from the public? So your tutor doesn't like you cause you're Malay. Boo fucking hoo. Lots of people don't like me for various reason, usually due to my robust sexual energy and wholesome good looks and strong dick. If you listen very carefully, you will hear the sound of me not giving a fuck.

Is all this true? Were there noble politicians those days? Were radicals and insurgents the ones to blame for May 13? Were the men really that close and 'friendly' with one another?

Well, for one, it is a movie. If you want to see what is really passed as fact, watch a documentary or - shudder - read Malaysia's textbooks. There, you will find what is the official Government narrative on everything.

I have met many who believe in this Tanda Putera version. That yes, the Chinese started May 13, that yes, Malays were killed in a cinema. That yes, this was a Communist plot.

I did a documentary once on Datuk Seri Yuen Yuet Leng, former Sarawak Police Commissioner and Perak Police Chief who was an officer in KL during May 13. His version tallies with most of the narrative concerning those things here. Yuen was even the target of similar assassinations by Communist insurgents, so I believe Tanda Putera is not completely made up of falsehoods. I am also NOT willing to accept its narrative whole.

I believe it depends on the audience. I know many Government fanboys and fangirls believe THIS as the true narrative. My parents would love this movie, as they are rabid right-wing supporters of the BN Government. Most of my friends would condemn it, like how they condemn professional wrestling, to prove again and again that they cannot be lied to.

Well, this is THEIR (BN people) story, their history and how they view the world. Prof Khoo Kay Kim once said in an interview that these stories are told in such a way because people believe it to be true.

Did Hang Tuah even exist? Sure, if we believe that he did.

And yes, Tanda Putera is propaganda. So is Pacific Rim and Dinky Dis(Australia is great!), Australia (Australia is an amazing destination!), Batman: The Dark Knight (George W Bush is Batman! Patriot Act is a one time thing! And necessary!). In fact, I believe ALL art is propaganda. It is to sell an idea.

We are not so stupid, I believe, to swallow the cock of an idea whole, deep-throating one version of the truth. At least I don't. Therefore, I am not threatened at all or afraid of Tanda Putera. I have no hankering to ban it or promote it. I do not find it the worst film Malaysia has ever made, and neither is it the best. It's just another movie, bro. Relaks lah.

I do not believe this movie or any creative work has any hope of brainwashing me because my brain is filthy. I am not scared. Are you?